Read 1 Thessalonians 5:18
18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
One little word can make all the difference. What if the apostle Paul in writing this had told us to give thanks ‘for’ all circumstances rather than ‘in’ all circumstances? We might validly have told him that he was at least a very naughty apostle who ought not to say such cruel things. After all, when we are given the bad medical report, or the police knock at the door to give us terrible news, or the baby is lost, or the dreams turn to dust, our first instinct is not to jump with joy and then solemnly get on our knees and thank God for the tragedy. What a relief that the Bible is not telling us to act out some spiritualised make-believe whereby we pretend the bad news is really good news.
Christianity isn’t about any sort of game playing. We don’t have to give thanks for all that happens in the sense that all things somehow are really good if we could only see it. We can call a bad thing a bad thing. We can weep or shake our fist at tragedy and injustice without piously imagining them to be other than what they are. All because Paul used that word ‘in’ rather than ‘for’.
We can give thanks ‘in’ all circumstances because God is at work in all circumstances. The bad things that happen can be taken up by God and used for his good purposes. The setbacks and tragedies are not the final word. The hand of God is at work (though it can sometimes only be seen in retrospect). Nothing that happens to us is wasted by God. It is not all good in itself but it can all be used for good. A spirit of thankfulness doesn’t lead to pretence. It leads to a perspective of trust where we look beyond the immediate circumstance to the God who transcends all circumstances. We stare the bad news in the face and call it bad. Then we shift our attention to God and call him good. His goodness is the bottom line and is what rescues thankfulness from mindless fantasy into trustful reality.