In the Moment of Crisis
Are there events so horrifying that giving thanks seems foolish or impossible? Consider this scenario. Some friends told me of an extraordinary worship service in Uganda among Ugandan Christians. Though they had been living in the midst of real evil and suffering, including genocide, the worship leader requested everyone to, "give thanks to God for all that we have." The group then participated in a kind of spirited worship African believers are known for and which can shame many of us. They were dancing about and thanking God for all that they had, which by our standards fell below the poverty line! Then the leader caught the American group off guard. "Okay, now let's really worship and thank God for what we do not have." The Ugandans escalated their thanksgiving and praise. My friends were stunned at the deep spirituality. Yes, God is honored when we fill the moment of our need with the power of praise to Him.
When Paul instructs, "In everything give thanks," he means in everything, “in plenty or poverty.” Such thanksgiving should arise independent of circumstances. Though good things should prompt our gratitude, the absence of good should trigger our praise as well. Painful circumstances must not fool us into concluding that only bad will come from the situation. If we lose the hope that God is working all things together for good, we have lost faith in sovereign God (1 Timothy 6:15). We must trust that our Bad Friday possesses an unseen good so wonderful that we will soon refer to it as our Good Friday. The cross leads to the crown. A thankful heart declares to God, "I believe all things are working together for good" (Romans 8:28).
I need to make a clarifying point here. When I give thanks, I never thank God for the evil per se, but that He intends to work all things (which includes the evil) together for good. If not on Earth, it will surely be true in heaven. But this distinction is important to make so we don't grow confused as though we are to be happy about wickedness.
How do we give thanks in the midst of horrendous circumstances and loathsome people? Joseph, in the Bible, toward his wicked acting brothers who years earlier sold him into slavery that took him to Egypt, captures the correct interpretation. Because of the famine in Israel, his brother sought help in Egypt. However, they soon discovered Joseph was not dead, but governed as second in command to Pharaoh. Fearing his revenge, they instead heard Joseph say, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive" (Genesis 50:20). Every believer can imitate Joseph's faith perspective without endorsing vile activities.