For a long time, I resented this verse. It seemed good, until I went through something. Then it kind of stuck on my tongue… one of those things. Kind of like a big spoonful of peanut butter without anything to drink and no jelly. Good, but sticky enough to choke you if you got too much at once. In everything? When I lost something special? When I was betrayed or hurt or lonely? When someone died? Everything? Sick! Crazy, ludicrous, impossible! But then…
It took awhile, but I started looking at the verse differently than what it was generally quoted at me as meaning. God doesn’t expect us to be thankful for the bad things that happen to us, but rather hopes we can be thankful in spite of them- that we can look past the hurts and the confusion and fear, to a God that is bigger than all of those things.
God doesn’t plan for all the bad things that happen in the world. He gave us free will when He put the tree in the garden, and from the time Adam bit its fruit, He has allowed people to decide some things and act on those decisions. Those decisions and their consequences are man’s, not God’s. He didn’t plan for Abel to be killed, or Lot to pitch toward Sodom. He didn’t plan for Babel to be built, Eli’s sons to be corrupt, or Jezebel to murder His prophets. He may have known that they would do those things or could do those things, but He didn’t choose for some people to do bad things to others. Sure, He hardened Pharaoh’s heart- but only to build the Israelites’ trust in Him after a long captivity. There were times that He intervened. But not for ultimate harm. Always for good.
And so I’ve come to view that verse differently. God doesn’t expect me to be thankful for bad things that happen, but to be thankful that He’s with me through the bad times. It’s not a matter of false cheeriness, hiding sorrow behind a smile. It isn’t about denying negative feelings or pretending everything is OK when it isn’t. It’s a matter of trusting Him, of finding in Him some goodness, knowing that when bad things happen, it isn’t because He doesn’t love me or planned for the bad things. He gave us a choice, and someone made the wrong one. I don’t have to be thankful for that; many times that would mean I had to rejoice in someone’s sin. What I do need to at least attempt to do is look past the problems to the One who can solve them, and know He’ll bring me through.
There is only one plan I know God has had since the beginning of time. That plan wasn’t for any of the bad things that have happened in the thousands of years since… no, it was for the best thing that happened in all time. A plan that involved a lamb… and a cross.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you