When the Bible says to “give thanks in all circumstances,” God is not telling us to give thanks FOR all circumstances. There is a difference, and I think it’s significant.
To give thanks in all circumstances is to notice where new life is sprouting, where hints of spring are breaking through a frozen ground. It’s to sift through the ashes to see what remains, what will rise up. It’s the audacious act of claiming there is still hope where there seems to be none. It’s stubbornly clinging to the promise that life comes from death, that this is not the end of the Story.
I am watching my friends live this out so beautifully as they journey through cancer with their young daughter. They regularly choose to find reasons to give thanks in what is the darkest season of their lives at this point.
But they aren’t giving thanks FOR their daughter’s cancer.
To give thanks FOR all circumstances is to say that the situation itself (rather than what might arise from it) is good. We risk calling good what is evil.
And when we do this, we skew the vision of God’s creation and recreation. We present (to ourselves or to others) the idea that the world as it is, with all of its bruises and scars and brambles and deep pain, is what God intended for us. We turn God into a cruel or distant being who wants us to say thank you for injustice, inhumane suffering, and evil.
By all means, look for things to give thanks for in the hardest seasons, in the biggest instances of injustice and evil. Look for ways that God might be working, that God might be meeting you in the midst of the pain. Cling to the hope and the promises and the new creation as if your life depends on it.