In his first letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul wrote, “In some circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
Oops, my mistake. I mistyped that. What Paul wrote was, “In ALL circumstances, give thanks.”
Hmm, that seems odd. Do you think Paul really expected believers to give thanks no matter what is going on in their lives, even really bad stuff?
Scripture scholars are pretty sure the letters to the church in Thessalonica were the earliest of Paul’s epistles in the Bible. Paul was young and excited about Christianity at that time, and he probably got a little carried away. Once he got a bit older and experienced some of the trials and tribulations of life, his youthful enthusiasm probably subsided and he surely came to understand that it’s not realistic to give thanks in ALL circumstances.
Many years later, Paul composed his great summary of the faith, his letter to the Romans. Here was the perfect opportunity for Paul to temper the unrealistic enthusiasm of his youth, and give us instead practical advice. In this epistle, Paul wrote, “We know that some things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
Oh wait, I mistyped that again. What Paul actually wrote was, “We know that ALL things work for good for those who love God…”
Wait a minute. Paul didn’t correct what he wrote in First Thessalonians. Instead, he doubled-down on his original stunning idea. He said ALL things work for good. You mean a car crash works for good, Paul? Getting laid off from your job works for good? Cancer works for good?!
Hey, St. Paul, no offense, but what were you smoking?
OK, the fact is, St. Paul was serious when he said we must give thanks in ALL circumstances and we must be confident that ALL things work for good for those who love God.
This is kind of mind-boggling. How can we possibly give thanks when we experience car crashes, unemployment, or cancer? How can these terrible problems possibly work for good, even if we love God?
Well, one thing we must be clear about is that Paul knew firsthand about personal tragedy and pain. Throughout his missionary career, Paul was persecuted, beaten, shipwrecked, bitten by a poisonous snake, arrested, abandoned, imprisoned, and stoned—with real rocks, by the way, not medical marijuana.
So, Paul knew better than most people that bad things happen in life. And yet he confidently told us to give thanks in all circumstances because all things work for good for those who love God.
In case there is some confusion, Paul did not say all things ARE good. He knew perfectly well that bad things happen in this sinful, fallen world. His scars and his limp and his chronic pain were constant reminders. Paul’s message was that God is so loving and awesome, the Lord can make something good come out of a bad situation.
Many times, it’s obvious when God brings some good out of a tragedy. For example, a serious illness can cause two feuding family members to reconcile. Or a drunk driving arrest can cause someone to face his addiction and finally get sober.
But if we don’t see good things come out of a particular problem right away, we must not forget Heaven. In Heaven, all wrongs are righted, all tears are wiped from every eye, and all pain and sorrow become distant memories.
When we factor in eternity, and expand our earthly view to include the whole picture, we can trust that Paul was right: we should give thanks in all circumstances because all things DO work for good for those who love God.