There’s no shortage of exhortations throughout Scripture to give thanks and, what’s more, to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). This should come as no surprise if we have a loving, giving God. It makes perfect sense.
The tough thing to stomach or understand, though, is the notion that we should be grateful in all circumstances….all the time. But how does one go about being thankful in the midst of loss, pain, brokenness, and alienation? In short, how are we to be thankful when life really stinks?
Faith remembers that God brings life out of death and is able to see things that are not as though they are.
I think the answer to this question is certainly more than a terse, “Just do it.” It’s not easy. But I believe the pathway to thankfulness in all circumstances may be found in “these three” things that Paul references in 1 Corinthians 13. These three things—faith, hope, and love—are sometimes referred to as the Theological Virtues and are often paired with the Cardinal Virtues of prudence, temperance, justice, and courage. The Theological Virtues are typically understood as the character qualities of salvation and, I believe, provide a way for cultivating a heart of thankfulness even in the mess.
In the midst of the junk, the crud, the mess, and the wreckage of a life that isn’t as it should be, imagine what would happen if we lived out “these three”:
Hope is not a tepid wishing that it were so, but rather a strong knowing that it is and will be so.
Living by faith
In the midst of the wreckage, eyes of faith see that God is not thwarted, anxious, or at a loss in the present rottenness of things. He is not in a state of confusion. The eyes of faith perceive amid the chaos, an order, a sustaining, and even an orchestration of good things amid and from the bad. Faith remembers that God brings life out of death and is able to see things that are not as though they are.
Living in hope
In the midst of the carnage, hope moves in the direction of what is seen by faith. In a similar way to seeing what is not as though it is, hope hears the promises of God (that He will never leave us nor forsake us, that He works all things to the good, that the enemy is defeated and destroyed), believes them to be true, and lives as though the promises are already fulfilled. Hope is not a tepid wishing that it were so, but rather a strong knowing that it is and will be so.
. . . we . . . find ourselves loved with the love that was there before the foundation of the world. The love that is before our love. The ground of our love.
Living out love
In the midst of the pain, the doubt, and the brokenness, faith and hope tend toward a living for the good of another. In seeking the good of another, we, by faith and hope, live as if good is there to be had. By living for that good, we quickly come to the end of our rope and find ourselves loved with the love that was there before the foundation of the world. The love that is before our love. The ground of our love.
In all of “these three” that remain, we see and believe in a kingdom that is come and a will that is done on earth as it is in heaven. It is a kingdom and a will that is “not of this world” and has come to us from outside of us. And when we receive things from outside of us, that’s when we are taught, like children to say, “Thank you.”