Jeff Bauman was standing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, when two bombs exploded. He lost both of his legs. The new movie Stronger tells his story.
After the Las Vegas shooting, he posted a message on Facebook to the victims. “I know your pain,” he wrote. But he assured them, “You will walk again. You will laugh again. You will dance again. You will live again.”
The Apostle Paul would agree.
Acts 17 finds Paul evangelizing in the Greek city of Thessalonica. After only three weeks, opposition became so acute that “the brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night” (v. 10).
Yet the apostle could later write Christians in their city with this surprising instruction: “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18a). How? Why?
“Give thanks” is a present active imperative in the Greek, translated literally as “always be giving thanks.” “In all circumstances” could be translated “in all places, and events” (see Ephesians 5:20). Such gratitude is “the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18b)
Thank offerings to the gods for favors received were a basic part of ancient society. However, these were conditional expressions of the law of reciprocity—when the gods favored you with good crops or safe travel, you made a sacrifice to them in response.
Paul’s counsel is different. We are to live with an attitude of gratitude, no matter how painful and chaotic our world becomes.
Clearly, we are not taught to be grateful for challenges—we are to be grateful in them. Writing in The New American Commentary, scholar D. Michael Martin notes that “Paul never instructed the church to thank God for evil events but to thank God that even in evil times and circumstances our hope remains, and God continues his work in our lives.”
How can we give thanks in terrible times?
We can look for good in the tragic. After the Las Vegas shooting, stories emerged of incredible courage on the part of those who helped the victims. Survivors turned to God. Churches responded in remarkable ways. People around the world began praying. We can be grateful for God’s redemption through tragedy.
We can look for good in the routine. In my wife’s latest blog, she describes her joy at seeing a beautiful sunrise. When last did you thank God for a new day? Will you watch the beautiful Harvest Moon tonight with gratitude for our Creator? Will you praise him for the ability to praise him?
We can look for good in the culture. God is at work in remarkable ways. For instance, today is “Bring Your Bible to School” Day. As John Stonestreet explains, organizers “expect half a million public school students in all 50 states to bring their Bibles to school and tell their friends about the hope they have.” If we ask, the Spirit will show us how he is bringing the sacred to the secular in miraculous ways (Jeremiah 33:3).
Will you “give thanks in all circumstances” today?