“in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
1 Thessalonians 5:18 surely ranks among the most difficult passages to apply in all Scripture. In light of the pain and suffering that has marked human history, the command to “give thanks in everything” may seem almost impossible. Does this passage really mean we should give thanks when a senseless tragedy, a ruinous loss, or a horrific occurrence takes place? While such questions are custom-made for internet memes generated by those who wish to reject the possibility of a Creator, there are good answers available for those who seek to discover them.
First, we should acknowledge that it is not possible to “…give thanks in all circumstances” (ESV) without faith. As mentioned earlier, we can define faith as “a belief in or confident attitude toward God, involving commitment to His will for one’s life.” (1) Genuine Biblical faith should never be mistaken for “blind faith” or faith in something that has no basis in reality. Instead, real Biblical faith involves a belief in a God who has already proven Himself through the Scriptures.
Next, we must recognize that God is in control of all things. If God were not in control of all things, He would be little more than a cinematic superhero- a being with extraordinary abilities but nothing more. As one scholar often observed, “If there is even one maverick molecule in the universe—one molecule running loose outside the scope of God’s sovereign ordination—we cannot have the slightest confidence that any promise God has ever made about the future will come to pass.” (2)
Finally, it is essential to acknowledge that God loves us and has our best interests in mind even in the midst of a tragedy. In the words of another Pastoral commentator, “Sometimes the circumstances of my life do not indicate that God loves me. From my vantage point it looks like tragedy. This is because I can only see in part and I only know in part.” (3)
With these things in mind, we can say that God uses such things to reflect His eternal purpose for our lives. As Paul the Apostle counseled the New Testament-era church at Rome…
“all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
“The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
We’ll consider another aspect of this passage that can help us maintain the right perspective on these questions next.
(1) “Faith” Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers
(2) Sproul, R. C. (2012). Does God Control Everything? (First edition, Vol. 14, p. 36). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
(3) Chuck Smith, Sermon Notes for Ephesians 5:20 https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/smith_chuck/SermonNotes_Eph/Eph_56.cfm