The mark of a soul that loves wisdom always gives thanks to God. If you have suffered evil, give thanks and it is changed to good. He has not sinned who suffered the evil but he who has done the evil. Give thanks even in disease, lack of possessions, or false accusations. It is not we who are injured but those who are the authors of them. – St. John Chrysostom
My experience in writing and teaching about the life of thanksgiving has had a fairly consistent response. I find general agreement among readers when I write that we should “give thanks to God in all things,” meaning that we give thanks to God despite our circumstances – the relationship of thanksgiving is removed from the circumstance in which we find ourselves.
I have a completely different response when I write about giving God thanks for all things. The insane activity (or so it would seem) of giving God thanks for the cancer one has, or for the tragic death of a child or other loved one, is more than many people can bear.
How thankful should we be and for what should we be thankful?
St. Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 5:20 that we should be “giving thanks always for all things unto God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ,” is not ambiguous. The underlying Greek uses the construction [hyper panton] which cannot be interpreted as “in” all things. It clear means “thanks for all things.”
The quote from St. John Chrysostom given above echoes this same commandment:
If you have suffered evil, give thanks and it is changed to good. He has not sinned who suffered the evil but he who has done the evil. Give thanks even in disease, lack of possessions, or false accusations.
The scandalous nature of the commandment, to my mind, underlines its place within the Kingdom of God. Anyone can give thanks for good things, or even give thanks to God despite the bad things that surround them. But the purposeful giving of thanks for even the bad things, is repulsive. It is this very plunging into the heart of the repulsive that carries the mark of the Cross. The Cross “makes Him to be sin who knew no sin.” (2 Cor. 5:21). Where is the justice in that? There is no justice – only love. It is the same love that is “gathering together in one all things in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 1:10).
The life that we are called to live as Christians is the “eucharistic” life [eucharistein=to give thanks]. It is the most essential activity for humanity. In living out this calling, we fulfill the “priesthood of all believers.” That for which we cannot or will not give thanks is that which we are excluding from the Kingdom – from the possibility of redemption in Christ.
We are commanded to love our enemies (many of the fathers also teach that we should give thanks to God for our enemies).
There is no “limited atonement.” Christ is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” There is no modifying clause, nothing that delimits what sins it is Christ takes away. From an Orthodox understanding, Christ’s descent into hades (at the moment of His death) is an entrance into the whole of human sin, the fullness of our emptiness.
It is the good God who loves mankind who offers Himself on our behalf, and also makes it possible for us to be united to His offering. We become creatures of the Eucharist, and are transformed from grace to grace into the image of Christ, becoming eucharistic beings. We become what we were always created to be.
The limitations of our thanks (which is quite common) is also a limitation on God’s grace, refusing for His grace to work in all the world and for it to work in the whole of our own lives.
There is no two-storey universe of thanksgiving. We give thanks always for all things – else we risk giving thanks for nothing at all. I understand that this is a hard word for many and I do not say these things lightly. I know the pain of losing a child, of murders within my family, of tormenting disease ravaging loved ones, and all the tragedy that is common to most. And yet I have seen no other way towards healing and reconciliation other than the fullness of giving thanks as taught in the Scripture.
Glory to God for all things!