The Thanksgiving season is a blessed time for family gatherings, the carving of the turkey, and many other fun life building events. It is truly a time for us to pause and reflect upon the things that we are most thankful for. But, as is always the case, there are those who refuse to be thankful as they continue to live in cynicism toward the day and the blessings of others. Like the Christmas “Scrooge” they have become the thanksgiving “deluge” doing their best to rain on the parade of others! Well, I too can think of a multitude of things that I am not thankful for, but only if I wish to look at them as not having any reason or purpose.
How can I be thankful for the cancer that takes a young mother from her adoring children? How can I be thankful for the children left behind who suffer a pain beyond all understanding as they spill forth rivers of tears? How can I be thankful for the orphans who wonder if there really is love in life? What about the homeless who roam the streets looking for a dumpster to find a meal, or the father who has lost his job and sinks with worry wondering how he is going to feed his family? Or the young teen that makes decisions so disastrous to their bodies that they despair of life? Then there are the scoundrels that live to steal and to hurt others for their own gain. The fires, the car wrecks, the plane crashes, and the heart attacks that rob us of life, and in many cases, at a young age. The list can go on and on and you too can put in your own two cents. But I could build a much larger list of the things I am thankful for! But I digress. To stick to the pain point I will do my best to offer how I see things.
So where am I to find the answer to the reality of pain and oppression? Statisticians tell us that because of the above pain point’s, atheism and distrust abound. I find it paradoxical that these could be so adamantly against God when He, Himself, died such a cruel death at the hands of evil-doers. Jesus was a victim of the cruelty of life that they so highly prize as their biggest reason to not believe nor trust in Him. Does that make sense? If anything, it would seem He would be on their side—agreeing that evil in the world abounds. And there rises the paradox. He came to identify with us and the sufferings that mankind has endured since the fall of man in Eden and even to this very second. Jesus is a victim of their wrath as much as He was of those who crucified Him.
If we look to Him to be the cure to all things presently painful being experienced on earth then we must also agree with the crowds who surrounded Him while He hung upon that bleeding and suffocating cross in utter agony; for certainly He did not save His own earthly life. But then if He is truly the omnipotent Son of God do you not agree that He would have the choice?
35 Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: "They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots."
36 Sitting down, they kept watch over Him there.
37 And they put up over His head the accusation written against Him: THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
38 Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left.
39 And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads
40 and saying, "You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross."
41 Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said,
42 "He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.
43 He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.' "
44 Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing. Matthew 27:35-44 (NKJV)
His choice was to die, but not as an escape from trial, but because of trial and suffering. He knew it cast up doubt and it must end. So what He did was make the greatest statement against suffering in the history of humanity. He provided a way of escape—Himself. Three days after He breathed His last He scored the winning touchdown—He defeated the worst enemy of mankind, death. From that empty tomb He would appear to multitudes before ascending into heaven. His promise was life to those who would believe and death to those who choose to embrace suffering of earth and the dust of the grave they hope one day will end their suffering. Jesus did not come to eradicate suffering. He came to show you that its existence and its pain are not final. However, what is final is His defeat over it. Having suffered at its hands He defeated it once for all.
I am often dumfounded when I read the last line of the passage quoted above. Even suffering the sentence of death, being in its last throes, at least at first, the robbers had the gall to speak against Him. But that last line is not the end of the story. For one of them came to his senses and asked humbly:
42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:42-43 (ESV)
Even the robber, in the midst of suffering his sentence of crime, was able to see that the One who came to identify with mankind who demonstrated His power over all things on earth and in heaven above, was worth believing in. Crime hung the thief on the cross but evil-doing and hate mandated the destiny of God. You see the Lord truly does love us. If He didn’t He would have never came down to our level.
So with so much suffering and so much pain in this life is it ok to ask, “Where is God this Thanksgiving Season?” The answer is simply this, He is all around us. Every time a person sins He is there. Every time a person is hurt, He is there. Every time and injustice occurs He is there. If you can see it, each of these things tells us that we do not have to become a victim of the temptation to allow the wrath that suffering can build to fester within us. Instead, we are given the choice to run with zest toward the only available and eternal escape from its searing clutch, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our life is but a vapor and when the vapor passes we will either succumb to more wrath, as found in eternal suffering, or we will arise to the everlasting peace offered through faith in Christ.
This Thanksgiving season, I thank Jesus for the escape from suffering He has promised to all who will see His light. In Him alone I offer my thanksgiving. Amazing Grace that saved a wretch like me…I once was lost but now I am free!