Often I have been asked how a person can hold to a spirit of thankfulness when there is so much suffering and pain in the world. It's as if people think that if God really did exist that there would be no suffering; as if God was indebted to us to make sure we lived in perfect harmony and were protected from every form of suffering. Honestly, it is a very absurd way of looking at things. Even when Jesus performed His earthly ministry he did not bring an end to suffering. His words in Matthew 11 picture how God interacts with humanity and it is not to keep every accident that could occur from harming us. He said:
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
(Matthew 11:28-29 NKJV)
Jesus' words were not I will come to you and heal you of every form of suffering and pain; I will protect you from every freak accident and keep all drunk drivers away from all cars on the road. No it was an invitation for us to come to Him. It has always been that way. God has always bid us to come and to cast our cares upon Him (see 1 Pet. 5:7). In Isaiah we read:
"Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, You shall be devoured by the sword"; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 1:18-20 NKJV)
In this passage the invitation is present in the words "If you are willing and obedient..." If we will make the choice we can insure our futures in God's hands. Even in Jesus' final days we still see God's invitation. What we find on the cross is the outspread arms of Jesus bidding all to come to Him for the cleansing of sin. It would be His blood made available to the world for the cleansing of sin, but again, only if we will come.
In the Evidence Bible, commentated by Ray Comfort, a simple story is told by Tony Perkins, called, Dentists Do Not Exist. The story is humorous but it illustrates the point at hand:
“On a recent trip to the dentist, while the dentist was working on my teeth he said to me, ‘I do not believe in God.’ Now this dentist knows what I do for a living and how important my faith is to me, yet for numerous reasons (one main one being his hands were in my mouth) I uncharacteristically remained silent, allowing him to explain: ‘How can God exist and still allow all the suffering and pain in the world?’ I remained quiet until he was finished (and of course put his drill away) and told him that ‘I do not believe in dentists.’ This confused him greatly so I clarified for him that if there are dentists in the world, how can so many people have broken, infected, and missing teeth? He answered me, ‘I cannot help anyone who does not come to me to have their teeth fixed.’ That reply is the same for faith. God cannot help people until they come to Him in repentance and faith,…and ask Him for help.”1
Maybe the reason we do not find thanksgiving in the world is because we have refused to to take all of our cares and burdens to Jesus? In God's economy that is always the first step; to push away from ourselves and into the arms of Jesus. Suffering is indeed present in this world. One way or another all of us, excepting a final generation of believers, will die. Death is a part of this life. Jesus knew that--He experienced it Himself. But He also raised Himself from the dead afterwards to make Himself available to all as a continual fountain of cleansing from sin.
God does promise us a trouble-free life in which to live and prosper (Rev. 21:4), but it's not going to be on this earth in its present state (John 16:33). One day He will return and when He does suffering will find that it has no place in His Kingdom. That is a promise for all people.
We all have a choice. We can look at this world in which we now live and make the decision to reject Christ because of suffering or we can look at this world and trust Christ because there is suffering and He is our only hope to escape it. Our life does not consist of a life only in this world. There is a heaven and a bright future for all who will accept the invitation of Christ.
We can find thanksgiving this year...and every year that follows if we drop the blinders and realize that true life is not just the present but also encompasses the future...and it is Jesus that holds the future.
For all Jesus has done I am thankful. For all in this life that have crossed my path I have learned something, and for that I am thankful. For family, for friends, for my home and my job; for the chance to trust Jesus I am thankful. It's all in the way we look at life, both now, and the future.
How about you?
1 - http://dailyevidence.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/dentists-do-not-exist/