On Giving Thanks in Covid
November 25, 2020
Each year, Americans (and Canadians, but that happens at a different time of the year) gather for “Thanksgiving.” And, of course, the point of such a gathering is to remind each other to give thanks. This year, I suspect, such a reminder will feel particularly poignant. Are we really meant to give thanks during Covid? I, like you, have seen memes, gifs, and such, mocking the year “2020” as the worst of all possible years. And are we really meant—during 2020!—to give thanks?
The Christian answer to that can only be a resounding: yes. But why? Paul tells the Thessalonians to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Presumably, “all circumstances” include these circumstances; otherwise, they are not “all” circumstances but merely “some” circumstances. He tells the Thessalonians that the reason why they are to give thanks in all circumstances is because “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” In that context, in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 which we are citing, Paul does not elaborate much. So we must draw on a wider array of Christian thinking to discern why we are to give thanks in all circumstances, including these Covid circumstances.
The answer is not that hard to discover. We are told to give thanks in all circumstances (not because of all circumstances). No one is telling you to thank God for Covid. Rather, we are being told to find within Covid areas for which we can give thanks. This, we are told, is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.
You will say, well, fine, but how on earth is that a reasonable, or even possible, thing to do. And the answer to that is that it is presumably no harder than a Christian Saxon giving thanks to God in the circumstances of unending Viking invasions, a medieval Christian giving thanks during the perennial plague, a man down the trenches at Ypres in World War 1 giving thanks in the mud and the slime, or someone giving thanks while they have cancer or face death. We live in a world where death is a certainty. And for many of us death will not be pleasant. These facts are inescapable. Our bodies are subject to decay. And Covid is just a particularly brutal and confusing manifestation of the fallen world in which we live. But even in the midst of that, while we cannot control what happens to our bodies, we can control what happens to our minds. Our hearts. Our wills. And our relationship with Christ.
It is here that thanks giving plays its role. We remember that which we do have (rather than what we don’t have). We remember, most of all, Christ Jesus, for whom we give thanks as it is God’s will for us to do.
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