In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 1 Thessalonians 5:18
“The worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has no one to thank.” – G.K. Chesterton
Many who have given up on our faith will point to the problem of pain and suffering in the world. Of man’s inhumanity to man. Of hurricanes and tornados and other natural disasters killing people. They will ask, “How do we account for the problem of evil and suffering in the world?”
Most of us have had a screen door on our homes at one time or another in our lives. Screen doors are designed to let a breeze in and keep pesky insects out. You know what it is like to stand at a screen door and look outside and watch children playing in your front yard, a breeze moves the leaves on a tree, and we watch the clouds in the sky go floating by.
But imagine your eyes focusing, not on the playing children and the blooming flowers in your flowerbed, but on the holes in the screen. If you stare at the holes, I promise you won’t see the flowers. Too much time watching cable news, listening to talk radio, or hanging around people who confirm your biases can be the equivalent of fixating on the holes in the screen door.
Wendell Berry reminds us, “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”
There is the problem of evil. It’s a very real problem. But there is also the problem of good.
What do you do with the feeling in your soul when you stand, with your feet in the water, at the ocean’s edge? What do you do with that feeling when you hold in your arms your first child or, better yet, your very first grandchild and listen to their little squeals?
What do we do with the feeling we have well up in our hearts when we listen to Charlotte Church singing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Pie Jesu, or stand before a Van Goh, or finish reading a poem by William Stafford?
If you are struggling with faith, my suggestion is for you to puzzle over why you feel gratitude for the transcendent beauty you see in the world.
I also think it is a good idea to develop the discipline of gratitude. Gratitude for followers of Jesus is a discipline. Because, if you’re like me, the assumption is that gratitude is a mood. But it is hard to command an emotion. If you doubt that, next time your spouse gets up set, tell them to “calm down.” No one in the history of saying “calm down” has ever calmed down because someone told them to calm down.
Parents have a question that they ask their children. All parents do this. After someone gives their child a gift or does them a favor, the parent will say to the child, “what do you say?” How is a kid supposed to respond?
If you want to see the joy-factor increase in your life I suggest you practice noticing the beauty and the good in this world.
Poet Mary Oliver puts it this way,
Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.
I am a firm believer that how we live every day of our life will greatly determine how we die. Jonathan Greene wrote a book called, “Famous Last Words.” And the whole book just consists of the last words of hundreds and hundreds of people before they died.
My favorite is a quote from a guy in the Civil War, General Sedgewick. He was in battle. His last words were,
“They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist—.”
The two authors who have had the greatest impact on my life have both died in recent years. I quote them all the time in my sermons and in conversations. I am very interested in how each of these men ended their life here on this good earth. What were their last words? I’ve included and adapted two pieces written by two authors who knew the men very well.
First, from Bill Gaultiere. You can read his entire tribute to Dallas by clicking https://www.soulshepherding.org/personal-reflections-from-dallas-willards-funeral/
Dallas’ last days were painful. But even as he laid on his bed suffering, he held Jesus’ hand in the Kingdom of the Heavens. With characteristic gentleness and kindness, he kept saying, “Thank you.” To doctors, nurses, visitors, and God. “Thank you… Thank you… Thank you… Thank you…”
The nurses were drawn to his positive attitude in suffering and how appreciative of them he was. They heard him and his visitors reciting Scriptures, singing hymns, talking about a God of love, and praying. The way that Dallas was dying drew the people around him to Jesus Christ and our God of love. This is the way of Jesus on the cross and it’s the way of his followers. How we respond to suffering is often our very best witness for Christ.
One of the nurses looked up Dallas Willard on the Internet and realized not only that he was famous but that there were some people who were saying mean things about him. She said, “I don’t get it. Why would religious people hate this good man who says that God loves everyone?”
God showed his love to Dallas in the hospital. For instance, Dallas’ had a remarkable experience of God. He said, “I taught on the Great Cloud of Witnesses and now I’m experiencing it. I am in heaven’s hallway and there is a large community coming for me. They are the most loving persons I’ve ever been around.”
Finally, at the very end, his last words were once again, “Thank you.” He didn’t even name anyone but I’m sure he was looking into the shining face of Jesus as he was walking all the way through the hallway into heaven.
Second, from Winn Collier’s authorized biography of Eugene Peterson A Burning in My Bones.
The final couple of days [of Eugene’s life], he said thank you over and over again. When anyone fixed his pillow or helped him with a drink: “Thank you.” Often, he’d simply mumble under his breath, “Thank you.” And this was gratitude infused with joy. One afternoon, [his children] Eric, Elizabeth, Leif, and Amy were all sitting next to him, lined up on one side of his bed. Eugene opened his eyes, and it took him a moment to gain focus and recognize who was there. Then his eyes went bright, and he broke out in that wide smile. “Wow! he exclaimed.
Those final hours, Elizabeth sat with him, holding his hand, and singing hymns. Sensing the end was near, she called for Eric. Then, the moment—last breaths, new tears, the stepping out into a broader place, a call from a deep, familiar voice, a call to him from a farther shore than we can see. It was time.
Last words, then barely discernible but sounding like thank you.
Then, unhurried and gentle, Eugene died.
Oh, to be loved by God. To be given the most precious gift, His Son, Jesus Christ, who died on a cross for me.
What do you say?