The Often-Harsh Reality
As we finish up another season of Thanksgiving in America, I cannot help but feel thankful. I sit stuffed to the gills after a series of stunningly bad food choices, having left neither the couch nor my lounge pants since Wednesday evening. In the dictionary under “cosseted existence”, there should be a picture of me. I mean, what could I possibly complain about. Not just today, but my whole life. To be born a white male in late twentieth century United States, to parents who were successful and who cared enough to share that success to an immeasurable degree, marks me as perhaps one of the biggest winners of the genetic lottery. If I did not continually offer thanks to God for all of this, then I would also be one of the most ungrateful sots on the planet, or so I thought.
It is amazingly easy for me to thank and give praise to God. Perhaps a bit too easy. I mean, what about those who don’t have a whole lot to be thankful for? There are many, maybe most of the people on the planet who can legitimately ask: thanks for what? This may be less true in this country but there are millions here who struggle. What do we offer those who struggle with disease, affliction by natural disaster, or other earthly maladies? How about those who suffer under unjust economic systems or corrupt systems of government (I know, I know, all government is corrupt)? What can be said to offer succor to those who pay the price for the loss of opportunity that is manifest by those using policy to unjustly enrich themselves? What of those buried under a mountain of debt? Or those who struggle like Sisyphus trying forever to push the boulder up the hill only to have it roll back down again?
Millions in this nation, much less around the world struggle to simply stay alive and avoid being killed. Why should they be thankful? What message, as Christians, do we offer them? If we simply tell them, buck up, pray hard, it will all be o.k., then we are likely to be ignored. With good reason, I might add. If we for a moment suggest that everything on Earth will be alright if we simply believe, then we are no better than the “prosperity gospel” charlatans that have led so many from the true path.
First, to tell people this is deeply unscriptural. There is nothing in the Bible that says that God’s people will have nothing but sunny days all their lives. Look at the book of Job. Or look at the life of God’s own Son, Jesus. He suffered horribly in a patently unjust way. If you suggested that we can pray our way to prosperity you would be laughed out of a fifth grade Sunday school class.
Second, to set people up with this kind of a belief system is to set them up to fall away from the faith when life inevitably dumps all over them. They will have no strong roots of faith and will subsequently be uprooted when the first winds of ugly reality hit them. What will we have done for God to proclaim a message that is not built to last?
A More Thankful Message
How then do we proclaim a message that must by definition give thanks to God? First, clearly understand that there are those who suffer. Also, it must not matter to us whether or not they had a part in the situation in which they find themselves. We must clearly acknowledge that they are in a tough place. Trying to paper this reality over with platitudes is insulting. We also must at the same time acknowledge that we stand ready to help in any way we can. This may mean support for immediate needs like a food bank or homeless shelter. It should also mean that we will, at a minimum call out those who abuse their power and privilege to the clear and unjust disadvantage of others. Many in the 1% do screw over the other 99%, yes, the progressives are correct about this. The driving force behind the policy perspectives that I offer here is based upon that reality. More to the point we should commit to actively seeking to change the policies that spread so much misery around this nation and around the world. God does not call us either to silence or inactivity. We are the hands and feet, eyes and ears of our Lord on Earth. We are to always work for a more just and merciful world so that His will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. People who see us obeying because we believe will be much more likely to respond to the good news.
More importantly, we must be clear what all of us need to be thankful for. None of us, even in America are really to be thankful for all the STUFF we have. I should not really offer God thanks for being stuffed and sedentary over the Thanksgiving holiday. I should not really be thankful for all of the material or physical blessings I have been given. All of this is ephemeral, even for a white upper-class male born in late twentieth century America. As easily as I have been given all of this it could be snatched away in a moment. Disease, accident, economic calamity, all of these can hit at any time. We forget that at our peril.
Thanks then for what? Thanks be to God for wanting access to all of our lives and wanting an eternal relationship with each one of us. To do this He sent His son to live among us and suffer like us, ultimately to death on a cross. In doing this God clearly proclaims that nothing we go through on this Earthly journey is unknown to Him. As we suffer, so has He. Through it all, though is the amazingly good news that no matter how bad things get on planet earth (and they can get pretty damn bad), God will bring His people home. That is a thing to be truly thankful for because it can never be lost. As Paul wrote nothing can separate us from the love of God. (ROM 8:38).
It is because of this that we are called to do everything we can to ameliorate the condition of our fellow brothers and sisters. This is why we fight injustice; this is why we stand adamantly opposed to the murder and theft that line the pockets of the rich. We live out the Gospel, as best we feebly can, because we have already been saved. This is how we truly say thank you whether it be “Thanksgiving” or any other day of the year, whether we are fat and healthy or suffering and miserable.
Praise Be to God