Thankful (part 1 of 2)

Sofia, Bulgaria by Gillham

Sofia, Bulgaria by Gillham

“There is nothing new under the sun,” wrote King Solomon. It is Thanksgiving week, three thousand years later, and there is still nothing new under the sun.

People are living and dying, marrying and divorcing, laughing and arguing, killing and being killed, succeeding and failing. There are wars and politicians and maneuvering for governmental advantage, territorial gain, and sociological dominion. There are winners and losers, ascendants and those fading from history’s dominance, posers and deposed.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Anyone who says we live in the darkest period known to humanity, or that we have the greatest atmosphere of political acrimony since the founding of the country, or that mankind is more morally destitute than at any other time doesn’t know much about mankind’s trek through the annals of time.

Anyone who says the world is improving, that mankind is becoming more humane, noble minded, and altruistic is espousing the same sentiment and worldview that persisted following World War I. Surely, mankind will not repeat this folly, they thought. One would think so, but within fifteen years of Armistice Day 1918 the world was spinning toward a more grievous bloodletting. And with the news of this morning the world continues careening toward a re-visitation of the Cold War, the race riots of fifty years ago, and the religious wars of a thousand years ago. Our leaders are following the playbooks of their predecessors.  

There is nothing new under the sun.

From where I’m sitting, this casts two shadows of thought across the plain of my thinking. First, for better or worse, there is noteworthy perspective to be offered by those who have preceded us. Second, there is an opportunity to gather our bearings and make determinations that bring our perspective to what lies ahead. Just because there is nothing new under the sun doesn’t mean we cannot learn from the past and embrace the future with determination, hope, and confidence.  

Optimists look on the bright side while pessimists can be cynical and dark. Then, there are those who like Pollyanna stick their heads in either the clouds or the sand. There are also realists, and while I think we all play each role from time to time, I’m prone more to the realist’s outlook.

Buried in the middle of a paragraph that is an amazing snippet of literature, the Apostle Paul says, “And be thankful” (ref. Col. 3:12-17, esp. v.15b). Three words, but three words that might mean for me—if I can grasp them—that the sun might look new and different tomorrow when the day dawns.

While there is nothing new under the sun—overall—there is plenty that is new to us, and a host of things that are irregular, mysterious, scary, uncertain...and a lot of other positive and negative attributes as well by this point in the year. The same will be true next year, in fact. So when King Solomon penned his book called, Ecclesiastes, he couldn’t have had in mind the specific challenges you and I face. Instead, he had in mind the principle of life and the living we do under the sun regardless of his antiquity or our modernity.  

In another passage, also penned by Paul, he expands his counsel to say, “Always give thanks for all things” (Eph. 5:20). It’s not that difficult to find something to be thankful for, but with this statement Paul identifies everything under the sun and instructs thankfulness in all things.

It is one thing to be thankful as a disposition—to determine to be thankful, and to find thankfulness in something each day. It is another matter altogether to be thankful for everything.

Last time I checked, which was a moment ago, there are some bad things in this world. Be thankful for everything?

Even though I’ve heard a number of sermons to this affect, I do not believe the Bible means I’m supposed to literally be thankful for the persecution of Christians in Syria, the genocide in northern Iraq, the dehumanization of women in the fundamental Islamic communities, the cancer eating at my neighbor’s six-month old, or a host of other offenses that include some within my front door. I may as well be thankful for the fall of mankind in Eden, the point of origin for everything that afflicts mankind.

Rather, I think what Paul means is that our default perspective must be a consideration of each circumstance in our lives under the sun, boldly exploring how the endurance required of us in these years of life enlightens what we know of God and find within ourselves. In this way, we live beyond while embracing the present. We approach life realistically, but do not lose hope. And from this vantage point, being thankful for each moment becomes philosophically possible and theologically reasonable. 

Possible and reasonable? Okay, but how? That's coming up.