First published Nov. 24, 2016

Thanksgiving, because it’s a yearly holiday, sort of lends itself to reviewing the previous year and giving thanks for the good things the Lord has done in our lives. Often it’s a remembrance of physical ailments overcome, occupational transitions accompanied by increased income, or other assorted and sundry triumphs.

But life is hard, and sometimes one arrives at Thanksgiving worse off than the year before. The diagnosis wasn’t good, the job didn’t come through, the marriage fell apart, the loved one died. And what I’ve noticed in years like that is the uncanny ability for the afflicted, the disappointed, and the frustrated to still be able to give thanks. Often it sounds like this: “I had perhaps the worst year of my life. I lost my job, my mother unexpectedly passed away, and I’m afraid I’m going to lose my house. But then I was watching a program about Christians in South Sudan living in constant fear of being massacred for the sake of the gospel, and I thought to myself, ‘You know, I really don’t have it that bad. They have it so much worse than me. I still have a lot to be thankful for.’”

Now I don’t want to belittle an attitude of thankfulness. But I do wonder, what does the guy in South Sudan say on Thanksgiving? Thanks that I’ve only had my house burned and my hand hacked off, because the guy down the street watched his wife being raped? And if so, what does that guy give thanks for?

There actually is a guy who had it worse than anyone else, so far as I know. His name was Job. He lost everything. His kids died. All 10 of them. At once. During a birthday party, of all things. His material possessions were completely taken from him, including his servants. His health was gone. We find the richest man in the east sitting on an ash heap, scraping himself with a piece of broken pottery. Oh, I suppose we could say a man with good friends has all he needs. “Job, this is your fault!” Big help, all of them!

I ask myself – what is Job thankful for that Thanksgiving? Nobody had it worse than he did. He couldn’t look at anyone and say, “Oh, I may have it rough, but clearly I’ve been blessed by God beyond that guy.”

Job would say this, I think:

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.

And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,

whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25-27)

The Redeemer lives, He will stand on the earth, and I will be raised again to see God. Job may have lost “everything,” but then again, in the ultimate sense he lost nothing. House-crumbling whirlwinds cannot cause the Redeemer to cease living. Raiding murderous Sabeans cannot stop him from standing on the earth, and no disease in all the world can prohibit resurrection.

It’s good, I think, to be thankful for temporal blessings, such as they are. But when we become so focused upon them that we measure the goodness of God by the degree of His material generosity, we place ourselves in a position in which it’s possible to find nothing to be thankful for, because we actually do have it worse than anyone else.

But when our thanksgiving is primarily focused on the unshakeable reality that God gave us a Redeemer, and that Redeemer is living in an eternal, immortal sense, never to die, and that Redeemer is in fact one day going to touch those blessed feet once again on the earth, and this old sack of bones perhaps long since rotted away to dust will hear the voice of the Son of God and live, there’s nothing that can prevent a heart full of gratitude, even though that heart finds itself surrounded by the graves of his children, the ashes of his house, the stench of disease, the accusations of “friends,” and the suicidal advice of a spouse. Yikes, that’s a list. God forbid we should find ourselves sitting in Job’s ashpit. But if we do, there is yet cause for thanks.

-jr

when I wrote this last year, I had no idea how Job-like this Thanksgiving would feel. But I’m glad I wrote it, and even gladder that I still believe it, more than ever.

picture taken from wikipedia