|The altar arrangement at the community Thanksgiving service|
The preacher this year was Baptist; he spoke on being thankful for the hardships of life. His text: Paul's thorn-in-the-flesh, a true, life-long torment. Even Paul, who could miraculously heal others, could not convince God to remove this plaguing affliction. But Paul eventually thanked God for the thing he first wanted removed from his life. "Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest on me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
The Baptist preacher proceeded to list off some events we might initially loathe but later be thankful for: a traffic ticket, a bad grade in school, a broken engagement. Those are understandable. But does this principle apply for all things in life? Are there some heartaches that we can never become thankful for?
What about death?
Because if our faith in Jesus is only good for traffic tickets and romantic disappointments, it's not good for much.
It depends on what we do when trouble comes. How much does God have to do to you, before you grab hold of Him? Does He have to cut one leg out from under you, or two? Some of us are so stubborn, so independent, so self-sufficient, that when small- (or medium-) sized troubles come, we still don't think to turn to God. God's answer to Paul was that God had made Paul weak, so he would need God's strength. He would lean on God. He would be dependent.
It is an interesting mental exercise to recall all the greatest heartaches of life, and ponder why God brought them about, why He chose them for you, and what possible use they could be for your spiritual growth. What about death? What about the death of a dearly loved one, a child perhaps?
Even the worst of hardships should drive us weeping to the cross, to the One who suffered the most in death. And death can turn our hearts permanently toward heaven, as nothing else can. Can we be thankful for that?
I wrote a post this fall, but did not publish it, about dying, about particularly awful deaths, about why God (if it's someone's time to go) allows brutal, painful deaths. I wrote it after a local woman died in a boating accident, quite horribly. From our perspective, it was gruesome. Her husband was, I'm sure, numb with the pain of it. Why, God? Why not have her die in her sleep? Why are some deaths so appalling?
And I wonder if that kind of death is necessary to draw the person to God, in those final ten minutes of life. Because God is all about drawing us to Him, to heaven, by any means. What if our most wrenching heartaches are necessary because our hearts are hard? And like a lump of clay, like a cold mass of bread dough, our hearts must be worked and kneaded and ripped and contorted and squeezed until they are warm and malleable in God's hands.
I have great hardships in my past for which I am thankful now, but there were no deaths involved. I think this week of you whose lives have been shadowed with repeated deaths. Is Thanksgiving week a hollow time? May God work His strength into your hurting hearts and give you eyes to see His purposes. May He help you learn, like Job, to accept that He gives and He takes away, and His Name is blessed both ways.