The Bible instructs us to give thanks to God for everything. Does that mean even for something bad happening to us in early childhood, years before we obeyed the Gospel, and harming us physically for all our lives; or does it mean to give thanks for just things that happen to us after we are in Christ?

With our limited vision it is sometimes hard for us to see how it is suitable to give thanks to God in everything. On the day these lines were penned I had a funeral service for a man who had made no profession of faith of any sort. He was a “good” man, I understand, but he died out of Christ. Should I thank God for the death of that unregenerate man? Or more to the point should Christian loved ones give thanks that time ran out for him, and he died without hope? Perhaps the things that happened to us before we obeyed the gospel really present no greater problem than some of the things which have happened since.

Certainly the Lord’s overruling of all things for good is especially for the Christian. The Christian is the one to whom the promise is specifically made. But let’s not decide that all which happens to us before we became Christians is mere chance. Surely that One who knows the fall of a sparrow also knows and cares about what is occurring in the life of His highest, though disobedient, creation. He who sees the end from the beginning is often working in lives, preparing vessels for His use, long before there is a turning to the Lord. In my opinion, our thanksgiving is not just to be limited to the present but is to be retroactive to include all of our life. Likely some explanation concerning our thanksgiving is in order, however.

A significant passage is found in Heb. 12:2. “ … Jesus … who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus did not joy in the suffering and shame of the cross. He endured the suffering and He despised the shame. His eyes were on something else, the joy set before Him, the great things to be accomplished for man by His death. Does Jesus require of us what He did not practice Himself? Should I give thanks that Jesus suffered? In and of itself, no! But I can give thanks that through His suffering came certain invaluable results. It should grieve me that He had to suffer as He did and that my sins were a part of it, but I can give thanks for the love that was demonstrated toward me there. I see no reason to believe that Jesus was thankful for His sufferings, but He was thankful for what was wrought thereby.

It seems to me that there is a difference between giving thanks in everything and giving thanks for everything. Let’s use another example. Bro. X was sixty years old when he became a Christian. Should he give thanks for that? He certainly should be thankful that he came to know the Lord and the joys of being a Christian. He should be thankful that God’s mercy continued so long with him. Etc. But should he be thankful for sixty wasted years, years spent for the devil? Should he be thankful for the bad example he set for others in those years? I think not. In the matter of his becoming a Christian, then, there is abundant reason for giving thanks, and it is fitting and expected that he should do so, but he will not necessarily give thanks for all features of the matter.

We may take an example from the life of Paul. He had persecuted the church, putting saints to death. For this fact itself he could never give thanks. In truth, after becoming a Christian he was ashamed of it and marveled that the Lord could forgive him. But in this evil matter Paul did find occasion for thanksgiving (1 Tim. 1: 12-16). He was grateful for the Lord’s mercy in calling him, His willingness to forgive any sinner. In the matter he found great reason for thanksgiving though he could not be thankful for every fact and detail.

Let’s return to the case of the man who died out of Christ. Am I thankful for that in and of itself? No. But I’m thankful for a God who will not be trifled with and whose word can be depended on, for good or for evil. I’m thankful for the fact He may speak to others in the event, for a gospel which could have brought salvation if allowed to do so, etc.

This question is concerned with something which may have happened in childhood—an accident, a birth defect, sickness—I have no way of knowing what might be in mind. We may not be thankful for the evil thing itself, but has not God worked good from it? Many a so-called tragedy has been the turning point in the road that brought us to the Lord or to our work for Him. Some of the “evil” things have kept us relying on Him. The Christian is to develop the habit of looking for the hand of the Lord in all that comes his way and is to develop the habit of thanksgiving. He need not be thankful for every evil thing in and of itself, but he should be thankful for the abundant good to be found in the whole matter.