The experience of suffering and the presence of evil in our world have a way of undermining our sense of gratitude. This is because all the good things we are blessed with can easily be cast into shadow by the hardships, disappointment, and trials of life. Indeed, this is not only a factor inhibiting gratitude, but for many a powerful argument for atheism. After all, if we are going to give thanks to God for all the good things we have been blessed with, we are declaring God responsible for bringing those good things about, and this raises the age-old question: Why doesn’t God also prevent the bad things from occurring?
If I had an answer to this crucial and vexing question I would, of course, be the first to have done so. That we don’t possess an answer to this vexing question doesn’t mean that we either stop wrestling with this problem or throw in our lot with the atheists or compromise by adopting some dualistic solution that has God contending, eternally, with an evil counterpart he is unable to vanquish. Instead, while continuing to engage our intellects in struggling with this issue, we also need to summon the gift of faith and attempt to look upon the same reality with something of God’s own perspective.
Concerning God’s perspective it needs to be said, firstly, that God is not indifferent to evil and suffering in our lives and doesn’t expect us to be grateful for these evils and sufferings in and of themselves. Secondly, God’s perspective is an eternal one and includes a plan whose outcome only he fully knows and that includes our eternal happiness in union with him in the eternal bliss of heaven. This is another way of acknowledging that if this earthly life were all there is to look forward to, then our present sufferings and misfortunes would become even more problematic and a sense of gratitude that more difficult.
And so it is precisely with God’s eternal plan in mind that we strive to preserve a spirit of gratitude even in the midst of things that, considered in themselves, we would be foolish to be grateful for. To this end, we all probably have examples of trials, tragedies, and losses that, over time, have proved divinely-used instruments of inner transformation that we have gradually come to be grateful for—even though wishing there had been an easier path to this growth towards human and spiritual maturity and holiness.
Accordingly, on this Thanksgiving Day let us not only give thanks for the obviously good and pleasant things we have been blessed with, but let us also summon our faith so as to thank God for his providential working in and through what seems impossible to be grateful for. Contrary to common belief, these are not signs of God’s absence or instruments of his punishing justice, and if we but let him he will continue to work in and through them to bring about our eternal good. And then we will experience this reciprocal process whereby our gratitude becomes a measure of our faith and our faith, in turn, the only means to true gratitude and love of the One who in all things works for the good of those who love him.