In the Pandemic, Give Thanks...
In Paul's first epistle to the Thessalonians, the Lord commands us, saying, "In all things, give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
As I write these words right in the heart of Paris, the novel coronavirus has been spreading rapidly — especially in the Paris region — and the whole of France has just been placed under quarantine for a minimum of two weeks. We may leave our homes for one of five reasons, and each time, we have to print or write out a signed declaration explaining our reason for going out, or risk being fined. As President Macron declared in announcing the quarantine, "We are at war." And this after a draining winter of mass strikes, and a year of occasional unrest.
In 387 AD, after a period of crisis and social upheaval in Antioch, John Chrysostom said the following in his Homilies on the Statutes:
“Not only did he rescue us from shipwreck, but he allowed us to fall into such distress and permitted such an extreme peril to hang over us. Thus also Paul bids us 'in every thing give thanks.' But when he says, 'In every thing give thanks,' he means not only in our deliverance from evils but also at the time when we suffer those evils.”
So while we stay indoors, and wash our hands, and look out for each other and our neighbours, and keep our distance, and pray for the sick and the bereaved and the "at-risk," how do we also give thanks?
Here are some reflections:
1) Let us give thanks, because this is from the Father's hand.
In the preface to his commentary on the Psalms, John Calvin writes that the psalter “teaches us and leads us to bear the cross, which is a true test of obedience.” And what does it mean to bear the cross? It means that, “as we renounce our own affections, we submit ourselves entirely to God, and so let him govern us and arrange our lives that the miseries that are the most sore and bitter to our nature become sweet to us, because they proceed from him.”
When God gives, whatever he gives, we give thanks. He has revealed himself to be that good, and that trustworthy. We can know that all that he has given is working together for good for those who love him, and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). So let us give thanks because this is from the Father's hand.
2) Let us give thanks because it is good to give thanks to God.
In Psalm 92:1 we read and sing, "It is good to give thanks to the Lord." The Psalmist doesn't merely say that it is polite, or correct manners, to give thanks to the Lord — it is a good thing. Why is that? Let's consider what's going on. The Father gives, and we thank him. What is that other than communion and fellowship? It is a simple expression of our glorifying and enjoying God.
3) Let us give thanks to God for our daily bread.
We mostly do thank him for providing for our needs, and yet many of us in the so-called developed world have not had to worry all that much about where to find food. Often, when we hear sermons on the Lord's Prayer, some comment is made on how many of us don't have to worry about this kind of thing all that much in our affluent societies, but that we should remember how the Lord provides anyway. But as many around us panic buy, those who have abstained, and those who are "at risk," even while having the means to buy food, have had to be more concerned about how to find it. Let us pray that, as the Lord continues to provide for our needs, he will instil in us an ever-deepening gratitude for all his good gifts.
4) Let us thank God for the wonder of being made in his image.
As we find ourselves further apart from other people, whether strangers or loved ones, even the most introverted among us can feel a certain sting at the prospect of isolation. Why is this? We are being deprived of the company of beings that have been made in the image of God. It is an incredible thing — and it can be sore to be without it. So let us thank God for such a wonder, and for the relatives and friends that we have been able to enjoy, and, Lord-willing, will enjoy again one day soon.
5) Let us thank God for the Church.
As we find ourselves unable to gather physically, and having to make do virtually, let us consider the countless times we have been able to gather with God's people at the Heavenly Mount Zion and worship Him over our lifetimes so far. Let us thank God for that. Let us also pray that the day will come soon when we can resume doing so, and especially the day when we will do so once for eternity at Christ's return. Let us pray for this period of isolation to have a positive impact on those who, until now, may have been half-hearted in their involvement in the local church. It could result in people saying "See, we all did just fine without gathering." But let's pray that many more would say, "I missed this. This is wonderful. How could I have been comfortable skipping this?" And let us pray for such enthusiasm to pique the curiosity of our, and their, neighbours.
6) Let us thank God "for such redemption."
The first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism make it clear that Christians are the people who have an unshakeable comfort in both life and death. The second question and answer lists the three things we need to know "in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort" — guilt, grace, and gratitude. In particular, I need to know "how I am to be thankful to God for such redemption."
So what do we need to thank God for? All the things I've mentioned above, or redemption? The answer, of course, is, "Yes." Or rather, the answer is "Don't separate them too sharply." There is a sense, of course, in which our redemption is a particular thing for which we thank God. But, while not everything we have to give thanks for is redemption per se, everything we have to give thanks for is because of redemption. And that in at least two ways:
a) The reason anyone receives and enjoys anything good in this world is that the Lord is restraining evil in his common grace, and exercising great patience. And why is that? Because God "is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." (2 Peter 3:9) He is patient, and he is restraining evil, and maintaining order and goodness, all so that more people may have the opportunity to repent.
b) As we noted above — why does our Father give us any good thing? So that we may enjoy it, and return thanks to him. So that we may have communion, or fellowship, with him. And that is what redemption is for. He doesn't redeem us for the sake of redeeming us. He redeems us for the sake of communing with him.
So even in these difficult, dark, sore days, let us give thanks. Let us gratefully commune with God as redeemed ones, united to Christ Jesus — for that is what God wants.
Gethin Jones is a minister in the International Presbyterian Church. He’s serving with UFM Worldwide alongside La Chapelle de Nesle, a reformed evangelical church in central Paris.
"Home Visitation: The Worst of Times, the Best of Times" by Chad Van Dixhoorn
"Ten Ways COVID-19 Can Work for Our Good" by Brian Najapfour
"I Am Thy Shield: Calvin on Genesis 15" by Aaron Denlinger
"Facets of Faith in Crisis" by Bruce Lowe
My Portion Forever: Finding God's Joy in Our Pain [ Download ]
Amidst Darkness: Suffering, Solace, and the Psalms by James Boice [ Download ]
 Peter Gorday, ed., Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 99.
 Jean Calvin, Commentaires de M. Jean Calvin Sur le Livre des Pseaumes, (Geneva: Conrad Badius, 1561), Vol. I, ii-iii; Author’s translation.