St. Paul wrote, “In everything give thanks.” By our way of thinking, that seems a bit extreme. Give thanks always for cancer? For war in the Middle East? Give thanks for divorce and runaways, for abused children and homeless families, for the deceptions perpetrated in abortion mills and for the babies that will never be born? How can we thank God for that? How can this be the Lord’s will? Only in this way: His mercy endures forever.
It is a bit sobering to realize that, as painful and sad as our lives might be, they are not as painful and sad as they could be. Even in war and cancer, even in pain and abuse, there is still some measure of mercy. There is no Hell on earth. Not ground zero in New York, not Jeffrey Dahmer’s basement, not even Stalin’s prisons were Hell on earth. Any of those places looks like a wonderful reprieve to souls in the never ending gnashing of teeth and torment in Hell. Hell is Hell. There is nothing on earth, no matter how horrific, that really compares. The pain of having God withdraw from your life is beyond all imagination. By God’s mercy in Jesus Christ there is only Hell in Hell. He stopped it from coming to earth. He intervened in the garden. And no man ever need endure or suffer it because His mercy endures forever. Thus do we always give thanks in all things, because bad as it is, is not as bad as it could be.
That is not to say that we actually give thanks for cancer or for war. Rather we give thanks in spite of cancer, war, abuse, injustice, and death. We give thanks that, as St. Paul says, “All things work together for good to those who love God…” We give thanks for the mercies we receive in this vale of tears. As bad as it might be, we deserve worse according to God’s Law. If He recorded our sins, who could stand? Our suffering is not insignificant, but is not it the true price of our sins. Thus we give thanks.
We also give thanks and praise for the sure and certain mercy that will lead us through the baptismal sea, red with our Lord’s blood, and into the arms of the Father. The angel of death has no room for us. He passed over us because the doorposts of our singing hearts are marked with the blood of the Lamb. The angel will not lead us across the Styx and into Hades. He filled his boat at Mt. Golgotha. There is no room for us in the boat or in Hell. Our payment has been made. There is nothing left, nothing more for the devil or the Law to ask. There is no accusation remaining, because His mercy endures forever. And because His mercy endures forever, we give thanks.
This merciful sacrifice does not buy us passage into some fantasy land where we can play for all of eternity—some Disneyland in the sky with immaculate golf courses and stocked trout ponds. We do not go to the Fiddler’s green, the Elysian fields, or Valhalla to drink and do whatever else. We go to our Father’s house. We will enter the Bridal chamber prepared for us even before the foundation of the world, into the promised land flowing with milk and honey and grapes too big for one man to carry.
His mercy endures forever. And that is reason enough to give thanks in all things—whether the harvest comes in or not; whether our children honor us or not; whether the world lets Christians live their faith or not; whether our synod, our country, or our families endure or not. We give thanks always in all things because Jesus died but did not stay dead. He rose for us. He lives for us. We too shall live! This life is not all there is. For even as the worst and most torturous day here is not as bad as an instant in Hell, so also the very best day here, with family and friends and good food, in peace and quietness, cannot compare to what is to come. For His mercy endures forever. Thanks be to God! In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.