"giving thanks for all things"
A popular teaching related to gratitude is that Christians are to give thanks in all things, but not for all things. This distinction seems to be an attempt to "get God off the hook," lest He get blamed for all that is terrible in the world.
In this verse, the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to move beyond in all things, to for all things. In so doing He bids us also widen the scope of our gratitude to be all-inclusive. Admittedly, the implications can be daunting, particularly when it comes to giving thanks for the horrific, the tragic, and the evil that permeates the world system.
How are we to obey this biblical admonition?
First, we must completely embrace the truth that God is sovereign. For some believers, this is almost painful to acknowledge. Although it is affirmed and assumed throughout Scripture (Psalm 103:19; Dan. 4:35; Isaiah 43:13; Job 42:1, 6; Acts 13:48; Rom. 9:15, 16; Eph. 1:5; among many others), many struggle with this attribute of the living God.
Other Christians will acknowledge that His sovereignty is Scriptural, and thereby accept it as true, but do so reluctantly. "I know He is sovereign, but..." Then come qualifiers such as, "He has chosen to limit Himself," or "He is a Gentleman, and will not violate our free will." Such sentiments reflect a distrust of His character, impugn His Name as infinite goodness, and imply an arrogance by which we the creature deign to judge the Creator.
To move beyond these man-centered expressions of fear, doubt, and unbelief, and come to fully embrace the Bible's unashamed declaration that God is GOD, is to submissively rejoice that the supreme Sovereign of the universe controls all things, seen and unseen. This is the foundation for gratitude without boundaries.
Secondly, as a corollary to the first, we must continually recall that God is omniscient. Isaiah records God's words: "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts," (55:8, 9).
The writer of Hebrews put it this way: "And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do," (4:13). There is absolutely nothing, then, that catches God by surprise. Nothing could possibly happen, however seemingly trivial, that escapes His notice. However forgotten we may feel, however abandoned we seem to be, the Lord's absolute awareness can fortify our prayer of gratitude.
A third attribute of the God we are to take seriously relates to His character: He is good. In the face of so much evil in the world, especially in situations of senseless tragedy and injustice, the world shakes its fist toward heaven and asserts that either there is no God, or He is certainly not a good one.
The Christian is not immune to such feelings of doubting His goodness, but must take Scripture as the truth, rather than emotions. David declares in Psalm 25:8, "Good and upright is the LORD;" and in Psalm 100:5, the psalmist states, "For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations." Nahum 1:7 adds, "The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble, And He knows those who take refuge in Him."
What then? To live a life of ongoing gratitude, one that brings glory to the true and living God, we continually submit to His sovereign rule and reign, assured that He knows, confident that He cares.