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Thanksgiving Message: Giving Thanks in Troubled Times

by Pastor Nancy Raabe

When random violence has its day–in our cities, in our towns, in social media, in our hearts–faith almost always finds itself under attack. Here is what someone wrote on Twitter late on the night of the deadly mayhem that shattered Waukesha, WI Christmas parade on Sunday:

“I don’t know how anyone can hold onto their faith after a tragedy like this.”

Whether or not you have ever had such a thought in the wake of senseless killing–actually, all killing is senseless–this person gave voice to a question that simmers around the fringes of all faith communities: How can bad things happen to good people? If God can’t protect children who were simply using their talents to help others get into the Christmas spirit, then what kind of a God do we have, anyway?

To the Twitter user, my response would be: This makes our faith even stronger.

The essence of God, as we know through the person of Jesus Christ, is the one who suffers with us. Compassion–meaning literally “suffering with,” “com-passio” – is the nature of God’s very heart. But God does not suffer with us from a great distance on the heavenly heights. As theologian Douglas John Hall has phrased it for the ages, “The divine compassion is rather a continuous, utterly gracious movement of the Holy Spirit toward the human.” And why? Because the glory of God is not absolute power over creation. It is to bring life, authenticity, and wholeness to those who were created in God’s image. God’s power, to be fulfilled, must therefore meet us in the midst of human weakness.

And there is no expression of human life in which we are weaker than in the face of tragedy that is beyond our understanding. Drive-by shootings. Retaliatory gunfire that misses its mark. Bullets that fly through the windows and into the hearts of children sitting on their beds reading a book. A Christmas parade in which children, grandmothers, high school band members are plowed down.

Faith begins in belief. We believe, and our faith then grows by the work of the Holy Spirit. It can’t be the opposite–that our faith is conditional. That we will only believe when we have proof, evidence that God is doing what we think God should be doing. If that were the case we’d never get past Square One. We’d take one look at the state the world is in and talk ourselves out of God even before we’d gotten started.

Instead, when terrible things happen, faith calls us to cling more tightly than ever to God’s promises. That death is not the end. That evil will be overthrown. That eternal life is ours in Jesus Christ, the one whose “suffering with” us carries through pain’s dark corridors every day of our lives because we will always, always, find new life in him, even when death appears to get the better of us. It never has and it never will, because of what God has done in Christ.

This is how Jesus in Matthew 6 can say, “Do not worry about your life.” In crafting the miraculous circle of life, God has provided for all living things, from birds to lilies to individual blades of grass. “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you?”

People of God, lift up your heads, all you who are bowed low! Psalm 145 sings to us: “The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up those who are bowed down.” Lift up your heads and give thanks to the God who is always with us–Emmanuel!

A blessed Thanksgiving to all.

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