This past weekend, my wife and I went on a babymoon staycation. On our way to dinner Saturday night, we shared an elevator with a young boy—he looked to be 5 or 6 years old—and his father. From the moment we stepped into the elevator until we got off, the boy huddled in the corner, weeping and shaking. He seemed genuinely terrified. Having our own six-year old boy, we were unsettled by the boy’s tears. They didn’t seem like normal sadness or frustration for a kid that age. These tears seemed to come from a place of genuine fear. I assumed the boy was afraid of the elevator. My wife thought the boy’s fear might be something more, particularly when she saw a sign by the hotel entrance warning of human trafficking and encouraging hotel guests to notify the staff if they see anything strange or unsettling involving children. Since my wife couldn’t shake the feeling that something was not right with that boy and the adult with him, we went to the front desk and reported what we’d seen. The staff member took notes and promised the hotel security look into it. Thankfully, they did investigate. Later that night, that same staff member notified me that they’d confirmed the child was with his father and had been upset for a benign reason. My wife and I were obviously relieved, and happy to have misjudged the situation. Still, there was something unsettling about the incident, particularly when paired with the sign warning about human trafficking displayed prominently by the hotel entrance. Clearly that sign exists because that area has had issues with human trafficking. And this wasn’t a run-down part of town. It was a Hyatt hotel in a nice neighborhood a little south of Los Angeles.
Though the incident turned out not to be a case of human trafficking, it reminded me that truly heinous evil exists. Is there anything more wicked than the sexual exploitation of children? And tragically, it’s not rare. That kind of evil occurs every day, often close to where we live, work, and vacation. Reminded of that reality this weekend, I found myself asking the question: how should I respond to the world’s wickedness? Should I ignore it? Should I shrug my shoulders and tell myself there’s nothing I can do about it, so why bother? Or should I take the opposite approach? Should I invest every second of my life, every financial resource, and every ounce of my strength in confronting the world’s evil? More specifically, to combat human trafficking, do I need to financially support an organization that works to end it? Or do I have to quit my job and work for one of those organizations?
While that might be God’s will for your life, I don’t think it’s his will for everyone. Some of us are supposed to be on the front lines, fighting to blunt the impact of the world’s wickedness. Others are supposed to work in business, education, politics, food service, hospitality, and entertainment.
But no matter our job, there is something simple all of us can do, right now, in response to the world’s depravity. We can give thanks.
"Everything" Encompasses Everything
If that sounds absurd to you, then take it up with the apostle Paul. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 he says “in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” There is no qualifier in the context. When Paul says “in everything” we can assume he means, well, everything. That includes personal suffering and societal decay. That includes death, disease, injustice, and even a culture so anti-God, so wicked, that it abuses and exploits the most vulnerable. In a world like that, God’s will is for you to be grateful. So how does a Christian do that?
Let’s start our answer with what a Christian can’t do. He can’t ignore the wickedness when he prays. He can’t only be thankful for God’s blessings in his life—the food, friends, jobs, houses, and health—and assume he’s given thanks in everything. While a believer must gratefully acknowledge God’s generosity to him, he cannot limit his gratitude to his own circumstances. He must, at times, look beyond them, and express gratitude for realities he is not presently experiencing.
One of those realities may be the world’s wickedness. And God’s will of gratitude starts with addressing the wickedness directly. Acknowledging it exists. Weeping over it. Then, moving to praise and gratitude for the one who rules over that wickedness.
He will one day right all wrongs, punish the cruel, redeem the righteous, lift the downtrodden, and banish Satan and his followers to the reality of hell and the dustbin of history.
Scripture is packed with these expressions of gratitude. Consider Psalm 7:11. There, David says “God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day.” This is the believer’s first step in response to the world’s wickedness: acknowledging God’s character. He is perfectly just. He hates injustice and loves to protect the powerless. That’s who he is. There isn’t a better starting place for Christians who see so much wickedness in the world.
David outlines the second step in verses 12-17. “If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword; He has bent his bow and prepared it. He has also prepared for Himself deadly weapons; He makes His arrows fiery shafts. Behold, he travails with wickedness, and he conceives mischief and gives birth to falsehood. He had dug a pit and hallowed it out, and has fallen into the hole which he made. His mischief will return upon his own, and his violence will descend upon his own skull.” After acknowledging God’s character, David describes the outworking of God’s character: the judgment he reigns down on the wicked. God doesn’t just despise injustice. He does something about it. Under God’s sovereign judgement, the cruel and unjust will reap the whirlwind. The wicked they plan to inflict on others will be inflicted on them. What is David’s response to this truth? In verse 17 he says “I will give thanks to the Lord according to His righteousness And will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.”
David responds with gratitude. The reality of God’s character, and the assurance that he will rise up and defeat the wicked moves David to thanksgiving. The same is true for us. When we see evil, when we encounter it personally, when we hear about it on the news, when we see a sign in a hotel lobby that tells us to be aware of human trafficking, we should resist the temptation to wallow in the brokenness of the world. Instead, we must lift our eyes up, see the Lord, and pray as David prays in Psalm 34 “All my bones will say, ‘Lord, who is like You, Who rescues the afflicted from one who is too strong for him, And the afflicted and the poor from one who robs him?” (vs 10-11)
My guess is that if you go around the table on Thanksgiving day later this week and ask everyone what they are thankful for, few will say they are thankful “that God rescues the afflicted and the poor from one who robs him” or they are grateful that God “has also prepared for Himself deadly weapons; He makes His arrows fiery shafts.” But to navigate this troublesome world, it would be a useful exercise for Christian families to thank God for such realities; then to go out into the world and express the same gratitude in front of a hopeless world. Because after all, the world understands it is broken. But what it doesn’t understand is what comes after the brokenness. Hope. That hope is best expressed in gratitude for the future victory of God over his enemies. So let’s be those kinds of thankful people at Thanksgiving on Thursday, and every day before and after.