Social media platforms have been flooded with memes depicting 2020 as the most bizarre and unpredictable year in recent memory. Whether or not this year has truly been unprecedented, no one would deny that it has been extremely difficult. Personally, I lost my father to an aggressive lung disease in early February. We were incredibly close, and I miss him greatly. I know many friends who have lost loved ones to illness, including COVID-19, and to sudden tragedies. Many people have been laid off from jobs, struggled to homeschool their children, suffered from loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Our nation is divided, and our culture is steeped in chaos and confusion. And now it seems it is time to give thanks. It begs the question: “Can I be thankful in 2020?”
Ringing in my ears are the apostle Paul’s words to early Christians at Thessalonica, who endured persecution from a culture that despised them: “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18, ESV). Paul himself was no stranger to hard times and intense suffering (see 2 Cor. 11:16-33), which makes this call for gratitude even more incredible. But can we really live up to this exhortation? Is it truly possible to be grateful to God in “all circumstances?” Can we be thankful even in 2020? The answer is “yes,” and the reason is the gospel.
The Key to Gratitude: Acknowledge that God has given you what you do not deserve.
The gospel is the good news that Jesus died and rose from the dead to conquer our sin and death. The Scripture teaches that we have all rebelled against God in our hearts and that our sin separates us from him. Jesus atoned for our sin through his own death so that we can have peace with God (Rom. 5:1). And he defeated death itself through his resurrection so that we can have the certain promise of life forever with God (1 Cor. 15:20-22).
Being thankful is all about perspective. The gospel tells us that we deserve God’s judgment because of our sin, but that in his endless mercy, he welcomes us back to himself not because of what we do but on the basis of his Son. If we think we deserve perfect health, wealth, and security, then 2020 will surely leave us feeling bitter and ungrateful. But if we remember that God owes us nothing yet has offered us everything in Christ, then we will find ourselves expressing more and more gratitude for God’s mercy and love. Put simply, we will only be as thankful as we are aware of the reality that, in Christ, God has withheld from us the judgment we deserve and has given us a love we do not deserve.
Give thanks in ALL circumstances.
Jesus himself has experienced everything that we are experiencing in this life...the sorrow, the lostness, the brokenness and despair. He knows our struggles and promises to walk through them with us until the day when there will be no sorrow, no shame, no sin. So, we can be thankful in our circumstances because God promises to be with us. The gospel reminds us that God does not distance himself from us in our time of need but came to dwell among us, even in our mess. The words of Hebrews 4 are comforting:
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us
hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw
near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16,
We can also be thankful in our circumstances because God uses them to draw us closer to Jesus and make us more like him. Romans 5 says, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:3-5, ESV). The Bible teaches that everything happening in our world and in our lives is working to bring about the purposes of God for the glory of his name and for the good of his people (Rom. 8:28-30). “We walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Our confidence is in the promises of God. We need not fear political chaos or an eroding society because God’s perfect kingdom is rising, even when we cannot see it clearly. We can give thanks to God in all circumstances because we know that Christ has secured our future and is committed to our perseverance until he returns.
Made for another world
All of our sorrow, disappointment, and brokenness in this life is meant to point us to the infinite joy and satisfaction that is found only in God. So too is the purpose of the temporary joys of this earthly life. The Scripture says that God has “set eternity in the human heart” (Eccles. 3:11). Speaking of the human heart, C. S. Lewis puts it this way: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” Lewis continues,
"Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If
that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings,
and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or
echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after
death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on
to that other country and to help others to do the
earthly joys and sorrows are temporary, but they are not meaningless. They cause
us to long for and be satisfied in God alone.
Our lives have changed, God has not.
I mentioned that my father passed away earlier this year. Two days before his passing, my wife and I were able to share with him (and the rest of our family) that in August we would be welcoming a new baby into our family. His eyes lit up! He said, "What a gift! What a gift!" We did not know the gender at that time, but my dad had been hoping for a granddaughter for years. Sure enough, we had baby a girl! In God's providence (and without any thought to my dad's response to our news that day), we later decided on the name Analeigh Karis. Karis is a slightly manipulated form of the Greek word charis, which means "grace." It is also the same root word for "gift." So, in a way, my dad's last words to us were somewhat prophetic. It's just like the LORD that even as he is taking one thing away from us, he is continually giving us new gifts. He gives us grace for every season, and calls us to continue trusting him every moment. And we can be thankful that God is unchanging in his loving kindness toward us.
Yes, even in 2020 we can be thankful. We can be thankful because, in Christ, God has given us much more than we could ever deserve. We can be thankful because Christ identifies with us in our suffering and uses it to make us more like himself. And we can be thankful because the glory of our future far surpasses the difficulty of our present and the regret of our past. For the Christian, the best days are always ahead because our past, present, and future rests not on our circumstances or our performance but on the unshakable promises of God and on the finished work of Christ. We can still give thanks to God in 2020 because, though much of our lives have changed, he has not!
Written by: Jeremy Brown
Posted: November 21, 2020
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Harper Collins, 2015), pp. 135-37.