Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.—Genesis 1:26,27
Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.—Ephesians 5:19,20
The Bible tells us in several places, including Ephesians 5:20, that we should always be thankful. “Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything…” Always? For everything? How can we do this? So much of life is hard, or confusing, or boring. Why should I give thanks when my health fails, or I lose a loved one, or I have to figure out how to pay for my child’s braces? What is there to be thankful for in the mundane and frustrating details of life?
Part of the answer, as always, is found in the context. The whole statement is, “always giving thanks to God the father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus changes everything. Jesus makes sense of this life, because He suffered as we do, and He overcame. He died our death and then He rose. I can’t always give thanks for the details of my life, but I can give thanks for Jesus. He is with me in those details, and one day I will be with Him in paradise.
But there is another answer: When I can’t find reasons to be thankful for what is going on in my life, God simply wants me to be thankful for my life. Life itself is a gift, and we often forget it. Our world tells us that life is a right, because at its core our world is humanistic. The world says there is no Creator, and people are the most advanced beings around. When we reject the Creator, we deny that we are creatures. We forget that there was a time when we did not exist, and there was no rule saying we had to exist. If we find ourselves alive, it is a kindness. God has given us life, and it is a great gift.
There are serious consequences when we forget that life is a gift. When we think that life is a right, then if life is hard, or if life is cut short, we feel that our rights have been violated. How dare God not live up to His obligation to give me a long, comfortable life? This kind of entitled thinking is out of touch with reality. The reality is that God made me for Himself. He made me for a purpose, and that purpose has a strong connection to eternity. Without an eternal perspective, we will misunderstand many of the promises of His Word. When we think that God owes us certain things, and only has a few years to make good on His responsibilities, we turn our relationship with Him upside down and become demanding rather than grateful.
But life is not a right. Life is a gift. When Christians use the phrase “right to life” in conversations about abortion, what we mean is that every human being has a right to life in terms of our relationship to each other. You have a right to live out the life that God has given you, and so do I. I don’t have the right to take your life, and you don’t have the right to take mine. But God is not just another person. He is not one of our peers. As we stand before our Creator, none of us has a “right to life.” The One who gave life is completely within His rights to take it away.
Failure to understand this creates a tremendous amount of confusion and pain. It makes people bitter when they lose loved ones. It gives people an excuse to dismiss the Bible because they “can’t accept” all the bloodshed in the Old Testament. As if it were our place to accept or reject the way the Creator deals with His creatures! When God takes life, he isn’t doing something morally wrong, He’s simply being the Lord of the Universe. Of course He decides how long each life should be. Who else is qualified for the job? Us? Who else has the wisdom, sees the big picture, and is perfectly good, perfectly just, and perfectly loving?
When we grasp this, we start to see that life itself is something to be grateful for. Paying for braces and dealing with aches and pains is a whole lot better than non-existence. Especially if I know that a wise and loving God is working in those things for my good, shaping me for an eternity of joy in His presence. Before the universe existed, God had the idea to create me, and then at just the right time He spoke me into being, gave me a body and a soul, filled my life with air and water and food and people, gave me opportunities and experiences and a beautiful world to live in. Knowing that I would sin and rebel against Him, He sent His Son into the world, and to the cross, to forgive and restore me. Jesus defeated sin and death, redeemed my suffering by His suffering, my life by His death, and my failures by His obedience and victory. And now I have two gifts to be grateful for, no matter what else is going on: the gift of life, and the gift of eternal life.
Thank you, God. Thank you that you are with me in the mess. Thank you that the mess is temporary. Thank you for making me out of nothing and giving me a hope and a future. By your Spirit within me, make me increasingly grateful. Amen.