Every Cloud

The skies have been grey most days for days on end. Nightly on the news we have seen entire states under a deluge of rain, flooding homes by the thousand.  Our home in the hills is well above the swollen Murray River, but the relentless rain and sheets of grey cloud have created a fitting backdrop for my own grim tasks of the week: I have been up to my elbows in disability funding.

In former times those in need were cared for by family and friends, and sometimes by the church.  Nowadays, in this country at least, there are welfare systems; and they rely on paperwork, interviews, and manifold layers of administration.   Parenting two disabled children has taught me to navigate this system fairly well, but it’s no picnic.  The biblical phrase, “you have not because you ask not” sums up the state of things perfectly.  A two pronged attack is required. First, find out who has whatever it is you need; and second, ask for it!  This involves filling in endless forms for a confusing array of government departments and other organisations, and sometimes a detailed, face to face interview.  Every question is asked, especially in regards to one’s mastery (or otherwise…) of ‘les toilettes’.  The bureaucratic fascination with bodily functions is persistent, to say the least.  The usual outcome of such applications is a letter much like one I received this week, and I quote verbatim:  “I am pleased to advise you that our service can be of support and that a Linkages Case Managed Package would be most suitable for you.  Unfortunately at the moment there are no packages available” etc etc etc. This happens all the time, often with a warning that it could be months and more likely years before such a package becomes available. The trick is to find as many government branches as possible, apply to them all, resigning yourself to repeated indignities in the endlessly fascinating realm of ‘les toilettes’.

It’s bleak work, as bleak as the weather.  Spelling out all your problems does nothing at all to lift your spirits; in fact the storm clouds seem to grow wider and darker, until all blue-sky optimism is gone!

I am mindful of an old chestnut in Christian thinking: Do we give thanks for all things, or in all things?  The difference is significant.  There seems to be an obvious contradiction in thanking God for something nasty; after all, good things come from the Father above, who alone knows how to care for his children.  Many Christians take a slightly different route: thanking God in the circumstance, but not actually for it.  Exactly what, though, are we then thankful for?  Is it just a nebulous sort of gratitude that we shield ourselves with in hard times?  Is our thankfulness only a very broad brushstroke that acknowledges that God is greater than the trials imposed on us by the devil, or by the world in general, or by our own maladventure?

Here are some oft cited passages on this question:

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.[1]

But in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.[2]

Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.[3]

Here, and elsewhere in Scripture, there are both ‘ins’ and ‘fors’ to guide us; and so perhaps it’s fair to say the answer may be ‘both’.  But that’s a lazy answer, it avoids the problem.  Everything that happens to us is not good; indeed it might be blasphemous to thank God for the worst atrocities of the human world.  Or perhaps everything that happens to us is good for us in some way. Every cloud has a silver lining, ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.  But our strength is not the goal of God’s presence amongst us.

I find myself grateful in an overarching sense, recognising how fortunate I am.  I doubt there are too many people in my situation of disability anywhere in the world who receive the level of support I enjoy.  I am also quick to recognise that many people face terrors daily that I can scarcely imagine. It’s easy to talk about gratitude when there is so much to appreciate.

I also find myself grateful in a specific sense, ‘for’ the circumstances and ‘for’ the challenges that I have met.  I give thanks ‘for’, because I am conscious of the sovereignty of God, knowing that His will prevails over the lives of all humanity in ways beyond my understanding.  I also give thanks ‘for’ because I have learned to see that He intimately inhabits the human world.  The incarnation – Emmanuel, God with us – means that what happens to me happens also to Him.  Jesus Christ, in his suffering and death, demonstrates the way the presence of the Almighty wonderfully transforms tragedy and evil, reworking the most horrendous situations in astonishing ways that demonstrate his love for us.  Sometimes we can see the beauty of this redemption; and sometimes the plans of which we are such tiny members stretch far beyond our sight.  More and more, however, I am learning to give thanks for all things, the good and the bad, the big and the small, the evident and the mysterious, trusting with increasing confidence that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him”.[4]





Some context:

[1] 1 Thesalonians 5: 16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

[2] Philippians 4: 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus

[3] Ephesians 5: 15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

[4] Romans 8: 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, whohave been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

3 thoughts on “Every Cloud

  1. Kevin

    It warms my heart when people show gratitude. We have so much to thank God for. His blessing upon us endures beyond what we can imagine. He continually surprises me on every level. It is now when I am weak and must travel through difficulties that God shows me He is stronger than everything and everyone. I praise Him daily and continue to seek ways of serving Him. God bless you all Roderick.

  2. Graeme Turton

    Standard human communication is quite loose about ‘all’ and ‘everything’. Generalisation is the name of the game. Why don’t we just accept that God uses generalisations along with just about every other language technique invented? (He might even be the author of those techniques!) That would make the interpretive problem so much easier. No need to make God literally mean something that is over the top and used mainly to get our attention – just as we use generalisations, hyperbole, symbolism, metaphors, irony, etc. And let’s not forget that it is the same God who saves Cain and the woman caught in adultery from the death penalty even while imposing a death penalty for murder and adultery – was he absolute in applying his own law there?

    You can’t think theologically without being quite discriminating about the use of words; but neither, I suspect, can you do it well, if you deny God the use of the linguistic resources that the rest of us are free to use.

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