No Thanks to Suffering

It’s considered rude to not say, “Thank you.” The expression of gratitude is treated as a rule, used to measure if “your mama taught you better.” 

If you don’t express gratitude, then you are considered unworthy of any future gift-giving. Because at least you can say, “Thank you.”

But what if you didn’t want it? What if you didn’t ask for it? 

What if you were given a serpent instead of a fish (Matthew 7:7-12)? What if what you received was painful or evil?

What if your life now includes experiences that you had hoped to avoid: depression or betrayal, loss or shame, violation or social isolation? What about poverty, injustice, capitalist manipulation and the violence of war? No, thank you.  

During this season of thanksgiving, I cannot help but think about the experiences and the people (let’s be honest here) that I am not thankful for. I am not thankful for liars or cheaters, tyrannical leaders, genocide or war.

But, Paul says, “in everything give thanks” (First Thessalonians 5:18). But does he really mean everything? 

Checks list. Because I can think of more than a few things that I am not thankful for. Because there are things that I would like to return to the sender.

More so, I can’t bring myself to give thanks for everything. Maybe it’s too soon or too late for me. 

I have lived through the 9/11 attacks, the financial crisis of 2007, thousands of mass shootings, case after case of police brutality, a global pandemic, an insurrection on the U.S. Capitol building, capitalist-driven inflation, wars and genocide in real time. 

So, of course, I have no taste for turkey, and don’t pass me the gravy. I’m just sitting at the table waiting for the bombing of Gaza to stop. Yes, say grace, but I would rather see grace extended day after day to as many people as humanly possible.

I’m not interested in the score for the football game or standing in line for a Black Friday sale. Keep your coupons and your discounts. Instead, take an extra 15% off suffering. 

More than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed, including thousands of children and, in many places, there is no clean drinking water or food for them to eat. None of this suffering did they ask for.

To resign myself to the belief that this is the way of the world, “a fallen world” is to bring me one step closer to nihilism, the belief that life is meaningless. Suffering only adds to this pessimism so no thank you. 

For Friedrich Nietzsche, “nihilism was rooted not only in the failure of foundational beliefs and values to give meaning to the world but also in the realization that universal beliefs and values were fabricated to substantiate the status quo of the powerful.” 

Lewis Brogdon writes in Hope on the Brink. “These foundational beliefs are intricately tied to the dominance of Christianity in the West. … The Christian interpretation of the world, as a universal and true depiction of reality, (is) collapsing along with the values and morals undergirding it.”

Yes, Christianity has been used to keep oppressive systems running smoothly in America since 1619. Universal values and foundational beliefs have been shaken to reveal the hollow core of institutions that claimed to uphold them, prompting them to fold. Truth revealed, this is something to be thankful for as it can prompt a deeper search for meaning outside of these contexts.

Still, when I fold my hands in prayer with family and friends this Thanksgiving, I’ll be thinking of the world of hurt we are in and what our shared woundedness exposes—none of which can be stuffed with turkey. While some would say that I have much to be thankful for, I just can’t bring myself to say it this year—no thanks to suffering. 

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