Thankful in Unspeakable Tragedy?

Gary Arthurs

JULY, 2016
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Thankful in Unspeakable Tragedy?

We can all be thankful for the good things in life. We can even be thankful for trials, knowing they build character and make us stronger in the end. But what about times of devastation?

Hurricane Harvey may be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. The resulting floods inundated hundreds of thousands of homes, displaced more than 30,000 people and prompted more than 17,000 rescues. Even still many are thankful they came through unscathed. Others experienced damage, but are thankful to see the outpouring of help and the restoration that is already taking place. But what about those that experienced unspeakable tragedies?

What about the Houston police officer who drowned doing his job, trying to save others? What about the mother who saved her baby only to drown in the process? What about the six family members who drowned in a van trying to escape the flood waters? Where is God when these things happen and can we actually be thankful in the midst of such losses?

One thing we need not do is make these losses more difficult by trying to offer answers we don’t have. The older I become, the more I understand one reality of life. Simply put, this side of eternity we may never know the answers to some questions. The apostle Paul shared this same truth.

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.

Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

And yet scripture also instructs us to be thankful in all circumstances.

“…give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus”


All circumstances? We might be inclined to think that surely God can make an exception in some cases. This is where we have an opportunity to learn a consoling and helpful truth.

Thankfulness is intended to be a gift that brings us comfort, helps us heal, and helps us move forward. As we learn about being thankful we see that it is thankfulness that gives birth to joy, and not the other way around. Why do I say this?

Thankfulness is not a fruit of the Spirit, but joy is.

It is joy that is the result of something, and that something is thankfulness. We are instructed to be thankful in all circumstances. When we follow God’s leading in this, and walk in the Spirit, we experience one of the fruits of the Spirit, joy.
Instead of reliving our painful past, God wants us to find what we can genuinely be thankful for and focus on those things.

Scripture encourages us accordingly.

“…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,
whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things”

God is not asking us to bury our head in the sand, and pretend like the painful events of the past did not happen, but He also does not want us to relive those painful events, reopen wounds and unnecessarily prolong our pain.

As I write this, our home church, BridgePoint, is still underwater and we have several extended family members in Port Arthur and Groves that took on water and basically lost their homes. Moving forward we may help others the most by simply remaining silent, listening, and continuing with acts of kindness. At the same time, the Arthurs, our extended family in Katy, and our ministry partners, Open Door Mission and Isaiah House, did fine and we are all moving forward with the work of reaching men in Houston who are homeless and in recovery.

Many of the men we are working with have expressed being thankful they were not homeless during Harvey and appear much more open to hear and receive what God has for them.

We thank God and thank you for helping make all this possible.


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