For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4.4-5)
Fear of Blessings
I’m not a regular primetime TV viewer. When I turn on the television, I’m looking for diversion—something to draw my thoughts into a hermetically sealed, neatly programmed world, where mysteries get solved, justice is served, and foibles are funny. Then, about 15 minutes in, the local station runs its 30-second newscast promo. Between the top story and weather, there’s always a scare-your-pants-off squib about an item or habit that, according to “experts,” may lead to disaster: “Your dishwasher is a deathtrap!” “Scientists find a disturbing link between stewed carrots and autism!” “Research reveals showering before dawn reduces lifespan!” The newsbreak’s sponsor is often a prescription drug that couches promises of wellness in a slew of possible side effects nobody would voluntarily suffer. (My favorite: anti-anxiety drugs that list potential nightmares and suicidal urges among its secondary complications.) Many times, I turn off the TV and flee back to my study—stopping, of course, to wash my hands, as new data say the remote control is the filthiest, most germ-ridden object in the house.
For most of us, the constant barrage of warnings amounts to no more than a nuisance. The media’s obsession with hyping dangers, however, constitutes a danger of its own by fomenting a culture of suspicion. If mundane objects and activities can wreak such harm and damage, why trust one another? Worse still, why believe goodness exists at all? There is in many of us a fear of blessings—an inchoate expectation that good things can’t last and may very well lead to greater pain and sorrow. We pray for happy relationships. When we’re blessed with them, suspicions they’re too good to be true provoke us to subvert them. We ask for increase. When it comes, we’re terrified of losing it; we refuse to share what we’re given and the flow of blessings dries up. We long for more faith. When tests arrive to build our confidence, we submit to doubt and cynicism. These self-defeating behaviors are sparked by greeting goodness tentatively, cautiously, even fearfully. Thus, thanksgiving is vital when blessings appear, not only because we should be grateful for God’s goodness, but also because it counteracts fears that arise from mistrusting what we’ve received.
With the Bible and Church largely associated with “Do’s and Don’ts,” it shocks many to learn first-century suspicions of Christianity centered on its excessive freedom. Its Founder—a self-taught, provincial miracle worker—preached freedom and even professed God anointed Him “to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” (Luke 4.18) After He died (or flew away, depending on who told the story), freedom became His disciples’ hue and cry. Their leader, a fisherman named Simon Peter, and chief theologian, a radicalized Pharisee known as Paul, constantly touted freedom from discriminatory barriers like race, class, and gender, as well as freedom from religious taboos. As they told it, Jesus liberated humanity from sacrificial ritual by opening direct access to God through faith. They flipped the equation common to all traditions of their day—which revolved around rigorously scripted rites to win divine favor—by teaching God’s love and mercy are gifts, not rewards. We freely receive them by believing, not doing, they said. And because they’re given unconditionally, codes and restrictions attached to ritual-oriented, performance-based systems were now obsolete.
Those clinging to time-honored beliefs shrugged off such ideas as nonsense. A New Order? A groundbreaking revelation? Please. Ironically, the struggle to embrace Christ’s freedom resided in the Church. The concept was so alien to them, many first-century Christians feared it. It seemed too easy, too good, too impossible. So they did what we often do when God’s goodness enters our lives. Instead of accepting it thankfully, they fueled suspicions of freedom by reverting to old behaviors. Everywhere the Apostles turned, outdated doctrines popped up forbidding everything from mixed marriages to unrestricted diets. It’s no stretch to say the Early Church’s biggest challenge involved grasping what freedom is, with gratitude for it a close second. In 1 Timothy 4.4-5, Paul explains the fallacy of excessive freedom, saying selectively applied liberty is simply reduced restriction. “Everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer,” he writes. Everything. It’s all good.
Fear of freedom—indeed, fear of blessings in general—plagues the Church and millions of believers to this day. The debates and controversies sound more like opinions of outsiders who’ve never experienced the all-encompassing extent of God’s love and acceptance. It’s as though the mere idea is so marvelous it can’t be trusted. So we fix that with conditional amendments. Faith takes a back seat to archaic rituals and performance criteria. “Free to all” gets reframed as “Free to anyone, provided he/she does this or doesn’t do that.” The problem runs deeper than surface contradiction of Christ’s teaching and apostolic doctrine. It wrongfully transfers our responsibility for freedom to those who seek it. “Nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,” Paul stresses.
It’s our duty to welcome strangers, embrace idiosyncrasies, and respect differences as blessings we freely accept with thanksgiving. Gratitude for what we may not agree with or understand illuminates genuine love for one another. “Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble,” 1 John 2.10 reads. What we find disagreeable between us becomes irrelevant, because we’re thankful for freedom to love one another as equals, all of us handmade by God, cherishing everything He created as good. His Word and prayer consecrate our bond. We are holy gifts to one another, blessings of goodness too precious to ruin with obsolete suspicions and fears. As we enter a new Thanksgiving season, perhaps we should start with gratitude for freedom to embrace who and what we don’t agree with or understand. God made everything. It’s all good.
Thanksgiving opens our eyes to God’s goodness and removes our fears of what we don’t agree with or understand.