Biblical wisdom teaches us to "give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (I Thessalonians 5:18). This is a syntactic ambiguity that makes us ask the question: is the circumstance the will of God, or is the attitude of gratitude -- the grace to give thanks -- the will of God, or both?
As the debate on health-care reform continues in the U.S. Senate, it seems that legislation to bring this nation closer to universal health care is bogged down in a political and procedural morass. The Democrats seem to be in disarray. The Republicans, for the most part, are standing aside, united and useless. One Republican senator is still saying that the United States has the best health-care system in the world, that the citizens of the United States do not want European style health care. (Face the Nation, December 13, 2009)
At this point in the discourse, most people who have been paying attention know that the U.S. ranks 37 among nations overall in health care. Europeans have universal health care. No one goes bankrupt because of medical bills. While the senators take their various non-negotiable positions on this or that aspect of the legislation, people in this country die every day God sends because they lack access to health care. Working people cannot afford regular visits to a primary care physician.
Yet biblical wisdom teaches us to give thanks in this situation because this is the will of God. Is the dysfunction of the U.S. Senate God's will? Or, is it God's will that we finally see it, that we are paying attention to it, that we decide if this is the way we want our elected representatives to behave?
It seems fitting that we see this confusion during the season of Advent. Short days and long nights tell us winter is coming. The darkness reminds us of the obscurity that challenges clarity. The darkness requires us to light our candles of faith and hope and expectation. When we cannot see the outcome of a circumstance, faith is the substance, the assurance of our hope. It is the evidence, the conviction of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)
Moreover, we hope for what we cannot see. Biblical wisdom also teaches: "For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience." (Romans 8:24)
This season of Advent reminds us that the world waits in patience for the Christ, for God's Love incarnate in humanity. Creation waits for a Divine Love that crowds out fear and takes us past pettiness and loyalties to bankrupt ideologies forever looking to the next election. The season of Advent reminds us that faith and hope light the darkness and clear away confusion. And in this circumstance, we can be truly thankful.
Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.