Thanks . . . for nothing

Mark G. Schroeder

It’s one of those expressions dripping with sarcasm.  

You’ve been on hold for 30 minutes, trying to get an answer from your cable provider for the reason your cable signal keeps cutting out. Finally, a human voice on the other end of the line asks you the reason for your call. You explain, patiently at first, that every day for the past week, the picture on your television has disintegrated into an unwatchable blur of pixelated colors for hours on end. And today, not only has the picture departed, but so has the sound. The person at the other end of the line checks the signal to your house, and it checks out. He asks you to make sure that all your cables are still attached. You report that they are all in place. He then gives you instructions to reboot your system. You do that, and the problem remains. Finally, the person says, “I’m sorry, there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do. If you still have the problem tomorrow, please call back.” 

And you think, and maybe actually say, “Thanks . . . for nothing.” 

During this season of Thanksgiving, there is no shortage of things for which we can be truly thankful—blessings spiritual and material that God has showered on us. Sometimes those blessings come as a response to fervent and specific prayers. More often, they come to us as Luther would say, “even without our asking.” God’s blessings are often evident because of what he gives us. It’s easy and natural for God’s people to thank God for the blessings that he gives.  

But aren’t there also times when we can say to God, with no sarcasm but with complete sincerity, “Thanks, God, for nothing”? 

There are times when we pray earnestly that God will do something or give us something, but in his love and wisdom, he answers our prayer with a fatherly and loving no. We pray that God will improve our family’s financial situation, but it only gets worse. We pray that God will keep our loved ones safe on the highway, only to learn that there has been a terrible accident. We pray that God will bless our nation with wise and honest leaders, only to read that another politician has been found guilty of bribery. When God’s answer to sincere and fervent prayers is no, might we be tempted to mutter under our breath, “Thanks, God, for nothing”? 

When God seems to be withholding the blessings or help we expect and desire, we should indeed say, “Thanks, God, for nothing,” but not in a sarcastic and bitter way. We can and should say those words with all sincerity and gratitude. “Lord, I asked you for something, but you have lovingly answered no and given me nothing of what I asked. Thank you, Lord, for nothing. Thank you for knowing what is best for me and for giving me not what I want but what I need. Thank you, Lord, that by giving me nothing you are blessing me in many ways. You are keeping something from me that would not be good for me, even though I have asked for it. You are teaching me to be patient, to trust in you at all times, to demonstrate my faith in you by being thankful—even when my sinful human eyes look for blessings only in prayers answered by your yes to my requests.” 

It’s the season of thanksgiving. A time to thank God for everything . . . and for nothing. 

Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.



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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

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