Why AD 536 Was the Worst Year in History

Jim Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Why AD 536 Was the Worst Year in History

Why AD 536 Was the Worst Year in History


The Dow lost 395 points yesterday as tech stocks dragged down the major indexes. A star system in our galaxy is primed for an intense explosion that could wipe out the ozone layer in our atmosphere (though the system is eight thousand light years away from us).

Here’s the good news: we’re not living in AD 536, which one Harvard historian considers the worst year in human history. The reason: a cataclysmic volcanic eruption in Iceland spewed ash across the Northern Hemisphere, blanketing the land in a mysterious fog for eighteen months.

Temperatures fell; crops failed; people starved. Bubonic plague followed, wiping out one-third to one-half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire and hastening its collapse.

How does this dismal story relate to Thanksgiving?

“Give thanks in all circumstances”

I’ve been contemplating a challenging sentence in Scripture: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

“Give thanks” translates eucharisteite, from which we get “eucharist.” The Greek verb is a present tense imperative second person plural and thus can be literally translated, “Each and every one of you is commanded continually to express gratitude without ceasing.”

“In all circumstances” translates panti, meaning “in each and every place and time.” The Greek adjective admits no exceptions or qualifications. Such gratitude is God’s will “for you,” referring to each and every believer.

Why does our Lord command every Christian to express thanks in every circumstance of life? Does this imperative mean that God’s self-esteem is so low that he needs our constant affirmations of gratitude? Or could it be that this command is for our sake rather than his?

An attitude of gratitude in hard times

The latter is obviously the case. Why, then, does our Father want his children to live in a continuing state of thanksgiving?

The answer is not that every circumstance is inherently deserving of thanks. Jesus sweated drops of blood in Gethsemane and cried out in agony on the cross. Paul pled with the Lord to remove his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:8) and had “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” for his fellow Israelites who rejected their Messiah (Romans 9:2).

Remember the sufferings of Job, the persecution faced by God’s prophets, and the martyrdoms of early Christians.

God’s word calls us to give thanks in all circumstances, not for all circumstances. But why is such an attitude of gratitude best for us even in hard times?

One reason is that giving thanks in all circumstances reinforces our status as creatures rather than the Creator, a life-giving lesson our souls constantly need to remember.

Our debt and our gratitude

Think about the last time you were genuinely grateful to someone. Did you deserve what he or she did for you? Or was your gratitude motivated by your need and their grace?

If my car breaks down on my way to the office this morning, I will have to call a mechanic to tow the vehicle or repair it. If the mechanic fixes it, I will pay him (or her) and express my thanks. But my thanksgiving will be somewhat cursory since the mechanic will do what mechanics do for a living.

But if a fellow driver stops on the side of the road and repairs my car, my depth of gratitude will be far greater. We express genuine thanksgiving when we receive grace (getting what we don’t deserve) and mercy (not getting what we do deserve). The greater our debt, the greater our gratitude.

Will you be deceived or grateful?

Here’s why our Father wants us to live in recognition of our need for his grace: he wants to give us his best and use us for his glory, but he can give only what we will receive and lead only if we will follow.

In today’s First15, Craig Denison comments on Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” He notes: “To be poor in spirit is to accomplish far more than you ever could in your own strength. . . . It positions you to receive the grace of God whereby your works are of an eternal nature and filled with the anointing and power of your loving, near, heavenly Father.”

As a result, we can expect Satan to tempt us to be our own god (Genesis 3:5). He is especially opposed to thanksgiving because he knows that gratitude is the antidote for pride.

So, our Father wants us to recognize our need for his grace and to respond with an attitude of gratitude that enables him to empower and use us. Our enemy wants us to reject our status as creatures and thus forfeit the blessings God gives to the humble.

The choice is ours.

James warned us: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:16-17).

Will you be deceived today, or will you be grateful?

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.

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Publication Date: November 20, 2018

Photo Courtesy: Getty Images/Dimas Ardian/Stringer

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