How I Used a Preposition to Get out of Being Grateful (ὑπὲρ vs. ἐν)

Lately, I’ve been realizing how important it is to be grateful no matter what. My thoughts determine my life. When I choose to be grateful, I see the world through the lens of abundance. The world is generous. I believe in a God who is working all things for good. I smile more, laugh easily, love people naturally. It’s easy to get out of bed. 

On the other hand, when I am not grateful, I see the world through the lens of scarcity. The world is a harsh place. God is cold and uncaring. People annoy me. I scowl. My blood pressure goes up. I pull the covers over my head and try to make the day go away.

But what do we do when our life unravels—as every life eventually does? The diagnosis comes back “malignant.” The business fails. Our kids get hurt. We’re up to our eyeballs in debt? Our spouse cheats on us.  We face death. 

Ἐν Gave Me the Way Out 

As a skilled Pharisee, I discovered a way to tunnel my a way out of gratitude by parsing words. My out was the word “ἐν.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says,

In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
ἐν παντὶ εὐχαριστεῖτε· τοῦτο γὰρ θέλημα θεοῦ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ εἰς ὑμᾶς.

“See!” I thought, “I don’t have to be grateful for (ὑπὲρ) all things, just in (ἐν) all things.” 

So I can gripe about politicians, and mosquitoes and traffic. I don’t have to be grateful for the lines at the DMV. I just have to give thanks while standing in them.

It was a good theory but my preposition-parsing didn’t work very well. If I couldn’t be grateful for the lines at the DMV, I couldn’t be grateful in them. 

Then I ran across a verse that collapsed my tunnel completely. In a description of a Spirit-filled life, Paul says I am to be,

“…always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.”
εὐχαριστοῦντες πάντοτε ὑπὲρ πάντων ἐν ὀνόματι τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τῷ θεῷ καὶ πατρί,

I’m explicitly told here to give thanks for (ὑπὲρ) all things. But how? Some things just plain stink!

A Partial Solution That Works on Some Things, Some of the Time

With a little energy, I can find something good in almost anything. Standing in line at the DMV is infuriating but it teaches me patience. Mosquitoes are annoying but at least they feed the fish. 

The glass is always some mixture of half empty and half full. My job is to find the “half full” portion and focus on that. 

But what do I do when the glass goes dry? 

The Only Way to Be Grateful for All Things at All Times

How do I give thanks for chronic pain? What good is there a stillborn child? For what do I give thanks when a drunk driver wipes out my child? And even if I can find some shred of light in the darkness, what shall I do with the stifling darkness? 

More to the point, I am not told to ignore the bad things and give thanks for the good ones. I am told to give thanks for (ὐπὲρ) all things. All things.

I see only one way that this is possible: trust. In a way that I cannot see, God is working all things together for good. 

“How!?” I don’t see it!” 

This is exactly the point. I don’t see it. I must trust.

For reasons beyond my comprehension, the palette of creation, includes both light and dark. I hate the dark! I am relieved that I am never told to call darkness “good” or to love it. My job is to trust that in a way yet to be revealed, darkness will be used for good. 

I wish there was an easier answer. But trust is the only way I have found to give thanks for all things. “Though the wrong seems oft’ so strong. God is the ruler yet.” I can’t yet make out the design but I trust the Designer.

All things are not good, but all things are working together for good. Therefore I can give thanks for all things. This puts the smile back on my face, whether the sun is shining or not.

Want to brush up on your prepositions? Here's the chart!

Greek Prepositions

Leave a Comment