Last Friday, I nearly burned the place down. During my lunch break, I started a pot roast simmering in wine and diced onions, and when I walked back in the door two hours later, the smoke alarm was blaring and the apartment was thick with smoke. My wife and I spent the following day cleaning every inch of our little home. Every blanket, every towel, and pillow case was laundered, and several armloads of clothes were taken to the dry cleaners. We set out bowls of vinegar, bowls of baking soda, and bowls of aromatic oils. We have a professional cleaner scheduled for later this week.
Of course, things could have gone differently. Had a dishtowel been six inches closer to the pot in question, our apartment might have burned down, not to mention the apartments of a dozen of our neighbors. If our apartment had burned, I might have lost my record collection, we might all have lost our clothes, our beds, our keepsakes, and my eldest daughter might have lost Horace the Bear, a small stuffed animal who is no less important to Camilla than Great Britain was to Winston Churchill.
In other words, things could be worse.
However, so far as consolations go, I have never really cared much for, “Things could be worse.” It tends to obscure the fact that, someday, things will definitely be worse.
As a bit of advice, “Count your blessings” calls a man to consider what of his luck still remains. While my little stove fiasco is going to end up costing me north of a thousand dollars, I count myself blessed it is not going to cost me ten thousand. Or fifty thousand. However, “Count your blessings” is mere intellectual anesthetic. The counting of blessings distracts a man from his suffering. It is unpleasant to dwell on misfortune and it is grating to imagine in retrospect just how easily misfortune might have been avoided— so a man’s friends tell him to think, instead, on all the pleasant things which still remain. His job, his car, his family, his health, whatever of his prized possessions are yet intact. Nonetheless, God will someday take these things away, as well.
“Food for the stomach and the stomach for food,” however, quips St Paul, “God will destroy both food and the stomach.” The blessings which remain to console a man in the wake of some tragedy shall someday join food, the stomach, my apartment complex, my record collection, my bed, and every other thing I call dear. The command to “be thankful in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18) does not discount the very circumstances that are presently vexing. When a man wrecks his car, it is more important he give thanks for his wrecked car than for the unwrecked truck which still sits in his driveway. If he survives the wreck without a scratch to his body, he should give thanks for his safety, and then contemplate the certainty that this very safety is momentary, passing, and that someday his health will nonetheless fail. In the midst of a trial, a man may recall his remaining earthly blessings, but only if he simultaneously acknowledges that those same blessings will ultimately be taken from him.
So my record collection survived the fire. Someday it will not. I survived the fire. Someday I will not. Someday all my things and all my people will be taken from me, and I will go to be judged with nothing more than my virtues, my good works, and whatever grace God deems me fit to receive. As my things, my luck, my friends, and my health are slowly taken from me, I can look for consolation in what earthly things I have left, or I can count all bad luck as prescient and prophetic. Bad luck calls us to count our blessings in the confidence that those, too, will ultimately disappear. Bad luck reveals what we have to look forward to, and so bad luck is a blessing for the good man, for it reveals God.