November 24, 2022


The Science of Giving Thanks to God: A growing body of research backs the benefits of divine gratefulness, in good times and bad. (PETER C. HILL AND ROBERT A. EMMONS, NOVEMBER 21, 2022, Christianity Today)

 New projects funded by the John Templeton Foundation have theologians, philosophers, and psychologists like us exploring gratitude to our supreme benefactor.

Already, these researchers have discovered that believers who experience and express gratitude to God report feeling more hope, higher satisfaction, more optimism, fewer depression episodes, and greater stress recovery. Their studies suggest that gratitude to God magnifies and amplifies the effects of gratitude toward other people.

Grateful believers aren't just happier because they're better off, either. We see people experiencing gratitude to God in the midst of adversity.

Jason McMartin, a theologian at Biola University, in a paper not yet published, contends that suffering intensifies our encounters with God, reframing the experience of gratitude by expanding our vision of what we can be grateful for, including painful experiences as gifts themselves. Pain is real, but God's grace abounds. Gratitude to God is our response to our suffering meeting God's sovereignty.

Research ratifies this. A study by Joshua Wilt and Julie Exline at Case Western Reserve University found that among theistic believers, gratitude to God for negative events functioned similarly to gratitude for positive events in that both drew one closer to God.

Such findings suggest that when facing difficult life situations, the practice of gratitude to God can be cultivated to counter the natural tendency of prioritizing bad over good. This reframing is not merely a veneer of positive thinking but rather a deep and abiding sense that goodness dwells under the rancor and heartache of daily life.

Social psychologist David Myers has long observed, based on scientific research, that just as we can think ourselves into a way of acting, we can act ourselves into a way of thinking. If we deliberately practice gratitude, our thoughts and feelings often come around.

One idea is keeping a journal listing the blessings that we receive from God along with the lessons learned from our challenges. During times of adversity, we can ask ourselves, How is God present in this challenge? How is this challenge a reflection of God's will for my life? How do I experience God uniquely through this challenge? How does this challenge make me closer to God?

Another practice is to intentionally engage in worship. Of course, this includes weekly corporate worship but may also involve a few moments of private worship throughout the week where gratitude is openly expressed. For example, it is hard to not be grateful, even in the worst of times, when singing hymns such as "How Great Thou Art":

And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in--
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin!

Openly expressing such sentiments is yet another way of acting ourselves into being thankful.

Posted by at November 24, 2022 1:04 PM