Thank You, God

Religious perspectives on gratitude.

BY: Robert Emmons and Johanna Hill

Reprinted from "Words of Gratitude: For Mind, Body, and Soul," by Robert Emmons and Joanna Hill, with permission of the publisher, Templeton Foundation Press



In Judaism, gratitude is a vital component of worship and permeates every aspect of the worshiper's daily life. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the poetry of the Psalms is saturated with thanksgiving to God: "O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever "(30:12) and "I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart "(9:1).

The day starts with the Shema, which begins: "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might "(Deuteronomy 6:5). The concluding prayer, the 'alenu, thanks God for the particular destiny of the Jewish people.

Thankfulness for everything is appropriate in Judaism because all things come from God in the Hebrew world view; therefore, Jewish life is filled with this recognition. A prayer is said upon hearing good or bad news, and God is praised for everything. In this way,a divine perspective on life is maintained.


Gratitude has always been central among Christian virtues and appears in classical and modern devotional writings as well as in the Old and New Testaments. In Christian gratitude, God is the giver of all gifts and the ultimate foundation for thankfulness. There is a feeling of indebtedness to the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. God 's generosity provides the model for how Christians are to deal with their own children and with each other.

Jonathan Edwards, the 17-century revivalist preacher and theologian, described two types of gratitude in his classic work, "A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections." He described these two types as natural gratitude and as a gracious or spiritual gratitude. Natural gratitude is thanks expressed to God for the benefits a person has received, whereas gracious gratitude has its source in the knowledge of the goodness of God independent of favors received.

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