Psychology professor Robert Emmons at UC Davis has made gratitude a subject of scientific study. Those studies have led him to the realization that gratitude raises the significant question, when we say thank you to whom are we grateful? Excuse me, but, duh. It required scientific study by a Ph. D. at a university to figure out that if you’re thankful you have to be thankful to someone? For many people in our culture this is a problem. If you believe that all that exists is the result of a long, long series of miraculous accidents, that our existence and all of life is merely the product of random chance, then who is there to be thankful to? Thank you random chance for this wonderful job that has fallen into my lap. Somehow that is profoundly unsatisfying. That’s because deep down inside all of us there is a sense that when we experience something good it is because someone has given it to us. We can’t help feeling grateful to someone. Accidents and random chance just don’t cut it.
The failure to give thanks leads to a downward progression of negatives according to Romans 1:21. It leads to pride, disconnection from God, foolishness and the pursuit of all manner of illusions in life that always come to dead ends. Giving thanks to God, on the other hand, produces glory to him, love for him in our hearts, encouragement and hope. That’s why Paul said in 1Thessalonians 5:18 it is God’s will that we give thanks in all circumstances.
We would be wise to follow the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Imprisoned in a tiny cell by the Nazis for 16 months, an imprisonment that would end in his execution, he wrote, “You must never doubt that I am traveling with gratitude and cheerfulness along the road where I’m being led. My past life is brim full of God’s goodness, and my sins are covered by the forgiving love of Christ crucified. I’m so thankful for the people I have met, and I only hope that they never have to grieve about me, but that they too will be certain of and thankful for God’s mercy and forgiveness.” Let’s travel our roads with gratitude to God and cheerfulness.