Given that gratitude is a fundamental attribute of human beings and a potential key to human flourishing, we should endeavor to learn as much as we can about its origins, its forms of expressions, and its consequences for individual and collective functioning. –Robert A. Emmons
What is the Theology?
In the final chapter of The Psychology of Gratitude, theologian David Steindl-Rast argues that gratitude runs deeper than “thankfulness” in that the former is an experience that moves past relational indebtedness and into something deeper. More than thankfulness, transpersonal gratitude can become a spiritual moment in which one experiences a “feeling of universal belonging” which can occur, for example, when a person warmly cherishes nature’s beauty (Rom. 1:20; Ps. 19:1-4).
Christian theology has historically agreed that gratitude toward God and community is fundamental to Christian confession. Karl Barth, for example, states that “gratitude follows grace like thunder [follows] lightning” (Church Dogmatics, Vol IV). Still, it might behoove preachers to consider how the diversity of the human sciences support and refine the theory between the virtue which remains so central to Christian communities (Ps. 95; Eph. 5:20; Rom. 1:21-23).
What to Consider
- What is the difference between thankfulness and gratitude? How does your theology and your scientific understanding help you answer that question?
- How do you envision scientists and preachers working together to explore the theory and implications of practicing gratitude?
- How might you create space in your church community for parishioners to gain access to the latest developments in the psychology and theology of gratitude?
How to go Deeper
- In your sermons on gratitude, consider how anthropology, philosophy, biology, and psychology might interact with the theme of gratitude in your chosen Scripture(s). A good starting place, beyond reading The Psychology of Gratitude, is to type “gratitude” into the search bar at The Greater Good website.
- Inject scientific insights into your preaching by studying developments in the science of gratitude, including its demonstrable health benefits and the role of gratitude in human flourishing.
- Give a platform to those whose lives have been affected by gratitude through testimony sharing or (with permission) sermon illustrations.
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Article by Michael McCullough (2013)
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