Thank… God?

Scott Smith —  November 22, 2012 — 1 Comment

For the past several weeks, thousands of people have been flooding Facebook proclaiming the things they are thankful for. On the Christian view this makes a lot of sense. In fact, it’s a very natural reaction to give thanks to God for the things he has provided. But for those who disbelieve, what do they mean?

Gratitude is an expression of emotion that is conveyed between persons. What does it mean to have gratitude if you are not thanking anyone? What does it mean to be thankful if you don’t believe in God? If there is no one on the other end of the line, going through the motions of communication seems a bit silly.

On this day of Thanksgiving, consider what you mean when you “give thanks”. Is there a recipient of that thanks, or are you putting on a show? Is this an authentic expression, or are you simply declaring to the world that you are content?

Giving thanks is a natural response. But if there is no God, to whom are you giving it?

Scott Smith

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Scott Smith is a lifelong Christian and an active member of his church. He enjoys blogging and teaching on Christian theology and defense as well as engaging skeptics in debate regarding Christian truth claims. Scott is a co-founder of Etcetera as well as TC Apologetics, and in his spare time he runs his own 3D design company.
  • Steve Ruble

    I think “thankfulness” is actually a pretty broad concept; I would place within it any feelings of gladness one might have about a state of affairs for which one is not personally responsible, whether or not there exists a conscious agent who is responsible. Idiomatically, we give thanks to things which are not agents without raising any eyebrows: it wouldn’t be terribly unusual to say, for instance, “Thanks to my snow tires, I was able to stop in time,” or to say to one’s computer, “Thanks for not crashing today.” The purpose of such utterances is probably not exactly the same as the purpose of thanking another person for some action, but I don’t think that the only alternative purposes are “putting on a show” or “declaring to the world that you are content”. In short, I don’t think there needs to be a “whom” in order for one to give thanks.

    Of course, if you are correct in saying, “Giving thanks is a natural response,” then wouldn’t really matter whether there is an actual recipient for the thanks we are giving; we would feel compelled to give thanks even if we thought it was a silly thing to do. I tend to think that we humans are strongly predisposed to think about things in the world in terms of minds, attributing intentions to things that we know perfectly well are not conscious – picture someone yelling at their broken-down car – and I don’t think it’s too problematic to indulge that tendency from time to time, so long as you don’t get carried away.