God, gratitude and intentionality

Faith in God is a valuable means to not take the gifts of life for granted.

Rafael Castro

Judaism Earth

One of the reasons I find religious faith highly inspiring, is that it strengthens my feelings of gratitude. When I remarked this to my mother, she - who is not particularly religious-, told me: “Why can’t you feel gratitude towards nature or towards life?” Saying this she started singing the lyrics of the beautiful song of the Chilean singer Violeta Parra “Gracias a la Vida” (Thanks to life).

Her reply intrigued me. At first sight there is no difference between thanking a Deity, an impersonal force like Nature, or an existential condition called Life for all the beautiful things we enjoy. Probing the issue further I realized the reason gratitude towards Nature or Life is not half as fulfilling as thankfulness towards God, is the intentionality behind God’s gifts.

God presumably gave us life and the world around us intentionally. Nature and life may be equally kind and generous. However since they do not possess willpower, their gifts lack any intentionality. Hence, the gratitude we feel towards God is correspondingly greater than the gratitude we are naturally inclined to feel towards either Nature or Life.

This difference is best explained with a pedestrian example: Suppose that next to your home, a huge oak tree provides shade on hot summer days. Does one enjoy the shade of the oak regardless of who planted the tree? I doubt it. If the oak was planted by your great-grandfather for the sake of his descendants, the shade will have an entirely different feel than if the tree was planted by a corporation eager to harvest acorns for its pig herds.

The experience of the shade and the shade itself are undoubtedly identical, yet we as human beings value the intention at the origin of the gifts we receive. This intention provides a meaning and a focus for our gratitude that otherwise might easily elude us. This is an important reason faith in God is a valuable means to not take the gifts of life for granted.