Brief Reviews

Cornelius Plantinga – Gratitude [Review]

GratitudeA Grateful Heart Really Is Good Medicine

A Review of

Gratitude: Why Giving Thanks Is the Key to Our Well-Being
Cornelius Plantinga

Hardcover: Brazos Press, 2024
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Reviewed by Stephen R. Clark

“I give thanks to the Universe!” 

Often I encounter this or a similar sentiment on social media, and it baffles. The physical universe is expansive, cold, and impersonal. It exists and has no awareness of me or you, or even the ability to be aware. Expressing gratitude to the Universe is an empty and pointless gesture. 

Cornelius Plantinga agrees, saying, “You can’t have classic gratitude without a giver. You have to thank someone.” Addressing thanks to fate, evolution, lucky stars, Mother Nature, or the universe “makes no sense because none of these entities is personal.”

On the other hand, when it comes to thanking God, we have much to be grateful for. In his delightful book, Gratitude: Why Giving Thanks Is the Key to Our Well-Being, Plantinga defines gratitude as “a glad sense of being gifted with something by someone and thus being indebted to the giver.” 

“Grateful believers,” writes Plantinga, “go through life alert, observant, mindful. They notice good things that only God could have produced, and they revel in their intricacies.” In other words, instead of thanking the Universe, we thank the creator and sustainer of the universe in which we exist by God’s gracious will.

Plantinga says he wrote this book because he’s “been intrigued by the work of positive psychologists on gratitude in the last 25 years—how gratitude is the single best predictor of personal wellbeing.”

The old gospel tune exhorts, “When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed / When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost / Count your many blessings, name them one by one / And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”

Cultivating gratitude – and counting our blessings – is essential for a healthy spirituality. Plantinga writes, “Giving thanks is a regular upbeat in the rhythm of a healthy Christian life.” It’s a given that it is a spiritual discipline we should cultivate. He offers strategies for doing so by reciting the “mighty acts of God” and journaling about them. Simply taking the time to reflect on the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection will likely yield a grateful response. And we can take the time to observe small and easily-missed daily graces. In each case, it’s important to savor and celebrate the gifts for which we are especially grateful.

One intriguing suggestion he makes is to “apprentice ourselves to grateful people.” We likely know at least one person in our circle who is marked by a clear attitude of gratitude. Plantinga says to shadow them, watch them closely, hang out with them, and see “what excites their gratitude even in the middle of trouble.” Then, imitate and learn from them. 

We also need to be aware of what can block or choke off our gratitude. He warns against cynicism that can raise suspicions about everyone’s motives. When we question another’s motives, we can’t receive the gifts they have to offer us. 

He also cautions against self-sufficiency. Gratitude tends to bring unity and collaboration. If we insist on going our own way, we tend to not seek anything from others and hold all we have to ourselves. The same is true in our relationship with God. He says, “if I can’t accept my dependence on God for the gift of everything good in my life, I sabotage my most important relationship.”  

Besides gratitude making us a nicer person to be around, it benefits us emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Gratitude leads to contentment, joy, generosity, and better heart health. Seneca is attributed to have said, “Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart.” A grateful heart, it turns out, is also a healthy heart.

Plantinga cites a study of 186 senior citizens with heart problems. On a questionnaire, those who rated high on the gratitude scale also had “clear sign[s] of healthier hearts.” Other benefits of being grateful include less depression and anxiety, not as prone to burnout, more resilient following traumatic events, and more.


Even in the midst of not-so-happy times, gratitude is essential and possible. “Despair is never the believer’s last word,” declares Plantinga. As a prime example of showing gratitude in the midst of trouble and challenge, he points to Paul who “endured a lifetime of suffering that would make most of us whimper and beg for relief if exposed to it for even a day.”  Yet, sometimes even while chained in prison, “Paul pours out gratitude for God’s grace, for triumph over the forces of evil, for his friends in the churches he founded.” We see this readily in passages such as 1 Corinthians 15:57, where Paul exclaims, “thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (NIV).

Growing and sustaining gratitude also involves recalling and savoring all that we are grateful for, as well as taking mindful care of what generates gratitude in our lives. For example, relationships must be valued, our own faith nurtured, and our life in Christ protected. Neglect and complacency in these areas can dull our gratitude and open us to despair and cynicism.

Plantinga closes the book explaining the value of purpose and calling in filling us with gratitude. Recognizing we have purpose yields thankfulness. And there is no higher purpose than living out our faith in Christ. “We have a purpose Jesus gave us,” he writes. “[to] ‘Strive first for the kingdom of God’ (Mat. 6:33). Following Jesus in this commission gives us our purpose and therefore a huge reason for gratitude… Finding fulfilling work, raising a thriving family, cultivating a network of friends, and living so as to ‘glorify God and enjoy him forever’ are all examples of striving first for the kingdom of God.”

Gratitude is a marker of God’s image in us. The book is an excellent guide for developing proper gratitude for the King of the universe and all he so graciously provides. It is a practical guidebook for living out the command of 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Stephen R. Clark

Stephen R. Clark is a writer who lives in Lansdale, PA with his wife, BethAnn, where they are members of Immanuel Church. His website is He is a member of the Evangelical Press Association and managing editor of and contributor to the Christian Freelance Writers Network blog. He has done news writing for The Baptist Paper and MinistryWatch. He writes a weekly column, “Quietly Faithful: Being a Christian Introvert” for He has published three volumes of poetry, and his writing has appeared in American Bible Society blogs, Bible Advocate, Breakthrough Intercessor, Christian Century, Christianity & Literature, Christian Standard, Friends Journal, Hoosier Lit, Influence Magazine, In Touch Ministries, Net Results, Outcomes Magazine, Outreach Magazine, Tipton Poetry Journal, and more.

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