Or to put it more academically correctly, your view of God as either benevolent or vindictive is correlated with your risk of psychiatric symptoms. At least that’s what recent research published in the Journal of Religion and Health seems to indicate.
How mental health and religion affect each other has been a matter of debate for many years. Some have argued that strong religious beliefs increase one’s risk for anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorders, or even delusions and hallucinations. Some great Christian leaders including Martin Luther, John Wesley, and Charles Spurgeon struggled with severe anxiety or depression. And then there are the caricatures of Christian believers in popular media who claim religious reasons for illegal or violent acts, or clearly display signs of mental illness.
On the other hand many believe their faith in God has helped them weather times of extreme stress, and provides an emotional/mental stability they would not have otherwise. Some who struggle with mental illness find their faith to be a primary means of coping and hope. Research supports the mental health benefits of being involved in a community of faith, and the decreased anxiety many feel as a result of attending religious service, among other findings.
For a person of faith, examining religion, spirituality, or Christianity from a scientific viewpoint may at first seem a like denial of that faith. But if our faith cannot stand up to scrutiny perhaps it’s not faith in the right thing!
Briefly, the recent research shows that for those who believe in God, what they believe about Him seems to make a big difference in their mental health.
- Those who view God as harsh, punitive, and vindictive, looking for a way to punish them, had a higher rate of several troubling psychiatric symptoms.
- Those who view God as disconnected and uninvolved in their lives now showed no difference in psychiatric symptoms.
- Those who view God as benevolent, involved, and lovingly working for their good had a lower rate of several psychiatric symptoms.
A study like this is not considered scientific proof. But it is one more piece of evidence that HOW we believe and practice our faith makes a difference. Combine this with what we know as believers and it becomes very meaningful. How you view God is important!
Some interesting questions to consider:
- If you learn a healthier view of God, will your mental health tend to improve?
- Can treating mental illness help one develop a healthier view of God also?
These musings are not meant to blame theology for mental illness, or label those struggling with psychiatric symptoms as automatically having a problem with faith. But I do believe this kind of information reminds us that theology matters. What we believe makes a difference.
And most of all, what we believe about God and how we relate to Him impacts our lives, and our health.
Your turn: What view do you have of God? How do you think that impacts your mental/emotional health? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
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