The Bible has plenty to say about spiritual and emotional health and well-being, and when we appropriate God’s resources, we can have satisfaction in Christ. We continue to be steadfast and satisfied in the Lord, regardless of trying external circumstances. Gallup’s Mood of the Nation survey unveils somewhat of a dichotomy, to which I think that Christian believers can relate.
Frank Newport of the Gallup organization, who has been a guest on The Meeting House, wrote the survey summary, and in the opening lines, stated:
Gallup’s January Mood of the Nation survey confirmed the finding that Americans are largely satisfied with the way things are going in their personal life, despite their remarkable lack of satisfaction with the way things are going in the U.S. more generally.
Newport certainly has an interest in analyzing the role of faith that emerges from Gallup data, and he writes in the summary:
The January Gallup data indicate that 92% of those who attend church services weekly are satisfied, compared with 82% of those who attend less than monthly. The difference is even more evident in terms of the percentage who report being very satisfied — 67% of those who attend weekly are very satisfied with their personal life, compared with 48% among those who are infrequent attenders. Weekly religious service attenders are, in fact, more likely to say they are very satisfied than are those who make $100,000 or more in annual household income.
He referred to what he calls “a series of in-depth studies” regarding the “religion/wellbeing connection” around 10 years ago. The findings were presented at a major conference in Washington, D.C. He writes that in a summary that was published following the conference, “The very religious rate their lives more positively, are less likely to have ever been diagnosed with depression, and experience fewer daily negative emotions. The very religious also make much better health choices than do those who are not as or not at all religious.”
Newport cited other studies over the last decade or so, and made this sweeping statement: “…the basic finding, as our recent Gallup data reinforce, is robust. There is an enduring and very well-substantiated finding of a correlation between individuals’ personal religiosity and various measures of wellbeing, happiness and mental (and, in some instances, physical) health.”
The article is fascinating, and deals with “religion” in general rather than Christianity. Newport essentially rejects the notion that religious practice could be encouraged or reinforced through public policy and notes the seeming decline in religiosity that research has shown. I would contend that policymakers should be making decisions based on principles that are consistent with those upon which this nation was founded, upholding concepts rooted in the Scriptures – principles that can serve us well in our individual and corporate lives. He does say:
Certainly, if citizens become better acquainted with the research showing the positive effects of religion on wellbeing, it’s possible they might be more likely to choose to be religious. It is also possible that current trends in religiosity could be reversed in the future, that the nation could become more religious, and that, in turn, could have a salubrious effect on the nation’s wellbeing. But there is little evidence at the moment that religion, and perhaps the wellbeing that goes along with it, is going to have an increased presence in Americans’ lives in the years ahead.
Newport relates that religious practice could increase “organically,” writing that, “Religion in the U.S. has undergone significant ups and downs over time, particularly as evidenced by periodic ‘great awakenings’ since the 1700s.”
Therein lies the hope and the challenge for the Church. I think what could be termed “organic” could better be described as a move of God in the hearts of His people. But, while a sovereign God can certainly do what He will, we are reminded that the primary instrument that He uses in order in this world to testify to His greatness is the Church, the body of Christ. We can evaluate whether or not we are living out a contagious Christian faith.
It makes sense to think that if someone is seeking a sense of positive personal wellbeing and the research is clear that religion can enhance that wellbeing, then everyone would be rushing to that type of experience. Even in light of the overwhelming, unconditional love of God being made available to us, people continue to reject our Savior. I would think that one reason is because of a lack of evangelistic fervor. I also think rejection comes because there is a cost – in order to experience His life, we have to die to ourselves. Doing that can certainly result in the discovery of more of the abundant life that Christ has made available to us.