May 2, 2016

Let’s Celebrate Belief

It's official: Quality of life is affected by what we believe.

Fred Hardinge

A professor announced to a new class of medical students: “I have good news and bad news: The good news is that half of the material you learn in medical school will survive all scrutiny and investigation. The other half of what we teach you, however, will be proven incorrect. The bad news is that we have no way of knowing which half is which!”

So, in what or whom can we truly believe? Sometimes determining the answer to this question is tough! Yet belief is essential to human existence and organization, and has tremendous power.

Power of Belief

Belief—or faith, within a religious setting—has been shown to have statistically significant benefits that exceed the placebo effect. When the religious experience of Americans who reached the age of 100 was studied, researchers found that religiosity significantly enhanced health.1

A study comparing mortality rates between secular and religious kibbutzim (collective agricultural communities in Israel) found a decreased mortality rate over a 15-year follow-up in the religious group. The age-adjusted risk of premature death of members of the secular kibbutz was 1.7 times higher for males and 2.7 times higher for females when compared with the religious kibbutz.2

A study of African Americans found that those who engaged in organized religious activities had improved health and life satisfaction.3 Duke University researcher C. G. Ellison found that a lack of religious affiliation increases the risk of depression in African Americans.4

A connection between social relationships and survival has been documented in several studies. V. J. Schoenbach and others have noted this effect, particularly among White males.5

Improved Quality of Life

One of the most consistent findings across all racial groups is that spirituality profoundly improves the quality of life.6 Spirituality helps not only believers but also nonbelievers in the community. Research has found that communities gain health benefits when they have higher numbers of adherents to faiths that emphasize implicit obedience to God and His standards of conduct.7 The reason is likely that their social norms favor conformity to the more healthful lifestyle embraced by their religious neighbors.

Religious people—particularly adolescents from religious homes who frequently attend religious services, pray, and read Scripture—have fewer problems with alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs than do their nonreligious peers.8

Religion was positively associated with emotionally healthy values and socially accepted behaviors, such as tutoring or other volunteer activities often promoted by religious organizations.9

Belief in God also may be associated with reduction in stress, depression, and loneliness.

Benefits of Prayer

An Ohio study10 examined the effects of prayer on well-being. Of the 560 respondents, 95 percent classified themselves as religious people. Four types of prayer were identified:

Petitionary prayer: asking for material things you may need.

Ritual prayer: reading the book of prayers.

Meditative prayer: “feeling,” or being in God’s presence.

Colloquial prayer: talking as to a friend and asking God for guidance in making decisions.

The study revealed that colloquial prayer correlates best with happiness and religious satisfaction. Talking to God as to a friend, telling Him all our joys and sorrows, can bring happiness, healing, and religious satisfaction.

Peace of Mind

The Bible says, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (Isa. 26:3, NLT).11 When we have a close relationship with God, we experience peace of mind.

This does not mean that those who believe in God and trust Him implicitly will be free from problems. “Trouble and turmoil may surround us, yet we enjoy a calmness and peace of mind of which the world knows nothing. . . . The peace of Christians depends not upon peaceful conditions in the world about them but upon the indwelling of the Spirit of God.”12

Trusting in a loving, powerful God provides us with the ability to enjoy a healthful lifestyle. Belief and faith in God enables Him to fill our lives with abundant peace and joy.

  1. J. S. Levin and H. Y. Vanderpool, “Is Frequent Religious Attendance Really Conducive to Better Health? Toward an Epidemiology of Religion,” Social Science and Medicine 24, no. 7 (1987): 589-600.
  2. J. D. Kark et al., “Does Religious Observance Promote Health? Mortality in Secular Versus Religious Kibbutzim in Israel,” American Journal of Public Health 86, no. 3 (March 1996): 341-346.
  3. J. S. Levin, L. M. Chatters, R. J. Taylor, “Religious Effects on Health Status and Life Satisfaction Among Black Americans,” The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences 50, no. 3 (May 1995): S154-163.
  4. C. G. Ellison, “A Race, Religious Involvement and Depressive Symptomatology in a Southeastern U.S. Community,” Social Science and Medicine 40, no. 11 (June 1995): 1561-1572.
  5. V. J. Schoenbach et al., “Social Ties and Mortality in Evans County, Georgia,” American Journal of Epidemiology 123, no. 4 (April 1986): 577-591.
  6. C. G. Ellison, “Religious Involvement and Subjective Well-being,” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 32, no. 1 (March 1991): 80-99.
  7. J. W. Dwyer, L. L. Clarke, M. K. Miller, “The Effect of Religious Concentration and Affiliation on County Cancer Mortality Rates,” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 31, no. 2 (June 1990): 185-202.
  8. P. H. Hardestyn and K. M. Kirby, “Relation Between Family Religiousness and Drug Use Within Adolescent Peer Groups,” Journal of Social Behavior and Personality 10, no. 1 (1995): 421-430, in H. G. Koenig, The Healing Power of Faith (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999), p. 72.
  9. A. Y. Amoateng and S. J. Bahr, “Religion, Family, and Adolescent Drug Use,” Sociological Perspectives 29, no. 1 (1986): 53-76.
  10. 10 M. M. Poloma and B. F. Pendleton, “The Effects of Prayer and Prayer Experiences on Measures of General Well-being,” Journal of Psychology and Theology 19, no. 1 (1991): 71-83.
  11. 11 Texts credited to NLT are from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
  12. 11 The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1955), vol. 4, p. 203.

Fred Hardinge is an associate director of the Health Ministries Department at the General Conference.