“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed,” In the Bible, James declares. “For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.”
Researchers W. Matthew Henderson of Union University and Blake Kent of Westmont College write in "Attachment to God and Psychological Distress: Evidence of a Curvilinear Relationship," published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion last month, that "anxiety or a lack of certainty about one's relationship with the divine represents a threat to psychological well-being."
The study analyzed data from the 2010 Baylor Religion Survey, which included over 1,600 people who believe in God. Although the study was not confined to Christians, the majority of those who responded were Christians.
While previous research has found that religious practices such as prayer and religious service attendance are "pretty protective of people's mental health," Henderson, an assistant professor of sociology at Union University in Tennessee, told The Christian Post that there isn't much data on how "people's specific religious beliefs" affect mental health outcomes.
“We thought that was a pretty glaring weakness because belief is such an important part of religious practice,” he said. “And we were especially interested in beliefs about God.”
The researchers set out to investigate how people's individual thoughts about God and their relationship with the divine impact their mental health using a concept known as Attachment Theory.
“Attachment theory examines child-caretaker bonding as a central motivator of human behavior and a primer for future interpersonal relationships. Young children engage in proximity-seeking behavior, drawing close to primary caregivers to feel emotionally comforted, supported, and safe. In this capacity, caregivers provide infants with a ‘secure base’ from which to explore the world,” the researchers noted. “The style of attachment a child develops with the caregiver serves as an ‘internal working model’…, a collection of neurological, biological, emotional, and social stimuli that coalesce to prime expectations for future relationships.”
Internal working models shape the character of an individual's interactions throughout childhood and into adulthood, according to Attachment Theory, which has been utilized to provide insight into the dynamics of various related contexts. It's also been used to investigate the links between secure attachment style and depression, distress, coping, psychological functioning, and other mental health outcomes.
“Attachment to God summarily is a way to measure people’s dispositions like emotional dispositions towards God. So if you feel like God is consistent and responsive, usually we call that a secure attachment to God. If you feel like God is aloof and distant and you can’t really rely on Him, that is an avoidant attachment style. And if you’re just not really sure, that’s kind of an anxious attachment,” Henderson explained.
“What we found with the curvilinear relationship was higher levels of psychological distress were predicted for people who were in the middle of this avoidance-secure measure.”
People who had a more secure or confident relationship with God, as well as those who had a more distant relationship with God, had lower stress levels.
“That’s not really what would be expected based on previous attachment to God research,” Henderson said. “The highest levels of psychological distress were people who were kind of in the middle there, and that’s where you get this kind of curvilinear hump.”