This week we will take a look at our nation’s beliefs about God’s activity. Most Americans do not pay much attention to the supernatural realm during the course of a typical day. Given our relative lack of knowledge about the content of the Bible – our most reliable source of understanding the nature, purposes, and work of God – it is not surprising that we don’t focus too much on spirituality.
A prime example is the controversial topic of creation. The debate over the genesis of the universe and life – that is, whether the world was created by God or through a “big bang” and whether people were created by God or evolved from lower life forms. Perhaps the clearest example of evolution is found by tracking the change in Americans’ perspective on these matters. Our views have swung from one end of the spectrum to the other end and back. There are few areas where the collision of science and faith are more evident than in opinions regarding the history of the universe. About half the nation believes that the complexity of the universe has lead them to support the view that God must have created it; one-fifth embrace the ‘big bang” theory; while the remaining one-quarter have not yet reached a conclusion on the matter. [GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications, “The AP-GfK Poll”]
There are three likely reasons for the confusion. First is that people are torn between trusting the “facts” provided by science and relying on the teaching of the Bible. For those who have just recently viewed Focus on the Family’s “The Truth Project”, it becomes more and more obvious that scientific evidence leads us to a creator…a conclusion that the secular world is not willing to accept, thus the continuous “search”. Second, is how public opinion on this subject is measured. Various surveys approach the topic differently, providing data that is related but that measures disparate nuances of a complicated issue. Third, and most likely the reason, considering the public’s aversion to the subject, is people’s anxiety concerning the public image they might be saddled with as a result of their beliefs on such matters. Bottom line, many Americans are disengaged on this matter.
Caught between the conflicting views, some people try to blend the two approaches. One-quarter of the public believes that God guided the evolutionary process to enable humanity to emerge from less advanced life forms He had already created. In spite of the counter evidence, there seems to be a growing support for the theory of evolution over that of creationism. [YouGov, Omnibus Poll, July 8-9, 2013; Harris Interactive, “American’s Belief in God, Miracles, and Heaven Declines”]
Much of this confusion reflects the struggle Americans have to take the Bible at face value. Most Americans have built protective walls around their heads and hearts in order to avoid “analysis paralysis” – being incapable of making decisions and taking action because there is too much information to sift through, organize, understand, interpret, and act upon. We tend to re-prioritize what matters to us in order to focus on the things that we assume are necessary to personally survive and grow. Debates over creationism and evolution generally do not make the “Must Figure Out” list of most Americans.
Other facets of God’s work are also at play. Seven out of ten adults believe God currently performs miracles. However, whether physical healings that were specifically prayed for constitute a miracle or an act of medicine and science continues to baffle most Americans. Roughly four out of ten adults have prayed to God for a healing of some sort, and seven out of those ten people described praying for that outcome to be personally helpful, if not medically successful. [Yeoun Soo Kim-Godwin, “Prayer in Clinical Practice: What Does the Evidence Support”, Journal of Christian Nursing, 30, no. 4 (October-December 2013):208-215] The entire matter of prayer confounds most people. While slightly more than three-fourths of the population prays to God during a typical week, praying has declined from nine out of ten people doing so just three decades ago. [Data taken from Barna Group, “OmniPoll 1-14” and “OmniPoll 1-94”, as well as surveys conducted by the Gallup Organization in 1983, 1993, and 2013.]
Despite the recent efforts to create greater awareness of God in the workplace, most adults continue to perform their appointed occupational tasks without much thought or intentional inclusion of God or Biblical principles. Just one out of every four adults regularly views their work as a mission from God. [Wave III Baylor Religion Survey, “The Values and Beliefs of the American Public”]. About one-third takes Colossians 3:23…”work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people”…to heart and pursue excellence in work performance because they see the fulfillment of those duties as an act of faith or as serving God. [ Ibid ]
What might life be like if we considered ourselves to be in the presence of God in all that we do? Next week we will take a look at this nation’s beliefs about eternity and salvation. Again, a subject creating much confusion in this secular world.
– Bob Munsey
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Hosea 4:6 NASB