New psychology research highlights the value of consistency in closeness to God

Consistency in closeness to or distance from God is associated with heightened psychological well-being, according to new research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. The findings provide evidence that the level of closeness one feels to a deity is associated with important psychological outcomes.

“Some of my earlier research focused on religion and well-being. Oftentimes, I found closeness to God held unique significance for individuals’ well-being contemporaneously,” said study author Julian Culver (@JCulver89), a PhD candidate at Rice University.

“I was surprised by the lack of longitudinal investigations of either attachment or closeness to God, and well-being. So, I became curious about how this relationship fares longitudinally and whether it holds the same predictive power when examined cross-sectionally.”

For the study, Culver analyzed data from the National Study of Youth and Religion, a longitudinal survey of 3,290 English and Spanish-speaking individuals. He focused on a subset of 1,333 God-believing individuals who are Protestant, Catholic, or Latter-day Saint.

During three time points, the participants were asked “Do you believe in God, or not, or are you unsure?” and “How distant or close do you feel to God most of the time?”

Those who reported becoming less close to God over time tended to also experience reductions in self-reported life purpose, personal mastery, and life satisfaction compared to those who remained consistently close to God. Surprisingly, Culver also found being consistently distant from God predicted favorable levels of life purpose and satisfaction.

In other words, being consistently close to God or consistently distant was associated with better psychological outcomes than becoming closer to God or becoming more distant over time.

“To me, what’s interesting about this study is that the relationship between consistency in closeness to God and well-being mirrors some of what we know about social relationships in general. That individuals’ who are inconsistently close to God fare worse than their consistently close or distant peers is understandable to anyone who has experienced a relationship characterized by give and take imbalance. The findings from the present study build on the idea that one’s relationship with God can function similar to their social relationships,” Culver told PsyPost.

The study controlled for factors such as age, gender, education, personal income, and other variables. But like all research, the study includes some caveats.

“The NSYR data suffers from a lack of racial and religious diversity (i.e., most respondents are white and identify as either Protestant or Catholic). So, it would be interesting to examine what consistency in closeness to God looks like among non-whites affiliated with a minority religion and whether it predicts well-being in similar ways to that of white Protestants and Catholics,” Culver explained.

The study, “How Consistency in Closeness to God Predicts Psychological Resources and Life Satisfaction: Findings from the National Study of Youth and Religion“, was published September 17, 2020.

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