Keeping the Faith: The Power of Prayer During COVID-19

Research reveals the value of faith-based positive living.

Posted Jul 12, 2020

Faith sustains when circumstances fail. Christians have celebrated this reality the world over, but perhaps never in recent times in quite the way we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. Calling the virus “novel” also characterizes the way society has responded, with unprecedented measures, quarantines, laws, and regulations that have seriously disrupted life to try and contain the spread of the disease.

Faith and Health

Image by Pexels from Pixabay
Source: Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Many have written about the power of faith, and how it impacts well-being. Harold G. Koenig (2020), in a piece specific to the pandemic entitled “Maintaining Health and Well-Being by Putting Faith into Action During the Covid-19 Pandemic,”[i] discusses a variety of different faith traditions but tied the discussion to the adverse impact of negative emotions on the body.

Koenig notes that emotions like fear and anxiety adversely impact our physiological systems that are designed to protect us from infection. Consequently, he notes that practicing our religious faith can help protect us from contracting COVID-19 and manage the symptoms if, God forbid, we become infected.  

He notes that emotions such as anxiety and fear can actually heighten susceptibility to contracting the virus due to the adverse effects such emotions can have on immune functioning. On the other hand, he notes that positive emotions have the opposite effect on the immune system—supporting the goal of remaining hopeful and optimistic.

Koenig notes that positive emotions generated by religious activity such as reading Scripture and practicing faith actually benefits the immune system, a finding that he notes is increasingly corroborated by scientific research. He identifies religious faith as an important resource that many people use to maintain health and well-being.

Faith and Agency

Other researchers have tied positive mental health to the type of religious beliefs held. Yingling Liu and Paul Froese explored this issue in “Faith and Agency: The Relationships Between Sense of Control, Socioeconomic Status, and Beliefs About God” (2020).[ii] They found that although a person’s sense of control differs depending on degree of religiosity, the relational direction appears to vary based on a person’s image of God, as well as social status. Types of religious beliefs appear to explain how religion positively or negatively impacts sense of control. 

Specifically, they found that “secure attachment to God and belief in divine control will compensate for social and economic deprivation.” In addition, they found believing in a judgmental God to be negatively related to agency, finding a “traditional fire‐and‐brimstone God” to be associated with a lower sense of control, in contrast to people who have more contemporary and individualized beliefs about God—which were associated with a sense of greater agency. This was particularly true for believers who were in need.

Liu and Froese explain that prior research establishes that sense of control, which is a measure of mental health and human agency, depends on a person’s socioeconomic status (SES) as well as religiosity. They also note that because it is a fundamental human need, a sense of control is a significant factor contributing to both mental and physical well‐being, and it also overlaps with other mental health measures “such as agency, internal locus of control, and mastery.”

A stronger sense of self-control appears to have other benefits as well. The authors note that it is linked with lower mortality rates, less symptoms of depression, and quicker recovery from illness. 

Relational Closeness

In explaining their results, Liu and Froese note that secure attachment to God resembles other psychological measures of relational closeness—such as closeness to others, and accordingly, produces a variety of social and psychological benefits. They recognize that in terms of being a measure of theology or religiosity, secure attachment to God “highlights the positive aspects of belief—those feelings of security and love that can come with faith.” They note that consequently, secure attachment to God reflects individualized and therapeutic benefits of faith.

Liu and Froese note that people who experience low secure attachment to God, even though they may be “highly religious,” do not receive the same benefits. They explain that subscribing to a belief in a judgmental God reflects a very different type of religiosity, reflecting a system of beliefs based on “moral strictness and fear of retributive justice,” which is very different from the comfort and closeness experienced through a sense of secure attachment to God. It is this latter type of attachment that Christians would explain represents the relationship they have with Jesus Christ.

The Power of Prayer

Both research and experience reveal the power of faith and prayer to positively impact believers both physically and psychologically. Especially during uncertain times, faith sustains, comforts, and provides a sense of control in an otherwise uncertain, seemingly unpredictable time in history. 

References

[i] Koenig, Harold G. 2020. “Maintaining Health and Well-Being by Putting Faith into Action during the Covid-19 Pandemic.” Journal of Religion and Health, May. doi:10.1007/s10943-020-01035-2.

[ii] Liu, Yingling, and Paul Froese. 2020. “Faith and Agency: The Relationships between Sense of Control, Socioeconomic Status, and Beliefs about God.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 59 (2): 311–26. doi:10.1111/jssr.12655.