In the late 1980’s I was sitting in a pew in the First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Florida and listened to a sermon that made a lasting impression on me. The minister, Dr. Howard Edington, was a highly intelligent, and highly skilled orator. He was easy to listen to, and our congregation learned that every Sunday there would be one or two lines from his sermon that resonated with you. On that Sunday, the line that stuck with me was:
“If you want to be bigger than you are, you must believe in something bigger than you are!”
This simple sentence is easy to remember, yet powerful in its meaning. For many of us, Christianity fills that need because Jesus spent time in his ministry painting a picture of Heaven. Those who followed Jesus grasped that vision and commitment. and monumental ideas were ultimately passed down to Christians today. The commitment of Jesus to sacrifice himself for all mankind is a picture painted with faith. Jesus clearly believed in something bigger than Himself.
Beliefs are about visions, often shared visions. If you can paint a picture, describe a future state, or explain why people should move in a particular direction, they will often follow and benefit from that shared vision. When you catch hold of a vision you become energized, more resilient, and great things begin to happen.
For others in the world Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and a host of other smaller religions help people fill their lives with a vision of a better world. Sometimes that better world is in the present as in Shinto, but often it is delayed gratification associated with beliefs or a reward for a life well lived.
The common thread in all of these religions is faith: a structure that places boundaries on behavior, and belief that there is indeed something bigger than all of us. But there are other benefits to a greater society, learning behavioral boundaries and understanding the importance of those boundaries. Many of our young people today have no idea that our legal system is based on Biblically defined behaviors set out during the time of Moses. The Ten Commandments are as relevant today as they were millennia ago. They set boundaries for acceptable societal behaviors if we are to live together, and this is why they are on the wall at the Supreme Court.
Being part of a religious community has obvious benefits coupled with belonging and associating with others with shared concerns and challenges. Some studies have confirmed that there is a connection between religious association and diet, physical exercise, and better cognitive functions. Even if this is a “chicken and egg” scenario, associating with people who are healthy and stable has benefits.
The community created by religious association also brings together people with shared challenges at various stages of life. Parents with young children, the elderly, and those with dependency issues all receive help from association with people with shared challenges. Mental health challenges are also addressed through religious affiliation. Structure, a sense of belonging, discussing stress and life’s challenges, and encouraging tolerance and forgiveness are all positive aspects of religious association.
We only need to watch a few news casts to see the negative effects of pulling away from boundaries of acceptable behavior set out in Biblical text. The Bible offers the collective wisdom of men and women throughout the ages and in many cases offers solutions to the challenges they faced. Few things have changed in the human condition over millennia because the interaction between people has common threads. Broken homes, a loss of respect for marriage and parents, a decline in civility in major cities, and crime can find roots in a pulling away from religion and a belief in something bigger than any of us.
Some of the greatest minds in recorded history have given us their insight into religion and God:
To believe in God is to see that life has meaning. Ludwig Wittgenstein
He who thinks half-heartedly will not believe in God; but he who really thinks has to believe in God. Isaac Newton
If God can be fully proved by the human mind, then he is no greater than the mind that proves Him. Billy Graham
Faith is not the belief that God will do what you want. It is the belief that God will do what is right. Max Lucado
Belief in God is almost universal, and the effect of this belief is so vast that one is appalled at the thought of what social conditions would be if reverence for God were erased from every heart. William Jennings Bryan
I believe the Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man. All of the good of the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this book. But for it, we could not know right from wrong. Abraham Lincoln
If we were to remove the Bible from public schools we would be wasting so much time punishing crimes and taking so little pains to prevent them. Benjamin Rush
The other side of this story is non-belief, or as Communist Countries would have us believe that there is no higher power, no after life. In those societies individuals can only aspire to compete and appease the State. Their vision of the future is bounded by human limitations and laws alone. When there is nothing bigger than the State, then the State becomes a quasi-religion by default. History is ripe with stories of nations who fell because they either put their faith in people alone or had no basis for beliefs other than proclamations from other men.
When societies have no belief in a higher power and a greater purpose, then they begin to break down. When there is no guiding hand to set boundaries for behavior then society begins to move in the direction of the lowest common denominator. Historically, for mankind, the lowest common denominator is always sin. Legalization of drugs, abortion, and criminal behavior in major cities are all signs of moral decay and a decline in national fabric.
Believing in something bigger than yourself is one key to a purposeful, healthy, happy life, and a key to success on any level. If we ultimately become the sum of our decisions, this is one of the key decisions that define the quality of a person’s life.
The sum of our decisions determines our destiny!
Research Source Materials
The Brookings Institution, “Welfare Reform & Beyond #28,” by Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill, September 2003.