Religion’s influence in the daily lives of Americans is waning; at least that’s how Americans feel. A report from the Pew Research Center found that 72 percent of people in the United States think that faith is losing its power on the people.
The same article highlighted a few questions believers often receive from nonbelievers attempting to join a religious congregation or understand more about a certain belief system.
While the list of questions nonbelievers may ask is a large one, here are five big questions that believers usually get asked and how to answer them.
Question: If there’s a God, why do so many bad things happen?
Answer: Christian author Lee Strobel addressed this concern in a speech he gave not long after the 2012 Aurora, Colorado, shooting in which 12 people lost their lives.
Strobel explained that God doesn’t cause evil. Rather, he offers everyone the free will to make his or her own choices, which may or may not eventually lead to catastrophe. He also acknowledged that God will eventually judge those who commit evil acts and make them atone for the sins they’ve committed.
“God promises a time when there will be no more crying, no more tears, no more pain and suffering, when we will be reunited with God in perfect harmony, forever,” Strobel said.
Others have looked at the topic differently. One writer for Got Questions, a religious information website, observed that God has his own reasons which are not necessarily understandable by us.
Question: Does God really answer prayers? If so, how?
Answer: The answer to this question seems to be a little more complicated. Bibleinfo reported that God often answers prayers in unconventional ways. Even though it may seem as though God is silent on the things that matter most, he may actually be working in other ways behind the scenes to answer prayers.
“It is the same way in our prayers to God. God gives us what is best for us,” Bibleinfo's article explained. “We are God’s children and He gives us what is best for us, and at a time when it is best for us. Our lives must be right with God before He can answer our prayers.”
Dr. Ed Young also wrote for Crosswalk that God's answers to people's prayers have a lot to do with how and when they pray. It’s not just about asking and receiving, but about having a conversation with God, Young said.
“You know, prayer can serve many purposes, but generally speaking, it's an intimate conversation with God,” Young said. “Prayer involves Him stirring our hearts, us communicating with Him, and then listening for how God may respond to us.”
But praying is about more than just getting what you want or hoping that God answers you. As an article for Deseret News National explained in August, prayer provides many benefits, such as increasing your spiritual growth, improving your physical health and allowing you to find inspiration during times of trouble.
Question: What benefits come from going to church?
Answer: To a nonbeliever, going to church may seem like a chore. But church attendance does make a difference. Look no further than FamilyShare’s list of benefits, which explains how attending church gives believers the chance to serve and understand God better as well as build spiritual strength.
Speaking of family, BeliefNet's own list of benefits also said that attending church with your loved ones can provide individuals with a positive atmosphere to bond and communicate with others. There’s also a lower risk that family members will commit crimes or cause trouble if they attend church, BeliefNet's article explained.
An op-ed for The New York Times written by T.M. Luhrmann said experiencing God at church even provides physical and wellness benefits, as well as builds faith.
“To know God in an evangelical church, you must experience what can only be imagined as real, and you must also experience it as good,” Luhrmann wrote.
Question: Is there an afterlife? And what does it look like?
Answer: A 2013 Harris poll found that 68 percent of Americans believe in some kind of heaven, showing a prevalent belief in an afterlife.
But what does that afterlife look like? In 2003, research organization the Barna Group compiled some ideas of how Americans view the afterlife. Some said they expect a heaven and a hell, while others said they believe the afterlife is uncertain. Instead, they believe that people’s souls will live on in whatever way God or a supernatural being will allow, according to Barna.
Deseret News National offered some more ideas of what some consider heaven to look like. Some say it’s something white and puffy in the clouds. Others have noted that it may just be whatever gives you peace.
Question: What’s the difference between being spiritual and religious?
Answer: That’s not an uncommon question for believers, since the two words have similar meanings. Being spiritual is about finding solace and peace in something other than religion or God, which seems to be an attitude much of secular America is adopting, according to Deseret News National.
An example of that can be found at Quartz, where one writer explained how a spiritual hike "cured" his loneliness.
A big part of being spiritual is not being tied down to one particular avenue for expressing your faith, the Deseret News article reported.
"People are increasingly unhappy being nailed down to one particular denomination for various reasons — they don't like its politics, don't like its liturgy, have other ideas," said Peter Berger, a professor emeritus of religion at Boston University, to the National Edition. "People are becoming much more selective in their religious affiliations, and if they have none, or haven't found one that they liked that's very interesting. But to conclude from this that America is becoming less religious would be a big mistake."