Biblical God vs. “Higher Power”

Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

A new Pew Research Center survey found that a majority of American believe in God, but not all say their god is the one described in the  Bible.

The new survey, which polled 4,700 U.S. adults found that nine-in-ten Americans say they believe in God, but he’s not necessarily the God of the Bible. This survey attempted to delve into the exact nature of their belief and came up with some very interesting findings.

For example, 56 percent of the people polled said they believe in God “as described in the Bible.” Nearly three-quarters of religious “nones” – who describe themselves as being atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular” – say they believe in a higher power of some kind, even if not the Biblical God.

“Among evangelical Protestants, 91% put their faith in God ‘as described in the Bible,’ as do 92% of those in the historically black Protestant tradition,” the survey found. “Most Catholics and mainline Protestants also believe in the God of the Bible, though sizable minorities within these groups say they believe in some other higher power or spiritual force.”

However, young adults are far less likely than their older counterparts to say they believe in God as described in the Bible.

“Whereas roughly two-thirds of adults ages 50 and older say they believe in the biblical God, just 49% of those in their 30s and 40s and just 43% of adults under 30 say the same. A similar share of adults ages 18 to 29 say they believe in another higher power (39%).”

It’s also interesting to note that women are more likely than men to believe in the biblical God (61% vs. 50%).

Those who espouse belief in a biblical God say they envision Him to be “an all-powerful, all-knowing, loving deity who determines most of what happens in their lives.

However, those who believe in a “higher power” are much less likely to see this power as being benevolent and active in human affairs.

“Overall, about half of Americans (48%) say that God or another higher power directly determines what happens in their lives all or most of the time. An additional 18% say God or some other higher power determines what happens to them ‘just some of the time’,” the report states.

Interestingly, nearly eight-in-ten U.S. adults said they think God or a higher power has protected them, and two-thirds say they have been rewarded by the Almighty.

“Six-in-ten Americans say God or a higher power will judge all people on what they have done, and four-in-ten say they have been punished by God or the spiritual force they believe is at work in the universe,” the study found.

As a result, it’s not surprising to learn that three-quarters of American adults say they try to talk to God (or another higher power in the universe) and about three-in-ten say God talks back.

The study also found that majorities in all adult age groups say they believe in God or some other higher power, ranging from 83% of those ages 18 to 29 to 96% of those ages 50 to 64.

A complete lack of belief is “relatively uncommon” even among “nones” and even one-in-five atheists say they believe in some kind of higher power.

Having been one of those Catholics who drifted away from the Biblical God for more than a decade, I was still seeking. Looking back on it now, I can clearly see that I was clinging to this nondescript “higher power” that I created for myself simply because I didn’t want to let go entirely of my belief in God.

Who knows how many of our young people, who make up the vast majority of the “nones,” are doing the same thing and may, like me, eventually tire of their “imaginary friend” and find their way back to the one true God.

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