Psychology and the sciences used to downplay the role of religion and at some instances even made religion pathological. However, in our recent past, psychology has begun to look at the importance of religion to its clients. As psychology has shifted to address this, it finds itself playing catch up to religious adherents who already know and understand the importance of religion and coping strategies. Most of the research in the area of religious coping comes from the medical model. Research has been conducted at hospitals with patients suffering from various forms of cancer and sees how religious versus nonreligious coping strategies work or provide relief.
In discussing the role of religious versus nonreligious coping strategies, it is important to have a basic understanding of personhood; one that a religious and nonreligious person would agree with. In its basic form, both would agree that a person is both material and immaterial. A person has a mind, body and spirit. Where they diverge is in the spiritual aspect. A nonreligious person believes they have a spiritual (little ‘s’) nature, while a religious person, specifically a Christian worldview, believes they have a Spiritual (big ‘S’) nature.
Little ‘s’ spiritual nature is more closely akin to a cognitive behavioral aspect that looks at putting the problem (in this example cancer) in proper terms and being able to come to terms with it. Nonreligious coping confronts the problem, puts it in perspective, builds support, develops a positive reinterpretation and then tries to confound any denial or avoidance. All this is done with the individual’s own strengths and limitations. The coping strategies of a religious person are similar to those mentioned above, yet they take on a transcendent quality because of their belief in God, who comforts, consoles, and is personally interested and invested in the person, not just the issue at hand.
The biggest difference between the coping strategies of a religious person and a nonreligious person is a matter of the heart. A nonreligious person’s coping strategies are based on a cognitive behavioral aspect that works at a cerebral level to help the person. Coping strategies for a religious person do that but end up going beyond the cerebral and affecting the heart. It brings peace and joy in the midst of trials. Yes, a nonreligious person’s coping strategies may lead to a degree of peace, but it falls short of the peace that surpasses all understanding described in Philippians 4: 7.
In the end, God has equipped us to cope with the anxiety and stresses of life. A nonreligious coping strategy looks at what man can do for himself and rests in their strength alone, while a Christian coping strategy looks at what God can do for man and rests in Him alone.