Sunday, January 02, 2011

That Your Days May Be Long

The article in the Washington Post announced, "Study Finds Regular Churchgoers Get More Life Out of Life." Its lead paragraph said, "Live longer, go to church. A major study of church attendance and mortality indicates that people who attend church every week live an average of seven years longer than people who never attend."

Life expectancy was 53.3 years beyond the age of 20 for people who never attend church. For those who regularly attend at least once a week, the increase was 61.9 years. For those who attended more regularly, there was an extra year added to that, making life expectancy for them, 83. The study was funded partially by the National Science Foundation. Other studies had noted a positive link between religion and physical and mental health. But this was the first study on a national level. Suggested explanations are that frequent churchgoers are less likely to engage in "unhealthful" behavior of the less principled. There are also the supportive ties between members. And there is the possibility that worship decreases the stress which is at the root of many illnesses.

While germs, viruses, and genetic flaws can appear at random striking anyone, it should not surprise us that even approximation to God and righteousness is beneficial even in this life. Even religion that is deficient would have benefit as it approached the ideal. In emphasis on God rather than self, upon excellence rather than indulgence, upon principle rather than pleasure, there is bound to be some benefit. The response of the unprincipled leaders of our day is predictable. There will be the sit-com canned laugh line, "Religious people don't live longer, it just seems longer." But that denies the actual math, doesn't it? They just don't understand that the pleasures of righteousness are not so fleeting as theirs, which need a constant "fix" in new indulgence.

Here are some relevant promises of God. "Godliness is profitable... having the promise of the life which now is, and of the life which is to come" (I Tim. 4:8). There is national benefit as well as personal. Immediately after giving the Ten Commandments, and teaching love for God, Israel was required to do "right and good, that it may be well with you" (Dt. 6:18). Moses said the commandments to fear the Lord, "are for our good always, that He might preserve us" (Dt. 6:24 ). And in the Commandments is a requirement and blessing. "Honor your father and mother that your days may be long in the land" (Ex. 20:12 ). Of course it was understood that the parents were walking in and teaching God's laws.

The results of the above study were declared long ago by Peter. He said there is a "blessing" in righteousness, and then declared the blessing: "He that would love life and see good days... let him turn away from evil and do good... For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears unto their supplication (I Pet. 3:8-12). Living longer is not going to convert lovers of sin and haters of righteousness. Nor is it going to make us love God more. It is faith that humbly and joyfully compels us to the feet of God to worship Him. The advantage is icing on the cake and some vindication in the face of the assault on faith and piety. And thank God for that gift. But especially for the hope we have in Christ for eternal life in utter joy and undiluted blessedness. -- Dale Smelser

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