Religiously observant people tend to live up to six years longer than atheists
This month, a study of obituaries in the United States has indicated that people with a religious affiliation tend to live almost six years longer than those who have no faith.
As with many statistics there is the danger of falling into the classic trap of confusing correlation and cause. We cannot easily say if being religious actually causes people to live longer or whether there are other factors that connect religion with the length of life.
It is purely speculation but it might be that being a Christian tends towards a healthier lifestyle – we want to please God by treating our bodies with care and thus avoiding excess. Knowing God may also reduce stress levels as we know the big issues of life are in his hands. Or maybe the ritual of church services has some relaxing health benefits. Also, the church as a family gives emotional support and regular opportunities for social contact, which encourage mind and body fitness and give people something positive to look forward to.
However, I am not suggesting we start to advertise the health or wealth benefits of becoming a Christian! In the Old Testament prosperity and health in the Promised Land was a tangible sign of God’s blessing and was linked with the obedience of his people (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 4:40). There are no such promises in the New Testament, where the promise of material prosperity in this life has been replaced by the reality of spiritual riches and eternal life beyond the beckoning grave. Our need is to come to know Christ – not in order to live a little longer in this world, but so that we might live forever in the next.
We would, however, want to affirm that God’s way are best and that the way God’s world works is that when we are obedient to him it often leads to blessing.
So, for example, when we respect God’s blueprint for marriage and live faithfully as husbands and wives, bringing up our children in stable committed families; when we honour our parents and treat people with love and respect; when we are contented with what we have and do not wear ourselves out trying to get rich; when we do not long for or steal what rightly belongs to others and when we care for our bodies – these things bring their own blessing because the best way to live life is to follow the maker’s instructions.