Did you know that going to church is linked to living longer? Check out this Washington Times piece on a study several years ago which found that there is a significant correlation between regular church attendance and good health and, therefore, a longer life. Director of the study, University of Iowa psychology professor Susan Lutgendorf, commented, “There’s something involved in the act of religious attendance, whether it’s the group interaction, the worldview or just the exercise to get out of the house. There’s something that seems to be beneficial.”
Another possible explanation is the fact that faithful worshippers are more likely to live temperate lives, particularly as regards eating, drinking, drugs, smoking, and promiscuous sex. But the researchers said they corrected for such variations in their study.
So how else might one account for this correlation between church attendance and greater longevity? Here are some factors that come to (my) mind as potentially relevant factors.
1. Regular church-goers are less likely to suffer what I might be called moral stress, that is, the psychological pressures created by shame, grudges, and resentment. A burdened conscience can cause a lot of psychological havoc and, in turn, one would suspect, health problems. As for forgiveness, those who experience divine forgiveness are presumably more likely to extend grace to others. Those who forgive others often report a sense of relief and other emotional benefits. And it is well documented that forgiveness contributes to the reduction of anxiety and generally better mental and physical health.
2. Perhaps the greater longevity is partly attributable in the fact (if it is a fact) that those who attend church regularly are more likely to be disciplined people overall. It does, after all, take some discipline to attend church at least once weekly. And such discipline is a transferable life skill, or virtue, that can increase one’s chances at a longer life.
3. We can’t forget the supernatural dimension here, recalling that God often rewards the obedient with a long life (e.g. 1 Kings 3:14; Eph. 6:2-4). Obviously, sometimes righteous people die young, and sometimes the wicked live long lives. However, as this divine blessing works out across a population, perhaps it accounts for the statistical differences found in this study.
I don’t mean to suggest that these explanations are mutually exclusive. Perhaps, as I suspect, the latter factor pertaining to divine blessing actually supervenes over the various other “natural” factors. After all, divine providence works through secondary causes. In any case, these findings provide much food for thought . . . and yet another reason to make it to church this Sunday.