The quest to live longer is an old one. Around this time, we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the first known European discovering Florida – Ponce de Leon. This was at Easter time, during which in his native Spain the cathedrals were filled with flowers to celebrate the Resurrection. Seeing all the flowers in the verdant land, he called it the land of the flower – la Florida.
He heard about the Fountain of Youth, which you can visit to this day in St. Augustine, Fla. There you can see the stone cross he and his men made to mark the year – 1513.
The Fountain of Youth supposedly would rejuvenate its drinkers. Local Indians who were in great shape appeared to be the beneficiaries of this Fountain of Youth. It turns out it wasn’t the water that made them live better; it was their mating patterns and seafood diet rich in protein.
Solomon the Wise once said, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity.”
The promises in Proverbs are general principles we can apply to our lives. Sometimes God is His wisdom and for His sovereign purposes will take a righteous person home early, while young.
It should also be pointed out that there are exceptions to averages. Have you ever heard of the statistician who drowned in a river, the average depth of which was two feet?
But, as a general principle, those who live godly lives are spared all sorts of hardships in this life and all sorts of problems from which the Creator desires to spare us. His commands are not to restrict us, but are for our good – much like a loving father who wants his children to obey for their safety and well-being.
What’s interesting is to see that scientists today are discovering empirical data pointing to a similar conclusion to the principle of long life as a reward for godly living.
For instance, at WebMD.com, under the subheading “Go to Church, Live Longer,” is a report about one of many studies that have consistently found the same thing. Regular church attendance adds to life’s quality and longevity. Of course, it’s not the physical act of going to church but the spiritual act of seeking God that makes the difference.
The researchers reported: “People who attend religious services at least once a week are less likely to die in a given period of time than people who attend services less often.”
The study reported: “People who attended religious services at least once a week were 46 percent less likely to die during the six-year study, says lead author Harold G. Koenig, M.D., of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. ‘When we controlled for such things as age, race, how sick they were and other health and social factors, there was still a 28 percent reduction in mortality,’ he says.”
Koenig added that going to church on a regular basis is just as good for you as not smoking.
In another study, reported in www.sciencedaily.com, the same basic results were found. Going to church on a regular basis adds years to your life. At the University of Colorado at Boulder, the researchers found “that regular churchgoers live longer than people who seldom or never attend worship services.”
ScienceDaily.com adds: “The research showed that people who never attended services had an 87 percent higher risk of dying during the follow-up period than those who attended more than once a week. The research also revealed that women and blacks can enjoy especially longer lives if they are religiously active.”
I once interviewed Dr. Byron Johnson, formerly of the University of Pennsylvania, then later Princeton and now at Baylor University. He is an excellent social scientist who studies the scientifically quantifiable effects of faith on people’s lives.
He said to me, “We reviewed over 770 studies on religion to see what the impact was. Not just a handful, not hand-selected studies, every study that we could find. And that’s when we came up with the conclusion that about 85 percent show a beneficial effect.” He summarized his findings in a publication, entitled, “Objective Hope.”
Dr. Johnson said that the studies show that if you go to church on a regular basis, you’ll add seven years to your life, if you’re white. If you’re black, you’ll add 14 years to your life.
This reminds me of a classic study from about 15 years ago written up in a major news magazine. The cover story of an issue of U.S. News and World Report was entitled “The Faith Factor.” The subtitle was: “Can Churches Cure America’s Social Ills?”
In that article, the author noted this: “What’s the surest guarantee that an African-American urban youth will not fall to drugs or crime? Regular church attendance turns out to be a better predictor than family structure or income, according to a study by Harvard University economist Richard Freeman. Call it the ‘faith factor.'”
The magazine also reported that “Frequent churchgoers are about 50 percent less likely to report psychological problems and 71 percent are less likely to be alcoholics.”
Ponce de Leon thought water from a spring in the land of the flowers might give him longer life. It turns out longer life for most of us might be just as close as the neighborhood church.