A car slows to join the back of a line of traffic as the column speeds up, slows again, then begins merging with other vehicles at a junction. The junction clears, and the driver accelerates. Crash! He assumed that the car in front would keep moving, but…
A commonplace accident like that usually results in nothing more than embarrassment and an insurance claim. But similar front-to-rear-end shunts can become major incidents that cost lives. Despite poor visibility, traffic seems to be moving steadily but, suddenly, brake lights ahead glow bright – and drivers slam on their brakes. Too late! They assumed that the traffic would keep moving, but…
An executive arrives for an early meeting and notices, with surprise, how few cars there are in the company car park. He enters the boardroom, where just two senior colleagues are seated. The only item on the agenda is his dismissal. He was looking forward to a long career in the company, but…
We plan for an event, or a holiday, but sudden illness forces us to cancel. We mean to visit a relative who we haven’t seen for ages, but news of their death arrives before we get around to arranging things. By comparison with some people’s life experiences, these examples may seem mild, but the events we remember as major tragedies are usually notable only for the number of victims. For each individual, their emergency is major – though it may never be reported outside their closest circle of friends.
Most people go through life expecting things to continue as they are. They know that accidents happen. But, they tell themselves that they happen to other people. And, if accident, serious illness, bereavement, or life-changing losses hit them, they may look around for someone to blame. Others, however, seem to cope better with life’s ups-and-downs – and the ones who seem to cope best are those who have faith.
People of faith are not immune from accident, sickness, and disaster. Life happens to us all. Life can turn on a pinhead, taking us instantly from an apparently lasting stability, to new situations that test our powers of survival. That’s when we need resources to fall back on. Money counts only when the challenges are financial. When the changes threaten our hope, we need inner reserves that money can’t buy.
Many studies have shown that people of faith fare better than average in health, mental stability, and longevity (NOTE 1). Scientific explanations for these effects focus on the benefits of belonging to a community, living moderately, avoiding smoking, hard drinking, and drugs, driving considerately and maintaining faithful relationships. These are measurable factors (and aren’t necessarily true of all believers). But love, hope – and faith itself – are major contributors that can’t be measured in a laboratory.
Life can turn on a pinhead. Most people experience setbacks at some stage of their lives. So, most people would benefit from faith – but what faith? Science won’t help you with that choice. But statistics offer guidance that may surprise many people. If you think that Christianity is in decline, check the figures (NOTE 2). There are more Christians living today than at any time in history. The church is growing faster than at any previous time. That may not seem true in your village, but it’s true across the world; and it’s almost certainly true in places quite close to where you live. Check where the crowds are going on Sunday.
Faith in Jesus Christ is on the increase because it works. It brings hope. It brings peace. And it brings welcome into a loving community. Christianity works because the person we worship lived a normal, human life – but did it with a level of success that no-one else has achieved. ‘Success’ for him wasn’t counted in money or property, but in total peace, inner strength, resistance to all temptation, and faithfulness to his calling. And what a calling that was! Though he was God, he accepted the commission to become man, and to experience the worst that men could do to him. Ultimately, he even triumphed over death. So, whatever pain you suffer, whatever loss you experience, and whatever setback hits you, Jesus understands. No other religion offers hope like that.
Faith doesn’t guarantee exemption from unexpected life changes; but it provides inner strength that will help you face life when it turns on a pinhead.
- Several studies have examined the relationship between faith and health, and have drawn similar conclusions. The following comment is typical:
“If religious faith could be packaged in a pill, the stock price of drug companies would soar. Religion, not merely spirituality, is a profound predictor of health. Spiritual practices can reduce blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, and help stave off some effects of mental illness about as well as many drugs on the market. In fact, the lack of religiosity is about as unhealthy as 40 years of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. If you care about your health, you might want to start going to church and praying regularly.”
- Christianity, according to various estimates, has between 2.2 and 2.4 billion adherents.