Coronavirus might kill you. But it’s not the only thing that might kill you. Influenza might kill you. Cancer might kill you. A heart attack might kill you. A brain aneurism might kill you. A car accident might kill you. You might die being trampled by a mob trying to buy toilet paper. However it happens, should the Lord tarry, you’ll die of something.
The coronavirus panic has exposed our immaturity surrounding mortality. We live in a culture largely isolated from death (in the real world). We don’t like thinking about physical death, especially our own. But we are poorer for this, and one possible benefit of this virus craze is we’re being forced to meditate on our demise.
Consider Jonathan Edwards’ resolution made in 1722 at age 18,
Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.
Edwards recognized this would help him keep his focus on what matters most on a daily basis.
Before the industrial revolution and advances in modern medicine people in western cultures couldn’t avoid death. The plague had wiped out at least 75 million people in the 14th century, possibly as many as 200 million. In Siena, Italy a partially finished expansion to their cathedral stands as a stubborn reminder that death is always a looming threat. But today in the United States the sick head to hospitals, out of sight, until they are moved to hospice care, often outside the home. We know death happens, but we don’t like to be near it.
Our culture-wide hysteria over COVID-19 is more than just about a particular virus. We are afraid to die, and are going to great lengths to try and avoid death. I’m not saying we don’t need a wise and timely response to this virus. I’m saying we’re reacting because of something else—in a materialistic culture, to die is to lose everything.
The Christian view of death is very different:
Physical death is an unavoidable consequence of sin. In Genesis 3:19 God tells Adam and Eve “For you are dust, and you will return to dust.” Spoiler alert, in God’s plan of redemption he purposed not to spare believers physical death, but instead to offer the sure hope of the resurrection (more on that below).
God is sovereign over the time and circumstances of our death. Civil war general Stonewall Jackson, a committed Christian, once answered a question from one of his officers about how he could be so fearless in battle. Jackson answered,
Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but always to be ready, no matter when it may overtake me.
Physical death is not the end of our existence. In Colossians 1:18 Paul describes Jesus as “the firstborn from the dead” because Jesus’ resurrection is the pattern by which believers will be raised to life. Physical resurrection and an eternal, physical existence is our destiny in Christ.
Forgiveness of sins and redemption are urgent matters of eternal significance. The author of Hebrews acknowledges in passing that “it is appointed for people to die once—and after this, judgment” (Heb. 9:27). For this reason, our urgent mission isn’t to extend our lives, but to make and mature disciples of Jesus. Paul also affirms the priority of the spiritual over the physical in 2 Cor. 4:18, “So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Consider the example of those faith-driven gospel pioneers of the 18th and 19th centuries who braved unknown perils and almost certain premature deaths to deliver the gospel to distant lands. David Brainerd famously died young having spent some of his most fruitful years in ministry to native Americans in New Jersey. He wrote, “My soul longs to feel itself more of a pilgrim and stranger here below; that nothing may divert me from pressing through the lonely desert, till I arrive at my Father’s house.”
Those who have gone before us would urge us to walk by faith, not to let hysteria drown out the calling of Christ in our lives. Indeed, we have a great cloud of witnesses urging us to run with endurance (Heb. 12:1). Are we running from death, or for Christ?
Christians need not fear death. We can stand tall, look death in the face, and say, “You have no authority here unless granted by the Father.” Christians need not panic over a virus or any other life-threatening crisis. When worry, fear, and anxiety beset us we can respond with prayerful dependence on God.
Embrace your mortality. Death is coming for you, under God’s sovereign hand. For the Christian today is the day to say with Paul,
To live is Christ, to die is gain.Philippians 1:21