This COVID-19 pandemic has really changed a lot about our daily lives. Many of us have lost jobs, others of us are working from home, and most of us are either willingly staying at home, or begrudgingly complying with statewide “stay at home” orders.
But of all the changes that we have encountered in the last couple weeks (months for some), what I have been experiencing in my conversations with people is a change in the tone of conversations.
There’s two basic reactions that I am hearing from people. One is a complete lack of concern about COVID-19, which seems to be fueled by politicians and television personalities who are more concerned with the economy than with people getting sick. The second is that people are afraid of dying. Given the new projections with deaths of over 100K people, one can see why people might fear death.
The bible regularly tells us not to be afraid, and the bible also tells us that if we die, we can expect a resurrection into eternal life. The idea of eternal life is what is supposed to lead us into a life without fear.
Some people take the idea of God’s protection and God’s call not to fear and wrap it up into an idea of indestructibility. The Lord’s Resistance Army used to tell the boy soldiers it recruited that the Holy Spirit would defend them and made them walk upright into enemy gunfire. While differing in scale, or perhaps more the immediacy of the consequences, this is the same sentiment as pastors defying orders to limit gatherings. Some have gone so far as to tell their congregation not to fear the coronavirus because God will heal them.
The science tells us that the virus’ death rate is roughly ten times worse than the flu, and that it is far more contagious than the flu. So to do nothing and expect to remain completely safe is not a good response, but to fear death and to hoard toilet paper, and to buy guns for the coming apocalypse is also not a good response.
Somewhere in the middle of those two extremes – the fear of death, and a complete lack of fear – is where we need to find ourselves. Taking the appropriate precautions, but not so afraid that we fail to live our lives in joy.
I am a person of faith, and I enjoy teaching and preaching. Because of this, most of the people I encounter are those that would not fall into the disregard all fear camp, and instead fall into the camp that pays attention to the science. However, too much focus on the virus’ death toll, and its virulence, can lead to an emotional shut down, and a response of fear.
Recently, I had attempted to make a point about fearlessness in a sermon I preached on resurrection, and after having delivered the sermon, I mentioned to a friend that I felt like I had been misunderstood. Almost like I had received too many blank stares when I mentioned that “we believe that because Christ rose from the dead, we have been given the gift of eternal life.” It gave me the odd sense that there were too many in the congregation that did not believe in our own resurrection.
Understanding the reality of the resurrection is what allows us to live without fear. Not living without fear in the sense of those who would defy common sense, but living without the fear of death as a finality, which allows us to live at peace within the context of our lives, regardless of how dire and extreme the situation may seem.
Several polls have shown that only about 2/3 of Christians believe in life after death (1, 2). And in some denominations, that belief drops to only about 50% (hint: I belong to one of these denominations).
As one who desires to teach people about the faith, and to make theology accessible to everyone, I find this lack of understanding about one of the core tenets of the Christian faith pretty disturbing. It means there is a lot of work to do ; and my conversations about death and life during this pandemic seems to be making that clear to me.