Early in the pandemic, I wrote an article called “There is more than one way to die.” I was concerned then and remain so today that in their desperation to prevent physical deaths from the virus, authorities would miss other deadly dangers. There are two strands to the point that there is more than one way to dies. First of all I wanted to warn that the virus would not be the only danger to physical life this year. Risks would include cancelled operations, delayed diagnosis and a mental health pandemic all of which could lead to fatalities.
The other strand is that Biblically, physical death is not the only death. There is the final death of Hell, there is also the spiritual death of separation from God’s covenant in this life. Reflecting those two deep spiritual points, I would also suggest that the Bible links up a couple of other things with death, exile and isolation.
Adam and Eve are exiled from the Garden of Eden, isolated from the provision there, They also experience the need for greater barriers in social interaction as they become aware of their nakedness leading to hiding and clothing. These are part and parcel of the judgement of death that comes with sin.
Israelites who sinned could be subject to banishment outside of the camp. The scapegoat banished into the wilderness acts as a substitute for this. Those who suffered from contagious diseases would also be subject to isolation and banishment. There were restrictions preventing those with certain disabilities from entering the Tabernacle or Temple.
The nation itself experienced a death like exile when removed from the land through sin. Their longing during exile in Assyria, Babylon and Persia was for a resurrection like return to the land.
Isolation can cause health risks, mental and physical that lead to severe illness and the risk of death. However, isolation is also a form of death itself. We were made for company. We are social beings. That social interaction is meant to be embodied with in person visits to include face to face conversation, hugs, handshakes and kisses. For many people, this year has seen them lose those very things that are part and parcel of being human, part and parcel of being alive. It has been a form of death.
Now some measures may have been necessary and unavoidable but that doesn’t mean we should ignore that there was this year of death for many because of them. Rather, we should recognise the reality of this form of death whilst hoping and praying for resurrections in 2021.