One of the nastiest lies put about through the last year is that anyone who sought to comply with COVID-19 measures such as wearing face masks, social distancing and co-operating with restrictions on church gathering were somehow lacking in faith. If they had enough faith in Jesus, then they would not be worried about death so the argument goes.
The first problem with the argument is that there are lots of things that people have fears and phobias about throughout life: confined spaces, the dark, spiders, snakes etc. We do not immediately hit them with an accusation of lacking faith because of those things. We would recognise a complete lack of pastoral care in such an approach. Furthermore, we know that it is possible to carry such fears alongside a deep trust in Christ for your eternal security.
Similarly, I suspect that the same people who accuse mask wearers and social distancers of lacking faith have health insurance if living in countries without a free national health service and are happy to visit their GP, dentist and optician for healthcare treatment. I assume that they would prefer to eat in a restaurant where smoking isn’t permitted to reduce the risk of lung-cancer and if they discovered that they were ill with something treatable that they would happily go to hospital for treatment. I expect that they wear a seatbelt and keep the speed-limit. In all of those cases we recognise that such behaviour does not in any way bring into question their faith. In fact if they did the opposite we would suspect them of being caught up in false teaching of the health, wealth and prosperity kind. We’d also be wary of attending their churches in case they start passing snakes around.
You see, it is perfectly reasonable for believers in Jesus Christ who have hope in the resurrection to seek to enjoy full and healthy lives, trusting in God but also taking reasonable pre-cautions to preserve life and health. The OT law would provide for parapets around roofs (“health and safety gone mad” we would call it today) whilst Jesus does warn his hearers to be ready to flee when the destruction of Jerusalem is nigh. Here are some reasons why we take responsible steps to protect our health:
- God is sovereign over our lives. He will call us home when it is time. Therefore so long as we are here, it is because he has a purpose for us to be here. God uses normal providential means such as our wisdom, health and safety measures and medical treatment to proect and prolong our lives for as long as he has work here for us to do.
- Life in eternity will be even better. However, life in Christ here is a good thing to. It isn’t a bad thing to want to enjoy things like seeing the kids and grandkids grow up, go to University, get married, have children. Indeed, there will be the desire to be around to see them put their faith in Christ.
- Catching COVID does not just bring the risk of death but of serious illness and hospitalisation. I’d personally prefer to die peacefully in my sleep at a ripe old age, or slip away surrounded by loved ones rather than be rushed to hospital and put on a ventilator. I can be ready to die whilst wanting to avoid aspects of pain and distress. And that does not mean that I am unwilling to face suffering if that is what God calls me to.
Furthermore, most people who have worn face masks, stayed home, observed social distancing, received the vaccine and who would willingly comply with future measures do so because of concern for others too. Here are some further reasons to consider:
- I don’t want to put additional pressure onto the health service, to take up a bed, to increase the burden on already overworked doctors, nurses and paramedics.
- I don’t want to increase the suffering and distress caused to others either through them having to watch me suffer or through not being able to be there when I go.
- I don’t want to pass on a potentially fatal illness to someone who may not yet know Christ and so is not ready either to face intense suffering or to meet their maker.
Spelt out like that it seems so obvious. It may be a little late in the day to speak it out like this now as we are through the worst of the pandemic, however, sadly we are still seeing such comments made and so it still needs to be said. Furthermore, there have been some damaging things said and done towards the unity of the body of Christ during the pandemic and we now need to think about how to address them going forward in order to rebuild relationships.