This is the first in a series looking at how the Covid-19 lockdown has exposed a crippling fear of death in British society. Christianity is all about the defeat of death and the giving and celebrating of life – though ironically the principal ways in which this is celebrated in the church have been cancelled in the lockdown.
Early on in the epidemic, as hospitalisations were first beginning to rise, I read of a young doctor explaining his hospital’s policy on family visiting their dying relatives. It was risk-based, he explained; so a man in his late 30s might well be able to visit his sick mother. But a 90-year old wife whose husband was dying of Covid? Almost certainly not. The risk of her contracting the virus and dying herself was just too high.
Hold on, I thought. If, when I am aged 90, my wife is dying of an infectious disease, then I would see the choice as follows. Either be with her after 62 years of marriage in her final moments on this earth, at the cost of probably joining her shortly afterwards, or leave her to die alone so I could creak out a few more months or years without her. To call that a no-brainer doesn’t come close. Some things in life simply matter more than death. Death is not such a horror that it’s worth cancelling the very stuff of life in order to avoid it.
At least, it is not for Christians. But it does seem that Covid-19 has revealed a crippling fear of death in British society. That is of course a natural result of the secularism that has become the de facto religion of the British state. It is a creed both individualistic and hedonistic; relentlessly me-focussed and now-focussed. It cares little about its posterity – past and future generations feature little in its value system – and of course has no hope at all for what awaits each of us beyond the grave. And so death is the great terror of the secular world; the black nothingness which will snuff out forever the pursuit of my own pleasure and meaning which is the sum total of what existence has to offer in an atheist universe. Thus it is worth losing anything – anything – if only we might stay alive a bit longer. It is a grim calculation, but one that a secular world cannot avoid making. It has to, in the words of Dylan Thomas, ‘rage, rage against the dying of the light’.
But to Christians the matter is wonderfully different. We don’t have to cling desperately to life here, for two reasons.
– First, God’s promises are not just for this generation. They are also for our children, both physical and spiritual; we can die knowing that God will continue to pour out blessings on future generations of the church right up till Jesus returns.
– And second, God’s promises are not just for this life. Jesus has defeated death, and Christians have his promise that he will raise them to life as God the Father raised him. Our best days, even when we are on our deathbeds, are still to come.
God has promised that the blessings of life – both in this world and the next – will outlast and outshine our own deaths. Jesus is the giver of life and the conqueror of the grave (John 5:26). My present life, here and now, is of little importance compared to the future life that he will give.
And in a glorious paradox, this shifting of emphasis off this life of ours now is what enables us truly to value it. For life is not a thing to be desperately grasped at, out of which we must attempt to squeeze every last drop. It comes from the hand of God, a gift, not a right, not accidentally thrown at us by a mindless universe but lovingly bestowed upon us by our heavenly Father. He gives it for such time as he sees fit, and takes it away when he knows it is best. It is given to us, for now, out of his desire to bless, for he is life in himself who delights to give life to others. And the death which brings our earthly lives to an end has had all its terrors taken away by Jesus enduring it for us on the cross. For Christians, as the Apostle Paul wrote, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).
There is nothing that British society needs more right now than hope in the face of a crippling fear of death; a hope that Jesus Christ alone can bring. For Christianity is all about how God gives life, and particularly how he gives the certain hope of future life in the face of death.
For the next three days I will post about three ways in particular that God gives life in and through the church, all of which are currently cancelled by lockdown regulations. They are weddings, baptisms and church services.