If we peeled the pandemic panic layer by layer what would we find lies beneath—what are people really afraid of? While not wanting to spread panic is there not a place for encouraging people to “be afraid”?
The tongue-in-cheek saying that everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die seems rather apt in these COVIDic times. But really, what’s so bad about dying? Most people don’t seem to care enough about how many are recovering but rather fixated on how many are catching the disease and especially how many are dying. At the time of writing this article, the number of COVID-19 cases in the world was nearing 350,000 in 190 countries with approximately 15,000 deaths. These are not just statistics, numbers; they are real people made in the image and likeness of God, with families and friends to mourn them. May their souls rest in peace.
Much of the world is gripped in fear. But I’ve been wondering what people are really afraid of: is it getting sick per se or dying or what happens when they die? It is good to pause and ask yourself the same question, peeling back layer after layer until you find the root cause of any iota of fear that you might have/have had during this pandemic.
There have been many scripture verses and motivational messages to calm people down. This is the time preachers remind us that “there are 365 ‘fear nots’ in the Bible, one for each day of the year;” except 2020 has 366 days. Even governments have used hashtags like #SpreadCalmNotFear. While I’m of the preachy and motivational stock and have done my part to share love, spread hope, shout “fear not!” and even generate laughter amidst the virus storm I want to take a sober pause and say BE AFRAID.
Being afraid can be a good thing (or we will all do stupid things). But we ought to be afraid of the right things. It’s a good thing to be afraid to break the law, for instance, or to go after someone’s spouse. Not everyone likes Jesus Christ but no one, not even his sworn enemies, can ignore the fact that he is a real historic figure (it would be as ridiculous as saying Napoleon or Hitler never existed just because you don’t like him), was a prophet and miracle worker (two things both Christians and Muslims agree on), lived a perfectly upright life (unlike every other prophet) and teacher par excellence. Even in a raging storm (like COVID-19 has become in our day) he questioned his disciples”why are you so afraid?” while he rebuked the winds and spoke to the waves and stillness came.
In his often paradoxical pedagogy, once upon a time this teacher par excellence said not to be afraid and to be afraid in the same breath: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). What did he mean?
DEATH ISN’T WHAT YOU THINK
The new Coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2 that causes the disease COVID-19 can kill the body (your hardware). Ask Italians; 5,500 of them hav died already (at the time of writing). But it cannot kill the soul (your software). Yes, death is “the permanent ending of vital processes in a cell or tissue” or “cessation of all biological functions that sustain a living organism,” and that is good Biology, but death is more than that (according to ‘Soulogy’).
Many equate death with total annihilation. In other words, that once a person dies they just finish; disappear into thin air. C’est fini. That’s it. But no. Death actually means separation. Or as Finis Jennings Dake would put it, “a cutting off from realizing God’s purpose for which he was created. One can logically substitute the word separation for death in every scripture where it is used” (Dake 1991, 619). Consequently being tripartite beings–made up of spirit, soul and body–there are three kinds of death:
1. Physical Death–this is when your spirit and soul (inner man) are separated from your body (outer man). That is where biologically all functions, including brain function, that sustain a person cease permanently, from the micro (cellular) level to the macro (systemic) level. This separation of the soul and spirit from the body is the kind that as a medical doctor I would sometimes (unfortunately) be called upon to confirm: no breathing, pulse not palpable, dilated pupils not reacting to light etc. This physical death is what most people think about when it comes to the subject or our mortality, especially in these COVIDic times. But there is more.
2. Spiritual Death—this is the temporal separation of your spirit and soul from your Source/Maker/God. Or as evangelists like the late Billy Graham would plainly put it, separation of man from God because of sin. According to a Biblical worldview, the moment our forefathers Adam and Even sinned against God in the Garden of Eden, at that very moment (as promised by their Maker) they died. As a little boy I always used to wonder whether God lied about them dying as soon as they ate the forbidden fruit because they were very much alive after that, even running away from God! Now I know that what happened to them immediately was death alright–they were instantly separated from God—spiritual death. Their physical death came later. Hopefully, this makes us understand why since we as Homo sapiens are all descended from that first couple, all of us have inherited the spiritual genetic disease of sin and are born dead. Everyone of us is born separated from God spiritually, thanks to the pandemic from the virus SIN-00.
Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Christ followers in first century Rome: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). He follows up with the consequences of this, three chapters later: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Logically, therefore, if we are all sinners by nature and the salary for sin is death then we are all the living dead, from pope to prisoner, separated from our Maker.
3. Eternal Death—this, finally, is being separated from God forever in the lake of fire (hell). This, in scripture, is sometimes called “the second death” because follows “the first death” (physical death). Unlike spiritual death, this is eternal, forever. But eternal death is not entirely unavoidable. This will only happen to those who continue to live in their state of spiritual death until they physically die or Jesus Christ returns. If you remain in your state of spiritual death and you physically die you will eternally die. But there is a big IF because Paul again says that inspite of our state of spiritual death, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God doesn’t just have love; God is love. He does not want anyone to be a victim of eternal death. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)
Those who hear about Jesus Christ and believe in him as the Son of God who came to die in our place—beyond being a mere historical figure, prophet and miracle worker, righteous man, and great teacher as introduced above—receive his life in exchange; for the only reason he died as a perfect, sinless man was as a sacrifice for you and me. He died a temporal physical and spiritual death he did not deserve in order that you and I could receive eternal life rather than the death sentence on us because of our sinful nature (plus our own sinful deeds on top of that). To the legal luminary Paul, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved“ (Romans 10:9,10).
HOW TO NEVER DIE | THE CURE
So back to COVID-19, fear and Jesus. There is a virus (SIN-00), infinitely more dangerous than SARS-CoV-2 because it has eternal consequences, that has caused a spiritual pandemic with a manifestation of physical brokenness for thousands of years. Jesus Christ says do not be afraid of SARS-CoV-2 and its resultant disease COVID-19 which can kill the body (physical death) but cannot kill the soul (spiritual and eternal death). Be afraid of (or have deep reference for) the One who because of SIN-00 will at the end of the age, as a result of your own choice not to accept the free gift of eternal life, hand you your eternal ticket to a place of eternal separation from Him. I think inasmuch as the fire described in hell is horrific, the real penetrating eternal pain is the forever separation from Love—for God is Love. This is eternal death.
Who doesn’t like cures? Imagine it were announced today that there was now a definitive cure for COVID-19, not just the Chloroquine being experimented with now! How quickly people will line up for it! Well, let me tell you how to never die, COVID-19 or not.
One day a friend of Jesus called Lazarus physically died (you may read the story here). When Jesus arrived at the scene four days later he uttered to his sister one of the most amazing words ever spoken: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:24-26). Understanding the three kinds of death finally allowed me to make sense of this profound scripture: the one who believes in Jesus will eternally live even though they may physically die; and whoever has overcome spiritual death (lives; now has eternal life) by believing in Jesus will never eternally die!
Then Jesus asked Martha, sister of Lazarus, “Do you believe this?” Her response was “Yes, Lord.” And she elaborated further, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” May I ask you too: “Do you believe this?” If not, be afraid.
Dake, Finis J. 1991. Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible. Lawrenceville, GA: Dake Bible Sales Inc.
For those not in my social media circles you wouldn’t know just how much faith, hope and love I’ve been pouring onto the world. I feel the global body of Christ has been very pastoral in this COVID-19 pandemic (much needed, of course) but we ought not to forget our other hand/arm to be evangelistic as well.
It was at the third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, Cape Town 2010, that I heard for myself John Piper passionately proclaim the two truths with such wisdom and clarity: “…could the evangelical church say—we Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering? I hope we can say that. But if we feel resistant to saying “especially eternal suffering,” or if we feel resistant to saying “we care about all suffering in this age,” then either we have a defective view of hell or a defective heart” (emphasis mine). Full script and video here.
God help Christ followers balance being pastoral and being evangelistic at this time; ambidextrously handling the rod and staff; flying with both wings of social concern and evangelism, “two wings of the same bird” for the blessing of all peoples of all nations and to God’s glory!