Bonnie Kristian on How the Church Imitates Christ by Fighting to Save Physical Lives

Bonnie Kristian is a new columnist at Christianity Today,a contributing editor at The Week, a fellow at Defense Priorities, and the author of A Flexible Faith: Rethinking What It Means to Follow Jesus Today (Hachette).


The shutdowns are worth it, said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, at a recent press conference. “And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.” Bringing New York City to a grinding halt and risking national economic turmoil more severe than the Great Depression is all worthwhile, Cuomo argued, if it lowers the death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic even a little.

In an immediately controversial essay at First Things, the journal’s editor R. R. Reno roundly rejected Cuomo’s claim. “This statement reflects a disastrous sentimentalism,” he wrote. “There are many things more precious than life.” Anticipating allegations of hypocrisy citing his advocacy against abortion, Reno insisted these are dissimilar concerns. The “pro-life cause concerns the battle against killing,” he said, “not an ill-conceived crusade against human finitude and the dolorous reality of death.”

The germ of this argument is clearly in the air. Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, a Republican, argued that elderly people like himself should be willing to die of COVID-19 so their grandchildren can keep “the America that all America loves.” Radio host Glenn Beck made the same proposal. And in conversations with Christian family members about the value of social distancing, I keep running into similar logic.

“None of us gets out of life alive,” they say, or, “The Lord will take me when he takes me.” Physical death is not something Christians need fear, they argue, because Christ conquered death itself (1 Cor. 15:54–57; 2 Tim. 1:9–10). Dramatic measures to control the deadly spread of COVID-19 aren’t a good thing. State mandates to stay at home are causing enormous economic and social disruption—not the least precluding in-person church services—and are a greater ill than the illness they seek to curb.

This perspective is compelling because it is built on a measure of truth. This shutdown is deeply frightening. We will live with its deleterious effects for years, maybe decades, to come.

Moreover, physical death isn’t the end for Christians, nor is it the worst that can happen to us. Death is better than apostasy or the service of evil. Revelation 12:11 lauds the saints who “did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” The Apostle Paul—who would himself be martyred—longs in 2 Corinthians 5:8 to “be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

The Christian attitude toward death should be distinctive: We needn’t grieve fellow believers like those “who have no hope,” for they and we will be with the Lord forever (1 Thess. 4:13–18). And because Christ broke death’s power, Hebrews 2:14-15 teaches, we have been freed from the “fear of death.” These invisible realities should shape how we think about death, our health care choices included. Prolonging physical life by any means does not always honor God or the very life we seek to preserve.

Yet despite all this, the conclusion drawn by Reno and his camp goes far awry. Its theology of physical death is incomplete and, as a result, profoundly unchristian. Jesus entered a world where death from illness was commonplace and waged what I suspect Reno, were he a contemporary of Christ, might have dubbed “an ill-conceived crusade against human finitude and the dolorous reality of death.” Jesus preached a lot, certainly, but he spent at least as much time healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead. The gospels describe marathon healing sessions where crowds pressed close, desperate for relief (consider Mark 3:10).

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Source: Christianity Today