The great debate among governmental leaders right now is about when and how to “open the country.” There are many complex issues in that discussion—medical, economic, ideological, and political. We are hopeful our leaders will make wise decisions. But no matter how carefully those plans are made, there is one sobering aspect of the future that may be hard for some to accept: people will continue to die from COVID-19.
Governmental leaders make policy decisions to manage risk, not eliminate it. Their goal is palatable decisions that maintain social order, not preserve every life. Governments manage death rates, keeping them reasonable, without eliminating their causes. That’s not a criticism, just a frank assessment of what governments do in this regard.
For example, here are the approximate number of people who die annually from various causes in the United States: abortion (850,000), heart disease (647,000), smoking (480,000), opioids (46,000), suicide (48,000), influenza (35,000) and car accidents (36,000). For all of these, governments at all levels have laws, policies, procedures, and practices in place to manage these death rates. That’s what governments do, and that’s what they must do as part of their long-term plan for managing COVID-19. A realistic appraisal of the situation, past patterns of governmental response, and the overall needs of millions all point to continued deaths being part of the plan going forward.
As Christians, we recognize the value of life—every life—but we also acknowledge the limited power of government to save all lives. We enjoy living freely in America because of our form of government and we respect governmental leaders. We resist the temptation, however, to expect the government to solve every problem and protect every person—especially from death. That’s an unrealistic expectation without historical precedent.
In the midst of these realities, ministry leaders can contribute to moving our country forward in three ways. First, we must define reality and help constituents adjust to a new normal living with the continued threat of COVID-19. Second, we must increase pastoral care across our communities—lonely seniors, domestic violence victims, medical workers, unemployed single-moms, etc. Third, we must maintain the most important part of our mission which remains unchanged—preparing people for death (from COVID-19 or any other cause) and eternity to follow.
Dying can be an awful, fearful, hopeless experience—apart from faith in the resurrected Jesus. People know death is inevitable. Avoiding it is not an option. Preparing for it is. Rather than fret about what the government is doing or not doing, let’s stay focused on what we should be doing—defining reality, providing pastoral care, and sharing the gospel.
COVID-19 demands our best and most creative efforts to communicate the gospel to as many people as possible. Our focus should be—as it is at all times, pandemic or not—on what we are doing to get the gospel to people before they die. There is something worse than dying of COVID-19. That’s dying from it without personal faith in Jesus—the only source of life after death.