A few days ago, among the items in an assorted internet news smorgasbord came several headlines to the effect that the president had garnered anger by saying that people shouldn’t fear the coronavirus. “‘Don’t Be Afraid of COVID,’ Trump Says, Undermining Public Health Messages”, ran the headline from the New York Times. Surely they don’t mean to say that the public health message is that we should be afraid? Or do they?
The president’s tweet didn’t just say not to be afraid of COVID. He also talked about how great he was feeling, and touted the drugs for treating the coronavirus developed under his presidency. I won’t dispute that his message suggested COVID-19 was not a serious concern, and that such a message is both frustrating for health workers and painful to those who have suffered and lost because of the pandemic. Human suffering should not be treated lightly. When one man has a mild case of the coronavirus, or makes a recovery, it is an occasion for gratitude, not a time to neglect the awful consequences this virus has had for so many.
But, in terms of the news cycle, anger seemed directly tied to the president’s urge that people not fear the coronavirus. That, to judge from the news, was an outrageous suggestion. The implication is that you are only taking COVID-19 seriously if you fear it, and anything less is outrageous.
I am a cautious man, myself. I take precautions; in some cases, I am perhaps over-cautious. Yet I think it is mistaken to put forth fear as a virtue, or to promote a message of fear. Fear of death may cow people, but it does not make us resilient or noble. It is good to be wise and prudent. There is nothing commendable about foolhardiness; but nor is fear a virtue. For those who see in some dimensions of the various state governments’ coronavirus response an obtrusive overreach, and in the media a political dimension to the coronavirus coverage, this appeal to fear is certainly corroborative. Another possibility is that they simply present the story as they understand it: this is a fearful time, and it is reckless and foolish to not be afraid.
Christians have a different perspective. We recognize that this life is short, and prolonging it as long as possible is not the highest good. More importantly, we have a theologically informed and redemptively transformed perspective on death. Death is a consequence of sin, and of itself is indeed a terrible thing; but it has been de-clawed by the atoning death and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. Death is the gateway to one’s eternal destiny. For those who don’t know Jesus, death should be a terrible and stark reminder that NOW is the time to repent and be saved. But, for those who do know Jesus, death is the passage to the presence of their Savior.
For the Christian, death holds no terror; this enemy has been disarmed, and pressed into service to carry the people of God to their rest with their Lord until the day of resurrection. Our Lord has conquered death. As Jesus said to John, when the apostle was confronted with His awesome majesty, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17-18, NIV).