As I am writing this on March 13, 2020, the novel coronavirus, which originated in China in December of 2019, dominates the headlines. It has now spread to 70 nations, infecting some 146,000 people worldwide, of which about 5,500 have died and at least 71,000 have recovered.
All those numbers continue to rise as COVID-19 spreads exponentially. Hospitals in the U.S. are now bracing for a rising tide of the virus that might overwhelm our heath care system, as it did in Italy. Mass hysteria has now become the norm. Politicians are shuttering all non-essential businesses and in some cases, telling everyone to stay home. Yet the data from around the world shows that only a small demographic is at risk of death. Most people, if infected, are not going to die. (For a reasoned article that questions the current shutting down of the U.S. economy, see https://thefederalist.com/2020/03/19/will-the-costs-of-a-great-depression-outweigh-the-risks-of-coronavirus/)
By comparison, the seasonal flu kills as many as 650,000 people worldwide annually. Of course, the coronavirus is just getting started.
Also by comparison, in the 14th century, the Black Death (Bubonic Plague) took the lives of 75 to 200 million people over a span of 8 years in Europe, Africa and Asia. Europe lost 60 percent of its population.
Finally, and also by comparison, about 57 million people worldwide die of all causes annually.
So there are at least two things we can say with certainty: Most likely, you are not going to die from the coronavirus. There is little doubt, however, that you are going to eventually die from something. (It is much more likely that you will die of heart disease or cancer.)
The Slim Chance of Your Dying from COVID-19
Mortality rates for just about every cause of death increase with age, and that is certainly true of the coronavirus. If you are in your 80s and contract the coronavirus, there is an 8% chance it will kill you. If you are in your 40s and contract it, the chance you will die from it decreases to 4/10ths of 1%. If you are under age 10, there appears to be no chance you will die from it.
Admittedly, coronavirus is more deadly than most flus, having an overall mortality rate of about 3.4%, whereas seasonal flu general kills far less than 1% of those infected. Doctors are saying that the coronavirus fatality rate is approximately ten times worse than the flu.
Take note that the world’s concern over the coronavirus is not about having to endure either mild or possible severe flu-like symptoms, as unpleasant as they might be. Rather, the concern is all about death. Generally speaking, although everyone knows they are going to die eventually, no one wants to die soon. Since December of last year, everyone’s chances of dying soon (other than those under age 10) have just increased by a very, very tiny percentage.
So what the coronavirus has revealed is people’s deep-seated fear of death. A tiny increase in the likelihood of imminent death has caused global panic, changed social patterns, slowed the world’s economy, and shut down entire nations. People who are all definitely going to die between the next 1 to 100 years are fearful their deaths might be sooner than they previously imagined. And they are panicked. It all stems from a fundamental fear of dying.
Let’s Consider Death, in General
Of course, the older you are, the greater chance there is you will die today, and this has been true not just since the coronavirus appeared, but since Adam’s fall. Since we’re all getting older, our chances of dying increase every single day. That is why life insurance policies become more expensive the older you get. Eventually, none of us can beat the odds. We’re “out of here.”
Another way of looking at human mortality is to ponder the fact that no one who is living in your town or city will be alive 120 years from now. The whole world’s population is being replaced every 120 years. And this cycle has been going on for thousands of years. One day, every person you currently know will be dead. And you’ll be dead too. There is no escape!
There is always some chance you could die today, or sometime soon. Today, 156,000 people around the world will die. I’ll bet many of them were caught by surprise, at least to some degree. The first symptom of half of all heart attacks, for example, is death.
All of this being so, it would seem wise to think about, and prepare for, death.
Why Do We Die?
Although everyone knows that death is a fact of life, it seems too few ponder why death is a fact of life. Life is so miraculous, from conception right up until the end. Human bodies are engineering marvels that point to an Engineer whose knowledge and skill far surpasses anything on earth. It is a miracle that you were conceived, that you developed and grew in your mother’s womb, that you were born and started breathing on your own, that you nursed from your mother without lessons, that you can see, smell, taste, touch and hear, that you matured throughout your life, that your body automatically fights infections and diseases, that you can think, learn and plan, and do thousands of other amazing things—either unconsciously or at will—that no one can fully understand or explain. Yet these marvelous, miraculous bodies eventually stop working as well as they once did, and then they succumb to something that causes them to stop working altogether.
It seems reasonable to conclude that the eternal God who designed our amazing bodies—that develop, grow, successfully fight off microscopic foreign invaders, heal and repair themselves—could have been designed to never wear out, succumb to disease, or die.
Our bodies, in fact, consist of 50 to 75 trillion cells that all have a finite life span of days, weeks or years, the majority of which are replaced when they die. Skin cells, for example, have a life span of two or three weeks. Red blood cells live about four months. White blood cells live on average more than a year. Sperm cells live three days. But all are replaced by new cells when they die. So it is no exaggeration to say that “you’ve been replaced.” So why couldn’t God have created our bodies to never die? Is He all-powerful, but just not quite powerful enough to make an imperishable human body?
Perish the thought! The Bible promises that those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (with a faith that is evidenced by a transformed life of obedience) will one day be given “imperishable” bodies:
So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body…. Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality (1 Cor. 15:42-44, 50-53).
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? But all of this raises some questions: If God could have given us eternal bodies, and if God is going to give believers eternal bodies one day, why didn’t He give us eternal bodies from the start? Why does everyone have to die?
You Were Not Designed to Die
Actually, if you think about it, everyone actually enters life with an imperishable body. I know that sounds crazy, because we all know that every person eventually dies. But until you die, you are, in a sense, imperishable. Lots of microscopic things have been trying to kill you all of your life. But if you are reading this, they failed to take you out. (Way to go!)
Just imagine for a moment that you didn’t know that everyone ultimately dies. Then imagine seeing the miracle of a baby’s birth, and observing that baby as she amazingly develops and grows into a toddler. Imagine observing that child throughout her childhood, as she continues to develop, change and grow into a pre-adolescent. You might even have a few opportunities to observe her get sick and recover, as her body, miraculously, fights for her health. Again, imagine you didn’t have knowledge that all people eventually die. Would you not likely assume that this incredible, marvelous, amazing miraculous girl is designed to live forever? I think you would, because all of the evidence would lead you to think that. Even if all people died at the age of one month, if you didn’t know that, you would think, as you looked at a one-week old baby, that it was designed to live forever. A one-week-old baby is a very complex and beautiful creation, created in God’s image. You wouldn’t think it was destined to die.
So again we ask, Why do bodies that seem as if they will never die, reach a point in time when they attain a prime, and then start a decline that culminates in death?
Such a phenomena could only occur if God willed it. The One who annually creates millions of miraculous bodies that all initially seem imperishable must have decided, for some reason, that they would eventually perish. And why would God will such a thing? It would seem reasonable to think He must be angry with people, and that human death is a reflection of His disapproval. Here’s a Bible verse that supports that idea:
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned (Rom. 5:12).
God had warned Adam that if he ate the forbidden fruit, he would die. And when he did eat the forbidden fruit, he instantly died spiritually, and he eventually died physically. Had Adam not disobeyed he would never have died. It is as simple as that. His body would have remained imperishable. (In fact, even after he sinned, had Adam been able to eat from the “tree of life,” his body would have become imperishable according to what God said in Genesis 3:22.)
But it appears, from what we just read in Romans 5:12, that the same thing that was true about Adam is also true concerning everyone since Adam. Note Paul wrote, “so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Just like Adam, people die because of sin—their own sin. Adam opened the door to death, but it spread to everyone, because everyone has sinned.
The Implications of Romans 5:12
Two important thoughts related to Romans 5:12:
(1) Because Roman 5:12 is true, it stands to reason Jesus was born with an imperishable body (just like all people seem to be, at least initially), and because He never sinned, His body remained imperishable. Had He not “bore our sins in His body on the cross” (1 Pet. 2:24), He could never have died. Although we are certain that Jesus’ body outwardly aged as He grew from a baby to a man, it could have never succumbed to sickness or anything that would have caused its death. No one could have even killed Him, as God would have prevented it, just as we read in John’s Gospel that God did prevent it:
So they were seeking to seize Him; and no man laid his hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come (John 7:30).
These words He spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one seized Him, because His hour had not yet come (John 8:20).
God the Father protected Jesus from dying until the time came for Him to die. Jesus declared at His arrest that He could have appealed to His Father, who would have at once dispatched 72,000 protective angels (see Matt. 26:53). Jesus died when He willingly took our sin upon Himself. He died for our sins, not His sins, as He was sinless.
(2) Also, because Romans 5:12 is true, if someone could remain sinless from the time of their birth, they would never die. Unfortunately, it is too late in my life to prove that thesis to be true!
This idea does, of course, open a small can of worms, because we all know that some babies and children, who appear to possess imperishable bodies at birth, and who, although selfish and thus sinful, surely can’t be held accountable for this sin by God due to their mental immaturity, do die as infants or children. That topic, however, is beyond the scope of this article, and probably also beyond the scope of our peanut brains.
The Implications of God’s Decree About Death
Putting the larger mysteries aside, let us return to thinking about the coronavirus from a biblical standpoint, remembering that (1) everyone is going to die, (2) everyone dies, according to Romans 5:12, because of their sin—because that is what God has decreed. Thus God must have something to do with the means by which people die.
Some readers might be offended that I am implying that God is actually killing people. If you read the Bible, however, you know there are scores of examples of God killing people, and Him taking full credit for it. That is not up for debate.
Some readers might object by saying, “Sin is what kills people.” Yes, of course, that is true. That is what Romans 5:12 declares. But sin couldn’t kill anyone unless God either ordained it or at least allowed it. Everything is under God’s control. When someone dies because of sin, God is not up in heaven saying to Himself, “Oh rats! It happened again! I wish I could have prevented that!” No, God has something to do with the deaths of sinners—although He does it very mercifully to most of us, stretching it out over decades. Perhaps you have never thought about it this way, but your gray hair and skin wrinkles are a loving, daily reminder from God that you are getting closer to the end of your life. Every day, all of us over age 30 are looking more and more like the people we see in funeral home caskets. God loves us, so He is sending us a message! “Get ready for your judgment!”
Some readers might object by saying, “We kill ourselves by our lifestyles. We eat too much junk food and don’t get enough exercise.” That is certainly true. We do foolishly speed up the day of our deaths. But even people with perfect diets and lifestyles all eventually die. Why? Because God has decided that sin results in death. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
Some readers might object by saying, “But my sins have all been forgiven through Jesus’ sacrifice! So how can you say that my physical death will be because of my sin or that God will be involved in the means of my death?”
Believing in Jesus doesn’t exempt us from eventual physical death. Jesus promised, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26, emphasis added). And Paul wrote, “our outer man [body] is decaying” (2 Cor. 4:16). Exemption from physical death is not part of God’s salvation deal, at least for most Christians.
Indeed, there will be some Christians alive on the earth when Jesus returns whose bodies won’t ever die, as they will receive new bodies then. But that is not a guarantee for all Christians; it is only a hope for all Christians. Being alive when Jesus returns is the “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13), not the “blessed belief.” (There is a difference between faith and hope; see Heb. 11:1.)
In any case, if only non-believers physically die due to their sin, what then is the reason that believers die? If Romans 5:12 is true, then death is the result of sin—for everyone, non-Christian and Christian—and the reason sin causes death is because that is what God has decreed.
The Only Conclusion that Can be Drawn
So, if every adult death (I’m adding the word “adult” to keep some worms in the can) is an indication of God’s judgment upon sin (including even those whose sins have been forgiven), then all the means of their deaths are God’s means. Even in the case of those who die in war, through murder or accidents, or by committing suicide (quickly or slowly, by poor lifestyle choices), all would have eventually died by some other means. Moreover, in all cases of death by any means, God could have prevented those deaths, but He didn’t.
When you think about it, it is amazing that we don’t think more about these things. God’s fingerprints are all over everything we see, hear, smell, taste, touch and experience. He’s trying to get our attention in millions of ways. And that includes through sickness and imminent death. People become ill—which is mysterious and even supernatural—and don’t look to God. And they miraculously recover, and never turn to God in thankful repentance.
Right now, invisible, living virus microbes are silently spreading around the world. It is unexplainable and supernatural, as is everything that occurs and everything we experience. There are wars going on inside people’s bodies, as incredible, miraculous immune systems fight the coronavirus, both created by God. All proof of God. All seeming indications of His love and His judgment, and the tension between those two divine attributes.
Now, due to the coronavirus, the entire world is panicking because their chance of dying sooner than they previously thought has increased by a tiny fraction. As the world is thinking about death, and worrying about imminent death, this is a prime opportunity for believers and preachers to tell the world that God so loves them that He sent His Son, so that he might “deliver all those who through fear of death [are] subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:15).
Why do we so often offer explanations that really don’t help anyone repent and turn to God, such as, “These difficult things happen because we live in a fallen world, and we just can’t understand some things,” as if the eternal, sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient God who has revealed Himself through not only the Bible, but creation, conscience and calamity, is taking a long nap while viruses just create themselves?
Why don’t we read our Bibles, that so many times describes God’s judgment through many means of death, such as plagues, wars, famines and sickness, in both Old and New Testaments? Why isn’t the church taking advantage of the world’s current focus on their fear of dying, and broadcasting the message that God loves people so much that He sent His Son to suffer and die from something much worse than the coronavirus—namely, crucifixion—so we can escape the penalty we deserve, a penalty that is being foreshadowed through every death and through every sickness, including the novel coronavirus? The coronavirus is just one more message from a loving God who wants everyone to repent, have their sins forgiven, be born again, become one of His beloved children, and spend eternity basking in His amazing love.
A Forgotten Story and Symbol
There’s a story in the Bible about a time when God became angry with the people of Israel—whom He had recently delivered from Egyptian slavery—for their sin. So “the Lord” (not the devil, and not the “fallen world”) “sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died” (Num. 21:6). God was killing people because He was angry with them. But His mercy was mixed with His judgment. He was angry at most all of them, but not everyone was bitten by the snakes He sent into their midst. And as we continue reading the story, we learn that those bitten didn’t die instantly, as God gave them time to repent:
So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived (Num. 21:7-9).
Keep in mind that all the people of Israel were going to die someday. But no one wanted to die so soon, very much like everyone now who is fearing the coronavirus.
God’s answer to the repentant request of the Israelites was for Moses to fashion, from bronze, a snake that looked like the snakes that were biting the Israelites. That would have taken some time, as a bronze sculpture requires several steps to create, starting with a clay replica from which a mold can be made into which molten bronze is then poured. That helps us to understand that bitten people were dying rather slowly, all due to God’s mercy. He gave them time to repent. So we again see the mixture of His judgment and mercy. God was killing people, but God was then saving people from death, another illustration of the tension between His holiness and grace. He was trying to bring all the dying Israelites, as well as the not-bitten Israelites who were fearful of being bitten, to repentance and faith.
But why would God tell Moses to fashion a serpent to lift up on a pole? The reason is because “death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). The serpents represented the Israelites’ sin, which was the reason God sent the snakes to kill them. The bronze serpent lifted up on a pole represented Jesus Christ, who took upon Himself the sins of the world as He hung on a cross. And when the dying people looked at that serpent, they did not die. They lived. A perfect picture of the greatest event in human history.
Jesus affirmed this:
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:14-16).
Today, on hospitals, pharmacies and medical clinics where coronavirus is being treated, on the ambulances that transported people to those places, and on the lab coats worn by doctors and medical professionals who are fighting the coronavirus, there is found a universal emblem for the medical profession—a snake wrapped around a pole. It is straight from the Bible. If only everyone suffering from, or fearful of, coronavirus realized what that emblem symbolizes! It is a poignant reminder of a wonderful Person whom the world is ignoring—Jesus, the great Lover, Savior and Lord. God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:21). He died for you and me!
Seek Him! “Seek the Lord while He may be found!” (Isaiah 55:6).