I was recently ministering to a friend in his 80s. He was upset about being in his apartment for months on end because of his susceptibility to COVID-19. He was also concerned about the high number of people who have died in this country from the virus. We talked about life, death, pandemics, and the future.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article for this column about the almost invincible Angel of Death. I thought that if Karl Marx had read my article, he would say, “I am right! When those Christians go through crises, they always revert to pie in the sky. Heaven, as I said, is the opium of the working class.”
But people have always wondered what will happen after they draw their final breath. Poets have often written about the concept of eternity, and placed it in the hearts and minds of the people. I thought of the Apostle Paul, who wrote that if only for this life we have placed our hope in Jesus, we are to be pitied more than anyone else. In my mind, I participated in a discussion between St. Paul, a Jewish rabbi, and Karl Marx, who knew the Torah well because both of his grandfathers were rabbis. I thought that Paul would argue that the good life happens here and in the next life when we are faithful to the God who has granted us both, while Marx would counter that there is no such thing as eternity and the good life can only happen on this earth.
Both the Old Testament and the New Testament talk frequently about the good life. God promised to bless the people who honor him with long life here on earth, and the blessings of God will be in the fields and in the homes. Abraham, the father of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, was a pilgrim here on this earth. While he wandered, he was seeking a country beyond this world whose foundation was laid by God.
COVID 19 has taken over 100,000 lives and that is a tragic number. Among the dead, there were beloved grandmothers and grandfathers, beloved mothers and fathers, beloved brothers and sisters, beloved sons and daughters, and beloved friends and neighbors. That horrific number must be seen in contrast with the number of people who prevailed against the pandemic and recovered. It made me think that I graduated from the 8th grade in 1965 with 32 classmates and 27 of us are still alive today. That is the good life. My mother, her brother, and her sister had 10 children altogether, and 7 of those cousins are still alive and doing well. That is the good life. In fact, even the statistic that the group most susceptible to COVID-19 is people over 60 is intriguing. Living into your 60s, 70s, and even 80s is a relatively new situation for Americans. It was only during the middle of the 20th century that the average life expectancy jumped about 20 years and living that long became expected. That is the good life.
In talking with friends and colleagues, one hears various phrases—we are susceptible, we are invincible, we are seeking immortality. My octogenarian friend is very aware that he is susceptible because his primary care doctor refuses to see him in person and the specialists who will see him only allow him in the office after multiple preliminary checks. The young people who are partying with few precautions on the beaches, in bars, and at private parties think that they are invincible. They believe that this virus that has taken so many lives will surely not touch them.
Ecclesiastes says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” The fact that we strive for eternity is not wrong, but in meantime we should fully enjoy the blessings that the Lord has given to us here on this earth – when everything is well and when we are going through crises such as this pandemic.