Of course, a provocative headline like that is a grab for attention. There’s a lot of heat in covid-19 debates, and so I want to try to write in as dispassionate a way as possible about this, so I’ll keep it brief.
In this season of Advent, I will be helping to lead a series of studies on ‘The Four Last Things’: Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell at my church. For week 1, I kicked us off on the topic of death, and couldn’t help reflect on the following verse in the book of Hebrews in light of the last two years: ‘Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.’ (Hebrews 2:14-15).
Wherever you sit on the political spectrum, surely this much as least is obvious: the debate is based on choosing between two options, safety or freedom. Both sides are, it seems to me, driven by fear — either fear of the virus, or a fear of government tyranny — but what the Scriptures shine a light on here is a dynamic we see playing out across the West. The Apostle says that the fear of death keeps people in slavery. That is to say, make people scared enough of death, and you can get them to do anything: believe in such-and-such a religion, comply with such-and-such a political regime, live risk-free lives of quiet desperation. This is why revolutions (political and religious) need martyrs: as soon as you are willing to die, you become very difficult to control.
So much could be observed from a secular perspective. We can see the ways in which countless causes have been galvanised by the willingness of the vanguard to die, and gained momentum from that point. What we see through the Scriptures reveals more than sociology: beneath it all, it is the devil himself that keeps people in the fear of death and so in slavery. But here’s the big secret: he is easily disarmed. That’s why Christ can break his power simply by being willing to die. It is why all of the martyrs triumph over Satan as well, as the loud voice in heaven says of them, ‘And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.’ (Revelation 12:11) If you’re not afraid of dying anymore, either to yourself as you take up the cross daily, or ultimately, whether by old age, disease, danger, or martyrdom — he really doesn’t have much else he can do.
I know a lot of people will dislike this take (and, let’s be fair, a lot will like it), but I don’t want to put too fine a point on it: any government policy that encourages or reinforces the fear of death, and restricts people’s freedom to leave their houses, buy, sell, trade, and participate in society fully looks pretty similar to what the Apostle is talking about Hebrews 2: trading freedom for the avoidance of death. Sure, maybe lockdowns aren’t directly diabolical, but they still bear a hell of a resemblance.
I genuinely don’t think I’m a paranoid person or a conspiracy theorist (though of course, we all just call ourselves realists/pessimists). Covid is real, and vaccines work (though are overrated), in case you think I’m sceptical on those fundamental matters. I don’t think we have to be reckless to prove we don’t fear death — Christians are allowed to wear seatbelts. Yet still, the Scriptures are clear on this: a society gripped by the fear of death is a society enslaved by the devil. A government that severely restricts the freedoms of all of its citizens (or, more worryingly, just some of them) in order to maintain the appearance of control over the natural forces of pestilence released into the world is making a hubristic bid for control. Further, the society that accepts the loss of freedom for the sake of health is already more deeply sick and more deeply enslaved than it knows.
Thanks for reading. I know this is divisive among Christians, and I think honest, good-faith conversation is the best first step towards ‘maintaining the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.’ So feel free to comment below to disagree or discuss, or email me privately if you’d prefer through the contact page. I’ll promise to assume the best of your intentions if you promise to assume the best of mine.