The COVID-19 pandemic serves for us as memento mori — a reminder that death is a part of our journey of life. We’re all vaguely aware of death at any given time, but according to existentialist philosophers like Søren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Martin Heidegger, that awareness of our inescapable death forces us to act in a truly authentic manner. When they really understand that death is on its way, people talk about “bucket lists,” re-evaluate their priorities, repent of sins and make up broken relationships. But how do we feel when we see the threat of death before us? Our initial reaction is fear; philosophers from Plato through Hans Jonas have said that fear is a natural response to perceived threat, i.e., death.
Christians, however, have a different attitude toward death. The heart of Christian theology is the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul testifies to us in Romans 6 that “if we have been united with [Jesus] in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his,” and both the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds state in unison that we believe in the resurrection of the dead. Yes, we mourn the dead, and many of us fear what will happen to us, but the whole content of our faith is beautifully summarized by Jesus’s words to Nicodemus in John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He sent His one and only son, so that whoever believes in him will not die but will have everlasting life.”