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COVID and Heaven — blurring the truth

Did you read about the gunshot victims in Colorado whose deaths were listed as COVID deaths?  Or about those fatal motorcycle accidents and nursing home falls, or the poor guy who landed on his head after slipping off a roof?  Why were these victims counted as COVID deaths simply because they coincidentally had the coronavirus at the time of their sudden demise? 

 F. LaGard Smith
Courtesy of F. LaGard Smith

As a former criminal law prof, I can assure you there’s no way that the defendant in a murder trial would succeed in arguing that the victim died of COVID when he died immediately from the shooting!  And insurers must relish the prospect of not having to pay out on accidental death policies when death certificates list the cause of death as COVID rather than a fatal car wreck or industrial accident!

The horrific number of actual COVID deaths is tragic enough without artificially inflating the count.  (Please tell us it has nothing to do with COVID-related funding schemes based on the numbers….)  The official line from health departments is that including COVID-19 on the death certificate of anyone who’s tested positive for the virus in the 30 days leading up to their passing is “crucial for public health surveillance.”  (Hmmm….)  Certainly, having COVID can lead, say, to sepsis, spiraling into respiratory failure and even a heart attack, so there’s a sense in which one could say that COVID is the pivotal cause of death.  But gunshots, motorcycle accidents, and falling off a roof!  When even the CDC acknowledges that only 6% of “COVID-related deaths” were exclusively COVID deaths, what about the numbers we’re given?  True, half-true, untrue?

With all that in mind, consider the funerals for these unfortunate victims.  By way of giving comfort and hope to the mourners, we are certain to hear the familiar words, “We believe in the resurrection of the dead.”  What could be more fundamental?  This temporal world awaits the definitive point in time when the Lord returns from heaven; when the earth’s dead rise up at the Resurrection; and when — at the Judgment to come — the “sheep and goats” are divided into their eternal destinies (Mt. 25:31-46).  As we regularly affirm, this three-part finale is creedal.

But, in almost the next breath, we hear, “Even now your loved one is in heaven, walking hand in hand with Jesus.”  And then comes all the (often humorous) talk about our dearly departed having a good time up there, or lovingly looking down on us!  Really?  Is that true, half-true, or untrue?  Notwithstanding Paul’s desire to “depart and be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23) and the thief being with Jesus “today in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43), whatever happened to the Resurrection?    

I appreciate that there are widely-varying theological perspectives on life after death.  Yet, one thing seems certain: Flippant talk about what the dead are doing up in heaven is at best misleading, given that Scripture plainly tells us they’re not there yet.  (When Lazarus was raised, he sparked no rumors about heaven!)  So, it’s first things first.  God’s sequence, not ours. 

Eager as we may be to usher our loved ones immediately into celestial joys, on the way to heaven there are scheduled stops — including the one we tend to talk about the least.  As the Hebrews writer reminds us (9:27), “It is appointed for man to die, and after that to face Judgment.  Even if we’re “safe in the arms of Jesus,” at death we have yet to hear the Master say (as in Jesus’ parable), “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter into the joys that await you.” 

Whether it be something as insignificant as misattributing COVID deaths, or doing an end-run around the Resurrection, in an era of rampant disinformation Truth takes on added importance.  A nation or church careless with lesser truths is likely to find even flagrant falsehoods easier to swallow.

F. LaGard Smith is a retired law school professor (Pepperdine, Liberty, and Faulkner law schools), and is the author of some 35 books, touching on law, faith, and social issues.  He is the compiler and narrator of The Daily Bible (the NIV and NLT arranged in chronological order), and posts weekly devotionals on Facebook, drawing spiritual applications from current events.

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