Lessons from a Life-And-Death Battle with Covid-19
They say that in the face of death, the realities of the life become clearer. Pastors face death frequently, though always one step removed: the death of others, not their own. As a Pastor, I frequently visit church members who are dying either in the hospital or in their homes. I frequently visit bereaved church members who have lost their loved ones. My training in theology and pastoral care helps me to say the right words to comfort them. But sometimes it all felt mechanical and routine and the full reality of death seems somewhat detached. That is, until I faced my own life-and-death battle with Covid-19.
Recently, I was discharged from hospital after infection with Covid-19. I spent 16 days warded in a Covid-19 isolation ward, including 3 days in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). I didn’t know the seriousness of my condition until I was warded. The first few days of being warded, my condition worsened. When they transferred me to the ICU, that was when I knew I was battling between life and death. I was put on ventilator support to help me breathe. It was a scary experience. Yet in the midst of it all, I was reminded that as a Christian, I do not have to go through this ordeal without hope. I took time in the hospital to reflect on my life before God. Let me share those reflections with you.
1. Death is still an enemy
The Bible describes death as an enemy. Death is a result of sin (Romans 6:23). Because sin exists, death exists. But the good news of the gospel is that Christ has defeated Satan, sin and death. Christ has won the victory over death by his death and resurrection. So certain is the victory of the resurrection, that the apostle Paul confidently declares, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).
But although God’s enemies have been defeated, the full experience of this reality lies in the future. Satan has been defeated, but he still wreak havoc in people’s lives now. Sin has been defeated, but the remnant of it still remains in us. Death has been defeated, but it still a physical reality today. The victory won by Christ through his death and resurrection will only be fully realised in the future.
Thus, in one sense, death is no longer our enemy. For the Christian, death ushers us into the immediate presence of Christ, where we will experience unending joys. In that sense, death is our friend. But because death remains in our world, causing much suffering and grief, it remains an enemy only to be fully and finally vanquished when Christ returns. Thus, Paul declares “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). Deaths defeat is certain. We can looks forward with hope to the day Christ comes again and we’re resurrected into a glorified body. But that day remains yet to come. Yet we are assured that glorious day will one day come.
For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”~ 1 Corinthians 15:52-55
In the meantime, I pray that my own life-or-death experience will help me to better minister the flock that God has entrusted me with. I pray that my own experience will help me to better prepare people for death by pointing them to the hope that they have in Christ. I pray that these reflections may help you do the same.
2. I am still not indispensable
It is always a temptation as a minister of the gospel to think of ourselves as indispensable. We tend to think that the ministry so depends on us, that it couldn’t go on without us. We may deny such pride verbally, but it’s otherwise in practice. Deep down we think that the church could not run without us, that there’s no one better to disciple others than us, and no better teacher to teach the Bible than me.
This may not be my biggest temptation as a minister, yet it still lingers in my mind as I reflect on my experience in the hospital. None of us are indispensable—especially when you’re a minister of the gospel. The grace that God bestows upon us in redeeming us from death to from life, is the same grace that God bestows upon us in calling us to be partners in his work. He doesn’t need us, yet he graciously includes us in his mission. Ministry is a privilege!
Because all that we have, whether our salvation or our ministry is by grace alone, no one can boast that he is more important than others. Should God decide to “replace” us with another, it would still be in his rightful decision to do so. With this, I am reminded of Paul’s own experience, “we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). This is God’s work. This is God’s gospel. This is God’s mission. I am but a broken vessel used by God. But I am not indispensable.
3. I am still a child of God
It is easy to evaluate God’s love and goodness based on our situation. However, God’s love and goodness are based on his character and attributes, not on our situation. This means that as Christians we can be assured of God’s goodness towards us even in the most unpleasant situations. Romans 8 begins with the declaration that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1) and it closes with the glorious declaration that nothing can “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:39). Even in the midst of great suffering, we can be assured of the love of God.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.~ Romans 8:35-39
In Christ, I am redeemed, forgiven, adopted, loved and sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:3-14). In Christ, I am a child of God (1 John 3:1-2). It’s all by the grace of God, who has caused me to be born again (John 1:12-13). I have been redeemed and forgiven by God through the work of his Son on the cross who died for my sin and rose again for my justification (Romans 4:24-25). There is now no condemnation for me (Romans 8:1) for Christ bore the penalty as my substitute. And because my biggest problem (sin) has been solved, nothing else matters! God not only redeemed me from the slavery of sin, he also adopted me into his family. What an honour!
Knowing that I am a forgiven sinner, adopted as a child of God and loved by him, is so comforting. It puts everything into proper perspective, especially when it comes to suffering and death. Even if God sees it fit for me to suffer and die, he is still good. And I am still a child of God. Battling Covid-19 is just one of the effects of living in this fallen world. Even if I didn’t contract Covid-19, other trials, tribulations and sufferings are to be expected as part of Christian life. But we suffer with a sure and certain hope—that Christ will make all things new. He will right all the wrongs in this world, he will eradicate all pain and suffering, he will wipe away all tears (Revelations 21:4). I am grateful that the Lord sees it fit for me to continue to serve him.
“For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”~ Romans 14:8
Blessed be his name forever!
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Wilston Trin is an Assistant Minister at St. Peter’s Anglican Church Saratok, a church under the Anglican Diocese of Kuching. He graduated with a B. Div. from Seminari Theoloji Malaysia and currently in a transition to do his MA (Theol.) at Moore Theological College, Sydney. His passion is to help people to understand and believe the gospel, as well as helping God’s people to grow in their knowledge and love of God.
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