Podcast: How Confronting Death Helps Us Live (Matthew McCullough)

This article is part of the The Crossway Podcast series.

Thinking about Mortality

In this episode, Matt McCullough, author of Remember Death: The Surprising Path to Living Hope, discusses how thinking and being really honest about the reality of death can paradoxically free us to find hope and joy in God like never before. He reflects on our culture's strategies to avoid death at all costs, highlights how COVID-19 has brought our mortality to the forefront of our collective consciousness in a unique way right now, and discusses why the practice of intentionally remembering death finds support in both Scripture and church history.

Remember Death

Matthew McCullough

Claiming that the best way to find meaning in life is to get honest about death, this book aims to show readers the practical effect of remembering their mortality in order to make the most of their lives today.

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Thinking about Death During a Pandemic

01:52

Matt Tully
I think this COVID-19 pandemic that we're still enmeshed in, and it's probably gonna be a long time before we actually feel like we're through it and things are back to normal for all of us, it has felt like a whirlwind—and I think probably for certain people more than others, but all of us have experienced that. I know for me one of the things that stood out the most is that never in my life up to this point have I seen daily death counts like we're seeing now. Every day we read an update about how many people in the US have died and then even around the rest of the world. As you've observed that dynamic and just the pandemic as a whole and the impact it's had on our society and the world more generally, have you observed anything about the way that we are talking and thinking about death through this pandemic?

Matt McCollough
One of the things I've observed is that it seems like we've been dealt a one-two punch through all of this that has rocked the ways that we have tended to avoid the subject of death. What I mean by that is on the one hand you've got what you mentioned already: every day, every newspaper is posting death counts that are rising steadily and at rates now that are almost so high that they're abstract and tough to get your mind around. It's staggering. So you've got death in the public eye in a way that it often isn't. So that's that's punch number one. But then punch number two is that at the same time that that's happening, we've also been deprived of some of the things we most typically use to distract ourselves from the fact that we've always been dying—that part's not new. The death rate is still going to be one hundred percent, whether it's COVID-19 or something else, it's still going to happen. We just typically had a lot of toys to play with to keep ourselves from having to think about it, and some of those have been taken away. For me it's often sports that I escape through. I think it's fine, there's a lot of good in that. I stand by it. Once they're playing sports again I'll be watching. But, my goodness, there's nothing to watch. I open my ESPN app every now and then and they're apparently airing people playing Xbox against one another, and that's their lead story. So the very time when we most need distraction, some of our favorite distractions have been taken away. We can't go out to a bar anymore. You can't go out and eat a nice dinner on a date with your wife. You're stuck at home. Netflix is still there maybe, but a lot of the things that we would use to distract ourselves aren't. So that one-two punch is one of the things that interests me the most, and I think it'll be interesting to continue to watch what that does to the public consciousness on death.

Why We Distract Ourselves from Death

04:50

Matt Tully
As you said, all of us are going to die someday, so there's that element that we were never truly escaping death. Even though the numbers of deaths from COVID-19, while high and scary and devastating, they still pale in comparison to all these other causes of death that are happening all the time all around us. And yet it seems like it's easier for us to ignore those other things—other causes of death, the prevalence of death—that was around us and that always will be around us even though now it feels like it's a little bit more prominent because of this pandemic in particular. You mentioned distraction as something that maybe we use generally speaking. Can you elaborate on that? What's behind that? What does that look like for a lot of people?

Matt McCollough
What's behind the urge to distract ourselves from mortality.

Matt Tully
Yeah.

Matt McCollough
It's definitely nothing new. Pascal's famous book, this collection of thoughts that he had on life and the meaning of it all, talks often of death. One of the most interesting insights to me in that book is how—even then, hundreds of years ago—he's talking about our tendency to entertain ourselves as a way of numbing the pain. When you're alone with yourself and you have to actually think on the fact that everything important to you is passing away with time, and you yourself won't live forever, that's not pleasant. That hurts. And so even back then everyone had a vested interest in trying to numb the pain or just take their mind off of it altogether. He talked about that often. He could not even imagine all the ways that we have at our disposal to distract ourselves—from Netflix season after Netflix season where you don't even have to click “next episode” because it will do that for you! You just sit back and put your feet up and let it wash over you! The ways that we can escape are just unprecedented compared to earlier times, though the urge to escape has always been there. And I think it makes sense because death is justifiably a horrible thing to think about. It is a terrible reality. If you're facing it without hope, then I think it's probably better to distract yourself than to deal with that.

Matt Tully
Yeah, not think about it until you absolutely have to.

Matt McCollough
Yeah, delay it until absolutely the very last minute possible. Now I think that's foolish. The Bible has given us categories for that kind of thinking. There's wisdom and foolishness, and wisdom is living in light of the way the world really is. Foolishness is living in some sort of denial of the way that the world really is. Distracting ourselves from death is something the Bible would call foolishness. But I think it's a foolishness that makes sense when facing up to the reality leaves you alone in a world that is indifferent to you.

Death as a Spectacle

07:52

Matt Tully
How big of a motivator is the fear of death in the saturation that we have in our culture in particular in this time—in the USA—behind the culture of distraction that we live in? It does seem like there are huge industries devoted to pumping out as much content and entertainment as they can—spectacle. I wonder how much of a factor is the fear of death as a motivator behind all of that?

Matt McCollough
Pascal would say it's a huge one. It's tough to quantify, right? There's not going to be any kind of study that can separate out the different factors and put them in a pecking order, but I think it's a huge factor behind it. I think one of the reasons is that so many people in a more secular society like the one I live in are facing the reality without hope. They have isolated themselves from outside powers, from a supernatural realm, that interacts with them in this world. And that means they're trapped here with whatever is true here. “Under the sun” is the way Ecclesiastes would put it. And if you're alone with death under the sun, how much more reason to try to numb that pain and avoid that reality. I don't know how much, but I think it's a lot of what's driving it.

Matt Tully
So I've often wondered why then, if that is true that so much of our entertainment culture is ultimately motivated by not wanting to think about death, why is so much of it focused on death? There's movies, books, video games—so many of them are centered on death in different forms. Have you ever thought about what might be behind that?

Matt McCollough
Definitely, though I can't take credit for having thought about it. It was something that was put on my radar by a really helpful sociologist writing decades ago who, before he even had a category for a zombie movie, he was already all over this reality that we're now living with—what you've just described—that death is everywhere in a popular culture but we suppress straightforward talk about it. We can't get rid of the urge to confront it—it's that deep in us. There's a gnawing sense that it matters, but what happens when you put a lid over honest, straightforward conversation is that perverted forms of this reality just bubble up and squeeze their way to the surface. This sociologist compared the way that we will talk about death in our culture to the way that sex was viewed in earlier cultures where there was a taboo over polite, honest conversation about it, where it was hidden from public view, and then you get the birth of pornography—distorted, perverted forms of it bubbling up because sex is just something that matters to us and whether you talk about it straightforwardly or not, it's going to be a thing. He noticed that the same reality was happening around death in the 20th century. Straightforward, honest conversation had been banished, it was impolite, it was morbid, it was a distraction from the happiness we're all looking for. But you can't keep it down is what he said. So the title of his essay was The Pornography of Death. He predicted death would find its way into popular culture in some vastly perverted forms, and I think that's what we see. What I mean by this perverted form of death in popular culture is that the deaths we see are deaths that are just not normal, that are detached from my experience of life, and that are very unlikely that I will ever experience. The chances that I will die in a zombie apocalypse are very, very, very low. Also, it's very unlikely I'm going to be killed by a serial killer or get involved in some sort of mob hit take down. So the kinds of deaths that are on TV every night or on Netflix, these are the kinds of deaths that “normal” people are unlikely to die. So in seeing death in those forms, what we're actually doing is not confronting death but reassuring ourselves that we're not ever gonna die. Because if that's what death is, that's not going to happen to me.

Matt Tully
It distances death from us further.

Matt McCollough
Yeah, it distances us from death rather than helping us to actually confront it.

When Was the Last Time You Thought of Your Death?

12:33

Matt Tully
Near the beginning of your book you ask readers a pretty intense question, and I wonder if I can turn that question around on you right now and have you answer that. So the question is, When was the last time that you thought of the fact that you will die? How would you answer that question right now?

Matt McCollough
It's not quite fair to turn it around on me because I am probably one of the more morbid people that you've spoken to. I do think about it often. I don't think about it wondering When am I going to die? or How am I going to die? I'm not fixated on it in that sense, but I think every day it occurs to me, it crosses my mind, or it's something I reflect on—the brevity of life and the fact that mine is not going to last. I think it's an everyday thing for me. It will come out in different ways. I do not have some sort of practice where I know at this time every day I will get some sort of alert that reminds me to think about it. It's not like that, although you could do that. I've just trained my eyes to recognize it when it comes up. For this morning, for example, before I started work I just watched my children playing, with their backs to me, Legos on the floor in their room. They had no idea I was watching them, and I'm just watching them play with each other in this world they built for themselves, having a blast and completely immersed in it. I'm thinking about how small they used to be and how big they look to me now and how quick that happened and how in a flash they're not even going to be in my home anymore. I'm thinking about all that in the space of five seconds. It just hits like a wave. For me, I've learned to recognize and label that as an experience of the grip of death on the beauty of this wonderful life God has given to me now. The things that are beautiful and precious in it are temporary. I don't get to hold onto these gifts forever, and that hurts me. And so it's things like that. It's just run of the mill, everyday experiences that will trigger that awareness in me again.

The Bittersweet Passing of Time

14:53

Matt Tully
I'm struck that sometimes just the reality of passing time—I think that's kind of what you're getting at, too with even your kids. With death as the ultimate destination, even just the passing of time can be so bittersweet for us.

Matt McCollough
Yeah it is. C. S. Lewis described time as another word for death, and I think he's right. Time, thanks be to God, brings some good things that we didn't have before. Time moves in one direction and it moves us into a season of blessing that we didn't have before. That's wonderful and it's not all bad, but when you've got something good that God has given you and you can tell it's not lasting forever and you know that time only moves in one direction, that's just a dark and heavy cloud to live under, especially if you have to live there alone. I get a lot of ribbing about the book, as you can imagine in a book called Remember Death, and I'm having to put up with that. I'm happy to take that on—when you cross the taboo you should expect it. But the way I turn that about on people is to say it's not actually a book about death; it's a book about Jesus. You can't understand Jesus if you don't understand the context into which he came and from which he came to deliver us. The grief that the passing of time brings to my life ultimately channels me into a deeper longing for everything Jesus said that he came to give me. So it's a way of opening my eyes day in day out to what a wonderful, relevant promise that I've been given in the gospel.

Fighting through the Discomfort of Thinking About Death

16:31

Matt Tully
Unpack that a little bit more. Speak to the person who's listening right now to us who is maybe feeling a little bit of that discomfort and is saying, This is unpleasant. Why are we so focused on death? How could it be a good thing to be thinking about it that often? Could you boil down your case to somebody listening right now, making the case for why they should keep listening and why they should endure through what might feel pretty uncomfortable?

Matt McCollough
The first thing I'd say is it is uncomfortable. I don't want to take the edge off of that—you're right. If we could avoid it, it makes sense that we would want to. If it weren't a reality that affects every single one of us, I would say just do your best to dodge it and don't let it trouble you. But it is a reality that affects all of us whether we want to think about it or not. The two main reasons that I think it's important to go here through the discomfort are wisdom and hope. The Bible talks about wisdom as an instinct, or skill, for living well in the world as it is. That means facing up to what's true. That means resisting the temptation to deny what's true, to live in a kind of falsehood or denial. The reality is there is nothing we can do to avoid death, so we may as well be ready for it, think about it, recognize it, grapple with it. Otherwise you're going to be affected by it and not necessarily know what it is that you're being affected by. If you've banished death from your mind and conversation, then when you experience it—as you will—not just the final death but the many little deaths along the way in the loss of good things that time takes away from us, you won't be able to properly diagnose what you're dealing with. If you can't diagnose it correctly you can't ever cure it. So you'll keep trying to slap band-aids on gaping wounds or just try to numb the pain when what you need is antibiotics. So wisdom is about diagnosis, about recognizing what it is I'm dealing with. I want to put the right label on it. And yeah, that hurts; but it's the only path to healing. And that leads to hope—wisdom and hope, the other reason is hope. As a pastor, my main job is to try to help my friends that I pastor understand why Jesus is such wonderfully good news. What is it about him that meets us where we are and offers us more? Jesus's language—what he says about himself—and Jesus's works—what he did—are not sensible. They don't make any sense apart from the reality of death that he came to confront. So if we want to know why Jesus is such good news, we need to know why death is such bad news. If you face up to it, then actually it gives you a stronger grip on the hope that Christ offers. When the problem that weighs heaviest on you is a more short term horizon kind of problem—like, Am I going to finish my training and get the credential that I need to? That's a lot of folks in my church. Will I, on the backside of that training, have a job that allows me to use what I've learned? Will I then get tenure with the job that I've gotten? Will I find a spouse? Will I have children? Will I be financially secure? A lot of the folks I'm pastoring are younger—20s and 30s—they're on the way up this ladder. When you think of your biggest problem as that rung that's just out of reach that you haven't grabbed and stepped on to yet, then when Jesus starts talking about eternal life he's talking to somebody else. He's not talking to you because that seems to have nothing to do with that rung that is your sole focus and attention. But if you realize that the end of your life is is an ending that will take away everything that you built for yourself, now Jesus's words all of a sudden have a relevance you didn't recognize before; a relevance to today; a relevance even to whether or not you get to that rung you'd like to get; to whether or not you finish your training and how you cope with it if you don't; and whether or not you get that spouse you hope for and how you cope with it if you don't. Jesus becomes good news when you see him in light of what he came to do rather than judging him solely based on the short-term tomorrows you're otherwise living for.

Two Ways of Being Future-Oriented

21:11

Matt Tully
It seems like people can often—and maybe all of us struggle with this at different times and in different ways at the same time—but on the one hand I resonate with what you've said about watching your kids and having this acute pang of the passing of time and the loss that comes with that even as kids grow and develop. You want to see them grow, you want to see them develop, but there are things that are lost in that process because of time. So that's on the one hand, and that can lead us to hold onto things and not want to let go. On the other hand, I wonder if sometimes people find themselves in seasons when they are sort of floating through life and they don't really have a sense of what's changing and what's passing. You're kind of so oblivious or you're so focused on something that you miss the fact that you're losing things or things are changing more quickly than you might realize or want. So does that second category of being oblivious to the passing of time—not realizing what you are, what's changing, what you're losing because you're so focused on maybe the future or your goals—how does that fit into this conversation?

Matt McCollough
What's keeping us from grieving the passing of time is that we're very future-oriented, goal-driven; but then I think there's another way in which death puts us in our place and helps us to connect with Jesus. This is the help that Ecclesiastes gives us. Ecclesiastes is written from the perspective of this wise, wealthy, successful person who had it all and then realized that what he had was just wind—striving at wind, vanity, empty, meaningless. So for the person who's chasing tomorrow, let's say they get everything they hope for and all their wildest dreams, they probably won't match what that guy had—he had everything. His wisdom—perspective—tells that person, before they've gotten there, that when they get there it won't be what they think it is. At the end of that ladder is death—that's what he says. So hanging over the futility and frustration of Ecclesiastes is the problem of death. He comes back to it over and over and over. I built all these wonderful things, all this wealth, but what's going to come of it? I'm leaving it to the guy who comes after me and I'll be forgotten. That's what he says and he's right. So let's say that all your wildest dreams come true and that you meet every single goal you've set for yourself, one day all of that will be taken from you. As another writer I really appreciate putting What you're building is basically a sand castle in a rising tide, and one of these days it's going to be swept away. So you can either try to defeat death through your work and bring into your work frustration, fear, anxiety, and then eventually—best case scenario—the realization that once you've arrived it's not what you thought it would be; or you can take Jesus into your work with you. You can rest in the work he's already done once and for all to defeat death. You can stop trying to defeat death in your work, trying to make a mark, trying to accomplish something that will survive and maybe even outlive you, and just let your work be what it was always meant to be—a chance to glorify the God who made you, to do work in his name that honors him and love your neighbor. So that's the way I would approach somebody who is living for the future. If they're not paying attention to the passing of time, help them to see that tomorrow, which they may have likely filled in their minds and their hearts with all of their highest hopes, is actually not the fringe that they think it is. Tomorrow's not when you arrive. Tomorrow is when you die. That's what lies at the end of this road, unless Jesus. If Jesus is at the end of this road, then he can be on the road with you too. The relevance of what he's already done can shape what you do now in a way that you may not have really tasted yet.

The Natural Impulse to Downplay Death

25:20

Matt Tully
So I love Christian history, I love reading biographies, and one of the things that anyone who appreciates Christian history—and maybe just general history and has read a little bit about it—what's most obvious is that these people had a much closer, more real, tangible sense of the reality of death than we do today. Death just seems so much more real as part of their experience. What do you think are some of the factors behind that? We've talked about our culture of entertainment today, maybe facilitated by communication technologies and video and all that, but are there any other things that you see in our culture that maybe make it easier for us to really make good on that impulse, that natural impulse to try to ignore or downplay death?

Matt McCollough
The desire to downplay it and ignore it has always been there, but we've had more space in which to do that than any other culture and at any other time and place in history. This is partly because of the wonderful success of modern medicine. I'm a big fan of modern medicine. I love that I have been immunized, and my kids have, and so we don't have to worry about smallpox sweeping through and killing all of us. That was a very real fear and possibility three hundred years ago in this country. So one of the big factors has been modern medicine and there are at least a couple of things going on there. One is that things that used to kill people early in life and keep death at the center of life in the home have been pushed back through trauma care, emergency medicine, immunizations, and just the remarkable success of the pharmaceutical industry. It's wonderful that a lot of things that would have been lethal quickly are not anymore. That's one thing. The other thing is that probably because of the success of modern medicine, the things that now we tend to die from we tend to die from them only after long, drawn-out battles with using medical technology and all the drugs at our disposal to fight back death to the last possible minute. What that means is that we're more likely than not to die in a hospital outside of normal life in a weird place that is sanitized and in a professional institution that people rarely visit unless they absolutely have to. Seven hundred years ago death was much more likely to happen in your home—in the place where you sleep and eat and have fun—and more likely to happen not just to your grandparents but even to your parents or to your spouse or to your children or your brother or your sister. So it was just a lot more ever-present and right in front of everyone back then than it is now. The space that modern medicine has given us we have taken and filled with lots of other things that help us avoid the truth.

Remembering Death as a Discipline

28:24

Matt Tully
So you mentioned that it was almost viewed as part of Christian piety—keeping this reality in front of our minds—and at one point in the book you actually talk about remembering death as a sort of spiritual discipline. What do you mean by that and what does that actually look like in your own life? You mentioned the natural occurrences of remembering death through the day-to-day experiences that you have, but are there any kind of practical disciplines or routines or habits that you've tried to initiate to help you to do that?

Matt McCollough
Here and there, though for me mostly I do think of this as a discipline of mind, a discipline of perspective; so a little bit different than my daily reading of Scripture and prayer. It's a discipline to focus on something when it comes up and not hide from it. So the image I gave you a little bit earlier from this morning of seeing my children playing and how sweet and precious it was and knowing it wasn't going to last—the discipline I'm talking about is accepting that, feeling that, labeling that for what it is, and then going to Christ with that in that moment. Medicating in the moment on him. Thank you for a promise of a kingdom full of joy that won't end like these joys here always do. There are definitely practices out there that you can use that are more tangible than that and that Christians have used over the years. We talked about the medieval period. These works of art were a practice. They put something to paper to help them remember, and they would've been hung on a wall and passed by. On my wall near my desk I have some art like this. That's a practical thing. I'm sitting here working on my computer—working on an email, working on a sermon that I'm tempted to invest all of my significance into—I look up and I see a skull with wings on it from a Puritan headstone and the the words memento mori, a picture of an hourglass, and the words that mean “the hour comes.” This is a picture of a Puritan headstone. Every day it's right there. I look up at it and be reminded. Some folks in the Medieval period would even put a skull on their desk. I haven't gone that far, and maybe that's a little over the top. I don't know. Each to his own, but I know where they're coming from with that. I think there probably are practices like that that could help, though I don't have a master list. One thing that I have not been able to experience in my current pastoral context yet because of the average age at our church, but that was a bigger part of my life growing up in a rural Alabama church with a lot of age diversity and a lot of funerals—if your congregation has people on a wide age range and some who were dying, I think visiting the dying, seeing them, and then seeing yourself in them. Seeing that what they go through is something you will go through. It's not just their experience, it's a picture of yours as well. It helps you to empathize with them and minister to them, but also to learn from them. And I think that building opportunities to encounter people at that stage in your life can be a really healthy practice too.

Advice for Parents Talking to Kids about Death

32:02

Matt Tully
It makes me think about how a church experiences death together as members of the congregation. I think parents often wrestle with thinking about how to talk to their kids—especially young children—about death, and even more so if it's a family member or a close friend who passes away. So what advice would you offer to parents when it comes to thinking about young kids—how do you talk about death with them?

Matt McCollough
It's such a difficult question to answer because I think the right answer will vary child to child, as most everything does. You're going to know your kid best. God has given you to them as the parent, and so you're going to know better than I do what to do. So my advice would be a couple of steps above that beginning with this: do not hide it from them. We cannot shelter them from the truth about life under the sun. We're not doing them a favor to shelter them from it. Of course we have to be careful with it. Of course you don't want to do anything that gives them unnecessary fear. You don't want to sensationalize it. You don't want to throw it in their faces. When I say don't hide it from them, what I mean is when they ask you about it—as they will, because they're paying attention—don't dodge the question. Don't come up with euphemisms that will cloud over what it is. Don't deny the fact that it is an end to something beautiful that God made. That was wonderful. That was precious. Don't deny that. Don't focus solely on the new and better life that whoever has died is now living. I think that can be true and there's some comfort in it, but we need our children to also know that there's a sadness and a brokenness in what we're experiencing here. It will be some of the most precious opportunities you have to talk to your kids about Jesus. When you're talking about death, never do that without saying things like This is why Jesus came. He says he's the resurrection and the life and if any of us believe in him, we won't die but live like he does. It gives you more context for talking about the joy of Easter when you've helped them see death first.

Balancing the Realities of Death

34:19

Matt Tully
I think that you hit on something that I know I've wrestled with at times and I think others often wrestle with, especially when we ourselves are feeling grief over someone passing away, is we can almost feel a little bit torn. On the one hand we know that we're sad, we know that we feel pain, and we know that we feel loss, and sometimes that can be so overwhelming. And yet, on the other hand, we might feel this pressure of I know that I have hope and I know that that person had hope and I know that they are in a better place with Jesus and their pain is gone. And we can feel like Well, because of that I should be happy for them. So how do you bring those two things together? How should we think about those two realities?

Matt McCollough
I think that Jesus gives us permission to experience both through the model he gives us at the tomb of Lazarus. So here's the situation that he orchestrated: Lazarus is dying, he knows ahead of time, he has the power to heal and he chooses to wait longer before he goes just so that Lazarus will die. And he says it's so that they might believe in him. The reason that he's waiting, the reason that he's making sure Lazarus dies first, is so that they can believe in him. He's in complete control. He knows what he's doing. He's got a new heavens and a new earth oriented endgame here. But when he gets there and he actually sees where his friend is buried and he sees the pain of his other friends who are grieving the loss of this man, he grieves with them. He's moved by it, knowing that minutes later he's going to raise this man to new life. That's a little bit mind boggling, but it's a model nevertheless. I think to understand how all of the divinity and humanity of Jesus interacts in that moment, to be guided by it, to grieve as he did, to cry like he cried, to be angry at the reality of death and the grip that it holds over us; but then to look through him, the resurrection and life, to what he said he will do. My push-back to what may be our more normal Christian funeral culture right now is that celebrations of life are not enough. It's fine to celebrate a life. If we're talking about a Christian who has died, we should celebrate the gift of that person to us, the gifts God gave to them, what God did in their life, and we should celebrate the fact that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. We should celebrate all of that. But if that's all we do, we're guilty of what theologians call an over-realized eschatology where we're living as if we have already experienced more of the victory Jesus has won than we actually have. We're still actually in the “not yet.” In the “not yet” we grieve. We see and experience the pain of death. We shouldn't try to pull that sting ourselves by turning our attention only to celebrating life. We should acknowledge the sting is still here, we still feel it. Only Christ can pull it. He'll do that in his time. And in the “not yet”, we grieve and hope.

Fear of Death in the Time of COVID-19

37:28

Matt Tully
Maybe along those lines then, I wonder if you could speak to our current situation right now with the coronavirus going around and with the reality of hearing these death numbers every day and just being confronted in a very visceral way each day with the crisis that we're in right now. What encouragement would you give to anxious Christians who believe the gospel, they have the hope of eternal life with Christ, but they are still struggling. They're struggling with fear that they could get sick, that their loved ones could get sick—what would you say to that person today?

Matt McCollough
I'd say I wish I was sitting in front of you and could ask you more questions so that I could figure out exactly where your fear is coming from. The answers I give would vary a lot from person to person; but at the risk of saying things in order to be helpful to everybody who's listening, I'm going to give you a couple of talking points that I'd want to try to push. One is that I would try to encourage people to see that death, as they're confronting it in this coronavirus time, death is a bigger reality that this is just one manifestation of. It really isn't new. So at one level nothing has changed except another cause of death we weren't thinking about before is in front of us and it affects us and it affects people that are precious to us. But the reality of death behind it, that's always been there. The parents that we're worried about, the children that we're worried about, they are going to die of something. I want to put coronavirus in its place, honestly. I think it is serving us by bringing death into the public conversation in a way that it hasn't been for a long time. That's a good thing. But if we just treat coronavirus like a death from a mob hit or death of a zombie apocalypse—it's just one more thing that we maybe can avoid and hope to avoid and that's what death is—we're not learning from the moment like we need to. We need to see death—capital “D”—behind it all and realize that was always a problem for us. And then think about the fact that Jesus has always been there to solve it. He's not any less capable of bringing beauty from the ashes of this pandemic than he was able to redeem the life of those lost to any other cause of death. He's still there. He's still risen. He still reigns. He still offers resurrection and life to anyone who trusts in him. So I would encourage people not to overreact to this particular cause of death. Grieve it as it affects you. If you get this sickness, if someone you love gets it and dies, that is worthy of grief. Jesus grieves that. But run to Christ in it. He's still there. He's still ruling. Nothing has changed. This is not changing what's true about the world or about him and what he can offer. I would want to try to work all those things in; but again, you've got to get in front of the person and hear where they're actually coming from to know how to apply that comfort in a way that won't be cold comfort, but genuine comfort.

Matt Tully
Spoken like a true pastor.

Matt McCollough
Yeah, the comfort is in there. It's the delivery that varies person to person.


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