The COVID-19 statistics look grim for the elderly, not just in Australia, but worldwide. How should we respond as Christians to this danger? Former pastor David Roberston, shares his thoughts about his elderly parents, and as someone who has underlying health conditions.

The question came: “Could you write an article about what it’s like to be over 60 and concerned about catching COVID-19?” Although I don’t have the necessary qualification to answer this question – (I am three years away from that wonderful age), I am more than happy to share some thoughts with you. I do, however, feel qualified to speak on behalf of many of my older friends, not least my parents, who although in their eighties, are very much alive and kicking. 

It is always dangerous to generalise about groups according to age.  More ‘mature’ people will have as much a variety of responses as other age groups.  One would hope that older people would also be wiser – having the benefits of years of lived experience.  My parents certainly fall into that category!  Are they afraid of COVID-19?  In one sense they should be – they are in the most vulnerable group – elderly people with pre-existing conditions.  Indeed, ‘for their own good’ they were both told that they should not be leaving their house in the North of Scotland, or having people, including their children and grandchildren, to visit. But as my mother pointed out, they don’t expect to live that much longer and they would rather not be prisoners in their own home, forbidden meaningful human contact.  As rational human beings they know they will die one day.  As Christians, they do not fear death. 

Of course, those of us who are older should take suitable precautions for our own physical well-being.  The threat of coronavirus is real and serious; even in Australia where, until the past couple of weeks, community transmission was extremely rare.   But we also need to take care of our emotional and spiritual health.  It may be that elderly people are not able to go to church – in which case perhaps the church should think about coming to them – and not just on a zoom link or with a phone call?  If, as some suspect, COVID-19 or a variant of it is going to be with us for the foreseeable future, we need to ensure that all aspects of our health are catered for.  

Perhaps we need to bear in mind that Christians have an entirely different perspective to those of our non-Christian friends, who have no hope for the life to come.  One of the things that I have noticed in this current situation is that there is a pandemic of fear.  To some degree that is understandable, but sometimes the instillation of that fear can go too far. It can paralyse us. 

I was seriously ill a few years ago and was in hospital for a number of weeks.  When I got out, like many others who have been in ICU for some time, I had to learn not only to walk and live a normal life again, but to cope with the fears that were now part of my life.  Some people in such a situation are too scared to leave their own homes. I was also afraid of the terrors of the night (Psalm 91:5). How do we overcome these fears? 

Scripture of course was a great help and comfort. For me there was one passage especially that stood out.  My family read it to me often on my hospital bed.  That passage is Psalm 91.  I used to go to sleep at night listening to the version of it sung by the Australian band, Sons of Korah. Sadly, there are Christians who have read v.3 ‘Surely he will save you…from the deadly pestilence’ as a guarantee that they won’t get Covid. That is not the guarantee. 

The real guarantee is that ‘all things work together for the good of those who love God’ (Romans 8:28). Our assurance is that the Lord is our refuge (v.9), that he will deliver us and show us his salvation (v.16).  

With such confidence we can face the day even of our death as the day of deliverance and hope. We older people can rejoice in the years that God has given us…but we know that our end is nearer now than it was even yesterday – never mind the days of our youth!  But it’s not the end…it’s only the beginning. 

Though outwardly we are wasting away yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day, therefore we do not lose heart – because we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen and eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). 

What a great hope we have! Therefore, we do not fear what they fear. 

David Robertson
Third Space
Sydney

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