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This is the second part of a two part series.

After writing the first post in this series, the topic I discussed became real. An immunocompromised person who began attending our church in the past year got sick and, tragically, died. The beautiful, Spirit-filled woman of God, Karen Lovings, no longer gathers at our little imperfect church. She worships with the massive perfect Church in heaven. My wife and I both cried when we heard that Karen passed away. Seeing her deteriorate in the hospital was one of the hardest things I have ever seen. Did we make a mistake?

Karen had persistent leukemia that constantly reduced her immune system. Without pretending to know all the medical details, from what she told me, I knew that she was in a continual state of immunocompromise. Due to her medical treatments, her body temperature was low. So, she was always at church bundled up from head to toe with a mask on. She did not ask me what I thought about her gathering in this condition, but I regularly preach on the need to gather for worship, even when it is risky. I have had some time to reconsider that message prayerfully, and I believe it now more than ever. Here is why.

Imagine that we were able to talk to Karen now. If we could ask her, “Do you regret coming to church so often since it potentially was the cause of your death?” I do not know exactly what she would say, but I find it incomprehensible to imagine her saying she regrets her decision. How could she possibly say she wishes she was here with us, in her leukemia-filled body, worshipping the invisible Christ, when she is in heaven without leukemia, standing before the visible Christ who loves her and speaks to her?

Karen lived alone, was never married, and had no family in the area. The only family I could speak with after her death were extended aunts, uncles, and cousins. So, I assume she did not have brothers or sisters present in her life. Though she seemed to stray from the Lord for a time—like we all do—when she joined our fellowship about a year ago, she was on fire for the Lord. She attended both our morning and evening worship services on Sunday. She attended all the women’s ministry functions. She prayed in our Sunday morning prayer group before service—which literally brought me to tears one morning, hearing her passion for the Lord as she spoke to Him. She is a wonderful woman of God.

She was not stupid. She knew that her presence here posed a threat to her physical health, but she also knew that her presence here was essential to her spiritual health. She understood the faith of Christianity, which teaches that a crucified Savior is our only comfort in life and death, because death will come. Her hope was not in the doctors to heal her. She regularly (if not reluctantly, out of a desire to keep the spotlight off of herself) shared her medical updates, which were often grim. Though the news was met with tears, both hers and ours, she always finished with something like: “But my hope is in Christ—I belong to Him.”

Could anyone make a sound argument that Karen should have stayed home, avoided building connections with the people of our church, withheld her powerful prayers before service, silenced her beautiful voice during worship, and remained physically distant from the body of Christ? Would Karen be better off now if she did, sitting alone in her little apartment? Would she be happier than she is now if she “stayed safe”?

When I wrote and submitted the first installment of this two-part series, Doug (the host of Fight of Faith blog) insightfully asked, “What if, and this is a hypothetical that may never exist, there is a person who is permanently immunocompromised. Would you recommend they come and die? Or would it be better for them to attend sub-par online worship?”

The early church faced a similar question during persecution. When the Romans came to kill Christians, some stood their ground, arm in arm with the Body of Christ, and others fled. When the persecution ceased and Christianity became legal, those who fled returned. How were they to be treated by those who remained? The European plagues at the time of the Reformation presented a similar question—should we flee the plague? Or trust God and worship together? The most compelling answer, historically and biblically, is not to give an answer.

We are free in Christ to follow the prompting of the Spirit of Love. Some will be compelled by Love to flee persecution and disease to live to serve their families or to continue the work God has called them to. Others will sense the peace of God that passes understanding and rest amid the storm, trusting God in life and death. As the apostle Paul says, “Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom 14:5).

No one should pressure a person like Karen to gather and worship when her life is at stake. But that is not such a problem in our society today. The cult of youth and the idolatry of earthly life presents an ethos that pushes in the opposite direction—Christians and their leaders are compelled by society to promote earthly life no matter the cost, even if it means avoiding the Creator of life. If I am wrong, Karen can correct me when we are reunited, but I can guarantee that she would say we should think less about preserving our physical lives and more about growing our spiritual ones. It is worth it.

-Rob Golding

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