Why Christians Shouldn’t Tell Each Other, “Stay Safe.”

James Huenink
8 min readMay 18, 2020

The moment the dangers of this pandemic became clear, the people in my life changed what we said when we parted. We stopped saying, “goodbye,” “be well,” or “blessings” when we parted. Instead, we said,

“Stay safe.”

This worries me, because Christians have never focused on safety. Our safety comes from Jesus, not the world. Christians focus on being faithful, serving our neighbor and loving our God.

Cultural focus on safety

This emphasis on safety is understandable in light of COVID-19. The disease is an invisible risk. Even after months of intense study and treatment, experts still don’t really understand it. We can’t run away from it, detect where it is, or even know if we have it. That individuals can get the disease, and spread it, without knowing they’re sick only increases public panic.

But it’s not just a result of the coronavirus. Two years ago, I was riding Chicago’s Blue Line train from my home to my church. As the train pulled through downtown, a gaggle of high school students joined me. They rode for a few stops, laughing and talking with the energy only teens have. When one got up to leave, they all said, “Stay safe.” They didn’t say it with gravity, as if someone was leaving to do something especially dangerous. It was casual, the standard way they say, “goodbye.”

This reflects wider cultural changes toward risk aversion. Mental illness and anxiety problems have risen dramatically among college students in the last decade. An ever-increasing focus on safety drives more people to fear every-day interactions than in the past. Deloitte found that Gen Z workers want interesting and challenging assignments in work, but they also focus on stable employment over risk-taking entrepreneurship.

Many articles speculate the factors that created Gen Z’s interest in safety. Some suggest that helicopter parents instill fear of danger and risk in their children. Others wonder whether the great recession of 2008 spurred more conservative behavior. Whatever the reason, it seems like American culture is slowly focusing more and more on safety, and COVID finally pushes us over the edge.

Christians have never focused on safety

Safety has never been a high priority in the Christian life. Sure, all things being equal, it is better to be safe than not. Christians shouldn’t take unnecessary risks. As Jesus says, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). No Christian should take a risk for risks sake alone.

Martin Luther

Consider the quotation from Martin Luther that was regularly passed around by Christians on social media during the early stages of lockdown.

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.” (Luther’s Works, Volume 43 p. 132)

In other words, Luther describes taking the appropriate precautions to protect himself and others, and doing so was the loving way to serve them by preventing the disease on others. But, where duty called for it, he shouldn’t hide from exposure. He should bravely go wherever he is needed.

The Black Death of 1347

The same was true for priests during the Black Death of 1347. While it would have been safer for priests to hide in a nearby monastery, their duty was to attend to their flock at the time of death. In an article on Medievalists.net, Danièle Cybulskie writes,

During The Black Death of 1347 (and the years following), priests were faced with the task of stepping into sickrooms, knowing that they faced an unseen enemy that very likely would kill them shortly. That thousands of priests took those steps anyway, risking their lives to give hope and comfort to those in pain and fear is something I can’t help but admire all these centuries later.

So many priests died attending to their duties, that Pope Clement VI made a declaration that the dying could make their final confession to anyone present, “even a woman.”

Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna

Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna was alive in the second century AD, and he is believed to have been taught by the Apostle John, himself. His final days are recorded in The Martyrdom Of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna.

When Polycarp discovered that the local authorities wanted to kill him, he initially wanted to remain in the city, but his people convinced him to escape to a farm outside of town. When they still tracked him, he left for a different farm, but the soldiers arrested and tortured a slave to find out where he went.

Finally, when it was clear that escaping meant that others would suffer, Polycarp waited for the soldiers to arrest him. Not only did he wait, but he fed the soldiers who came to arrest him. From that point on, Polycarp faced execution bravely.

Jesus Christ

Christians do this, because Jesus Christ, himself, was faithful to serve unto death. Matthew 16:21–23 shows Jesus’ commitment to facing his death while Peter wants his safety.

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Jesus considered our eternal life more important than his safety, and he bravely walked to the cross to die for us. To save the whole world, he died so we could live.

We are safe in Christ

Most of all, the focus on safety above all else shows a lack of confidence in the resurrection of the dead. We are celebrating the Easter season, when Jesus destroyed the power of death by rising from the grave.

One of my favorite hymns, God’s Own Child I Gladly Say It, says it like this:

Death, you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ!
When I die, I leave all sadness to inherit paradise!
Though I lie in dust and ashes faith’s assurance brightly flashes:
Baptism has the strength divine to make life immortal mine.

There is nothing worth comparing to this lifelong comfort sure!
Open-eyed my grave is staring: Even there I’ll sleep secure.
Though my flesh awaits its raising, still my soul continues praising:
I am baptized into Christ; I’m a child of paradise!

Whether we are visiting someone with COVID or rushing toward danger, Christians are always safe. Nothing, not disease or death, can change that. Because Jesus is risen from the dead, we too will rise.

Serving in pandemic

Christians follow the example of our savior. Because he died for us and saved us, faithfulness is far more important than safety. As it says in Hebrews 12:1–2:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Marathons are the only sports I watch on TV, so I was watching the Boston Marathon on the day that the bombs went off. Someone had captured a video of the explosions and the resulting chaos. When the bombs went off, thousands screamed and ran away, but tens of people ran the other direction, toward the explosions.

In the Parkland school shooting, we saw bravery like that. While the armed school police officer stood outside, teachers inside died protecting their children. It’s likely that the teachers could have hid, but many risked their lives to save their students.

You have to admire that. These people ran into danger when everyone else ran away. That’s the guy I want to be.

I am a pastor in a congregation outside of Chicago, and I have had to consider what would happen should a member of my congregation be on his or her deathbed. A few of my members have been in the hospital, and I was truly worried that one of them would die. What should a pastor do?

We all want to think the best of ourselves, and I would like to think that I would be brave. I hope that I don’t have to be in this situation. Should it happen, I intend to offer the hospital three options: 1) Call the police 2) Watch me barge into the room, 3) Help me enter safely. Fortunately, the end didn’t come, and my friend went home. Still, I pray that I can prove as faithful as my Christian forebearers, that my personal safety should come after my duty in Christ. As St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).

Be faithful, not safe

So, Christians, when you see each other, either in person or virtually, don’t part with a friendly, “be safe.” Let the world worry about their safety. We know that we are safe no matter what. Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead, our life is safe in him. Yes, we might die from the pandemic, just like we might die from getting hit by a bus. But we don’t need to fear death.

What we should fear is not being there when someone needs us. We should worry that this disease might scare us away from our duty to love and serve our neighbor. Let’s not be stupid or risk lives needlessly, but we should also boldly be where Christ calls us.

Don’t be safe. Be faithful.



James Huenink

A pastor, writer, historian, and photographer who lives in San Diego County, CA. https://www.dauc.org https://www.jeh-photo.com