Statistics and Comfort in Calamity
Photo by Ben White
Does the 2% death rate statistic comfort you? What does the Bible say about comfort during calamity?
Some sources are saying that the mortality rate of COVID-19 looks to be 2%. However, it is too early to say. The percentage will be bigger or smaller depending on various factors (such as the age of the people infected, access to the needed medical treatment, etc.). I think we should acknowledge a few things about the statistic. First, 2% looks like a small number. And it is. At least, relative to a larger number.
Second, to put it into perspective, 2% of the population of the world is around 140 million people. That, as we can see, is a lot of people. COVID-19 could rival the AIDS epidemic. Of course, it seems highly unlikely that everyone in the world will get the virus. But even a fraction of that number is a lot of people. And it’s important for us to see the numbers from this vantage point so that we don’t play the numbers down.
Further, the 2% projected mortality rate is for the general population. The percentage goes up for seniors and those with pre-existing health conditions, like my wife. So, whereas my likelihood of death, if I get the virus, is probably much lower than 2%, my wife’s likelihood of death is perhaps closer to 10%.
Scripture doesn’t have us look at statistics and the unlikelihood of calamity as a means of comfort.
If you’re comforted by the 2% projection, I understand. Just realize that it is at the expense of another, whose death rate is much higher. I’d encourage us all not to broadcast that encouragement too broadly.
We’d all do well to remember that Scripture exhorts us to be quick to hear and slow to speak (James 1:19).
Let’s consider the encouragement that Scripture provides in the midst of life’s calamities. First, it’s important to notice that in Scripture we don’t see a precedent set for belittling the harsh realities of the broken world in which we live. Jesus, the prophets, and apostles didn’t say: “It’s really not that bad. At least it’s not 5 or 10%. You probably won’t die, though you’ll probably know someone who will.”
No, the biblical attitude is weeping, that’s what Jesus did at death. Lamenting, that’s what the prophets did. And the apostles shared the message of hope in Jesus.
When Jesus spoke to the issue of statistically unlikely deaths, He said, “unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:5). We will all perish, that is the harsh reality. There is no true comfort in thinking we won’t. Hebrews tells us it is appointed for humans to die once and after that comes the judgment (Heb. 9:27).
Therefore, let’s not primarily comfort ourselves by telling ourselves that we may not be part of the 2%, we very well may be, and that’s beside the point. We will all die. We need something besides statistics to comfort us. We need a Savior.
So, in the face of such dire odds—100% of humans die—where can we find comfort?
Jesus is the one who died and yet is alive forevermore. In and through Him we have comfort no matter what calamity may befall us. In this life, we’re not promised life. Actually, Jesus says we might be a statistic. Jesus says, in this world we will have tribulation. The comfort that Jesus gives is not a triumphalism that is untouched by the pain and suffering of this world. No.
But, Jesus says we can take heart, we can be encouraged, because He has overcome this world (Jn. 16:33)! So, if anything, Jesus says we’ll be the statistic. We will suffer. But thankfully He doesn’t stop there.
Jesus says, this world is not all there is. But He doesn’t just say it. He proves it. He dies the most pitiful death—He drinks calamity down to the dregs—but He doesn’t stay dead.
We can have comfort because Messiah Jesus beat death once and for all and all those who trust Him will beat death too. Yes we will die, and we might even be part of the 2% (or whatever it ends up being), but we won’t stay dead. We will rise like He rose.
And so, the true comfort is, as the catechism says, “That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”
 However, see the context. The specific context to which Jesus spoke was not statistics and probability. Jesus was telling people that death awaits all because we live in a broken world. The correct response that Jesus calls us to is repentance.
 The New City Catechism, Question 1.