My selfish use of statistics

King Hezekiah was in many ways one of the good kings of Israel. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord (2 Kings 18:3). He prayed and the Assyrians retreated (2 Kings 19:14). He prayed and he got better from a terminal illness (2 Kings 20:2).

But his life ended rather disappointingly.  

He is told by God that the Babylonians are going to overrun the city of Jerusalem and carry off all its treasures and imprison his descendants. But Hezekiah seems hardly troubled by this devastating news; he is just relieved that there will be peace and security in his own lifetime – he won’t get to see these terrible times himself (2 Kings 20:19).

We may be shocked by his response but aren’t we sometimes just the same?

When we hear the daily update of the numbers of deaths from Covid-19, we are curious to know specific details; we want to be reassured that the majority died because they were old, or had pre-existing conditions. We interpret the figures on the basis of whether we are likely to be affected personally. And our fear rises or falls accordingly.

So if I am young, female and not from the BAME community, I am rather relieved that most likely the worst effects of the virus won’t happen to me. But if I am part of one of the more statistically vulnerable groups, I feel my fear increase with every reported death.

This is, of course, selfish. Our first thoughts should be for those who have died and for their loved ones.

But it is also foolish.

While it is right that we learn from this virus something of the frailty of life, it is also true that only God determines the number of our days. He chose the day of my birth and he will decide the day of my death. Our hope is not to be in the statistics, or the precautions that we take (wise though they are). Our sense of well-being should not be based on whether we will succumb to this virus – or any other disease or tragic circumstance.

Rather, we trust that God is good, and that he is in charge and we place our confidence in him. In the meantime, we continue to love God and love our neighbours through these troubled times.

Graham Nicholls is Director of Affinity


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