By / Mar 10

Being sick can be scary, especially for children. Dr. Scott James has a passion for showing both kids and their parents that God is right there with them in their time of need, even in the middle of a pandemic. Scott is a pediatric physician. He serves as an elder at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, where he and his wife, Jaime, live with their four children. Scott wants to remind us that we can not only trust God to take care of us, but we also have the privilege of imitating him while caring for others.

Scott’s new book, God Cares for Me: Helping Children Trust God When They’re Sick, helps parents and caregivers talk with children about illness and how to keep themselves and others safe when sick. Scott was kind enough to answer some of our questions about how parents can talk with their children about sickness.

Q: We are a year into the COVID-19 pandemic here in the United States, but there are still so many unanswered questions. How old are your children, and what kind of conversations have you had at home with your kids as COVID started to spread?

We have four children, ranging from nine to almost sixteen years old. Depending on how you look at it, having an infectious diseases doctor as a dad during a global pandemic is either a fortunate or a very unfortunate thing. On the positive side, as the pandemic ramped up and then hung around, my kids always had someone they could come to with questions. 

They ask profoundly good questions, and we’ve had the opportunity to process things out loud all year long. We’ve talked about what makes this virus unique, how seriously ill it can make people, how it has disrupted so many people’s lives, what we can do to slow the spread and help people in need, and how sad it makes us that people want to fight about that.   

The downside of having an ID doctor as a dad during all this is that the nature of my work on the frontlines has put a certain amount of stress on our family. Because I am knowingly exposed to the virus every day, I’ve had to be very cautious about not spreading the infection to my family, our church, or our community. We’re not on lockdown or anything, but we make it a point to be consistently careful about how we go out and how we gather. 

In a year when many people have gone on with life as normal, my kids have missed out on a lot. That’s one reason I was interested in writing God Cares for Me—though thankfully we have remained well so far, I saw it as a good opportunity to talk further with my kids about how God is near, he loves to take care of us in difficult times. He gives us the privilege of helping him care for others in their time of need as well. 

Q: As parents, how do we talk about not only keeping our own bodies well, but making sure we keep others safe from getting sick too? 

Even as we’re helping our children trust in God’s care for us amid this pandemic, we also have the opportunity to help them see that God calls us to care for others, too. With an infectious disease circulating in our communities, one way to look out for the good of others is to help slow the spread of infection by consistently practicing interventions such as masking and social distancing. 

When doctors and public health experts recommend these practices as a way to protect other people, I think that following their guidance is a reasonable Christian response. It’s one way we can love others and seek the good of our communities (1 Corinthians 10:24). To be clear, it’s certainly not the only way to love others, and I believe Christians should refrain from codifying such practices as moral law, as if the Bible says, “Thou shalt mask up.” These behaviors are a way to love your neighbor—a very good and timely way, I would argue—but we shouldn’t act as if they are a foolproof litmus test of Christian love and faithfulness. 

Corollary to this, if our faith is motivating us to look for ways to love our neighbors and help others stay safe during this pandemic, we would do well to consider mental and spiritual well-being as well. Christian faith is marked by fellowship, hospitality, and deep community—we are not wired for social isolation or physical estrangement from the body of Christ, and there are profoundly negative effects to this season of separation. 

Even while we are trying to protect others by social distancing, we have the opportunity to help our children think about how to proactively and safely pursue the fellowship we so desperately need. We may need to get creative with the ways in which we gather, but we’re still called to live in community with one another.

Q: I’m sure you saw an even greater need to write God Cares for Me because of the pandemic, but the book isn’t just about COVID, is it? 

Certainly not! I think of this book as COVID-relevant but not COVID-specific. The broader theme of helping children walk through times of pain and suffering is central to my role as a pediatrician. It is something I often think through from a pastoral perspective as well. 

God Cares for Me follows a boy named Lucas through a sick day and a scary visit to the doctor’s office, but the bigger story is how God provides comfort and care all along the way. My prayer is that whatever illness a family might be facing, this book will be a reminder that God is a trustworthy refuge and fortress (Psalm 91:2). 

I hope this book will spark ongoing conversations within families. The back section, “Talking with Kids about Sickness,” gives parents a few suggestions on navigating those conversations. I encourage parents to approach these difficult topics in a way that acknowledges the hard reality of what it’s like having to deal with pain and suffering but consistently points to the comforting truth that God has not left us to manage on our own. God himself is with us every step of the way, and he also surrounds us with a community of people called the church—people who love us in Christ and are present to bear our burdens alongside us.

By / Mar 20

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Brent talk about coronavirus and quarantines, the latest in the Democratic primary, and some good news to end your week. Lindsay also gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including a piece from Joe Carter on reading the news with discernment, Dane Hays on talking to your kids about COVID-19, and the ERLC’s reading recommendations during social distancing. Also in this episode, the hosts are joined by Dr. Scott James, an infectious disease specialist, for a conversation about coronavirus and his new children’s book.

About Dr. James

Scott James serves as an Elder at The Church at Brook Hills. He and his wife, Jaime, have four children and live in Birmingham, Ala, where he works as a pediatric physician. He is the author of two family worship books (The Expected One: Anticipating All of Jesus in the AdventMission Accomplished: A Two-Week Family Easter Devotional), as well as illustrated children's books, including The Littlest Watchman (The Good Book Company, 2017) and his latest book, Where Is Wisdom? (B&H).

ERLC Content

Culture

  • This week marked the first day of Spring!

Politics

Coronavirus

  • Widespread alarm and misinformation, we recommend you follow live updates on COVID-19 from The Washington Post
  • Pulling out all the stops to stem the tide, churches, schools, and major events across the nation are delayed, cancelled, or moving online.
  • CoronaChaos leads to CoronaQuiet across the globe: France, Spain, Germany join Italy on lockdown; Sources expect UK to join this weekend.
  • San Francisco locking down 
  • Widespread testing finally here . . . with issues.
  • Big companies hiring right now: 
    • Amazon
      • “We are opening 100,000 new full and part-time positions across the U.S. in our fulfillment centers and delivery network to meet the surge in demand from people relying on Amazon’s service during this stressful time, particularly those most vulnerable to being out in public. 
    • Kroger
      • “Kroger plans to hire 10,000 additional workers in the coming weeks to help stock and clean stores. 
      • “Applicants can visit jobs.kroger.com to apply. 
    • Wal-Mart
      • “Walmart (NYSE:WMT) plans to hire 500 more truck drivers for its private fleet, primarily on the East and West Coasts, to help meet the increased demand from its growing e-commerce business.
  • Ford and General Motors are looking into making medical equipment including ventilators that could help combat the novel coronavirus outbreak.
  • Economic projections don’t look so good; Fed moves
    • Economic forecasts look really dire.
  • Bailouts likely coming for industries
    • Phase II – passed on Wednesday
    • Phase III coming"Phase 3" deal that would pump an additional $1 trillion into the economy.
  • Movies go online instead of theater
  • The SEC cancelled all spring sports(!)

On the Lighter Side

 Lunchroom

  • Brent: A Hidden Life (Movie)
    • The film depicts the life of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer and devout Catholic who refused to fight for the Nazis in World War II. The film's title was taken from George Eliot's book Middlemarch.
  • Lindsay: 
  • Josh:

 ERLC Inbox

  • Q: How worried should I be about extra screen time for my kids while we are spending more time indoors during isolation?

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By / Mar 18

How are churches responding to the COVID-19 epidemic? How is this crisis affecting services, groups, and ministry to the community, especially vulnerable populations? While we know that each church is unique and each community’s needs are different, we know we can learn from one another. 

The ERLC recently surveyed a number of church leaders around the country to ask them how they are addressing COVID-19 concerns in their churches and communities. This article is a summary of some of the ideas they are using to stay connected and rooted during these difficult times.

Services

While many churches did not meet this past Sunday, for others, this coming week will be their first time to not gather in person. Many churches have completely closed their facilities and instead are using livestream technology, Facebook Live, Zoom, and even local television to broadcast services. Some churches are streaming a full service, including live worship; others are filming and streaming a standalone sermon or a sermon with announcements, prayer, and Scripture readings. 

One church is taking the service out of the sanctuary and into the parking lot. “Drive-in church” will provide a unique opportunity to gather in the church parking lot in individual vehicles. Attendees will participate in live worship and preaching, all while tuning into the vehicle's radio frequency.

While it is discouraging for churches to be unable to meet together in person, many churches saw a significant increase in online viewership compared to average in-person attendance. In some cases, online views were several times higher than average attendance. Many churches are considering ways to encourage viewers to connect with the church when worship services resume. For more information on how to connect online, check out The Gospel Coalition’s helpful article

Small groups

Some churches are encouraging small groups of people to gather in homes for worship and community. Last week, some churches’ small groups continued to meet and gathered to watch the sermon together as a small community. However, this week, the Trump administration issued new guidance that asks all Americans to gather only in groups smaller than 10. Because many church small groups are larger than 10 people, those churches that have not already cancelled small groups are beginning to this week.

Other churches are having small groups meet digitally using virtual hangouts such as Google, Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime. Others are keeping communication within groups active using video sharing apps like Marco Polo. 

Communication

Since many churches are not gathered together, they are being creative in the way they communicate with church members. Some of the best practices from the respondents to the survey include:

  • A dedicated web page for COVID-19 ministry plan and updates
  • Regular videos from pastors to update and encourage their people
  • Reminder texts
  • Frequent church emails
  • Facebook groups
  • A dedicated team who contacts church members for prayer and assesses needs

Senior adults

Since research shows that senior adults are more at risk from COVID-19, many churches are tailoring ministry to serve them during this time. 

Church members are delivering groceries and other necessities to older adults and those who aren’t able to leave their homes. Some churches are partnering with organizations already on the ground, such as Meals on Wheels, to provide food delivery and expand the capacity of those organizations to serve more. 

One church put together a database for a large team of deacons and volunteers that are doing daily well-checks with their older and vulnerable members and attendees. 

To alleviate loneliness, another church is working to make connections between young families and those that are homebound, encouraging them to make regular phone calls, provide for physical needs, and create a sense of community across generational lines. 

Children/Families

While thankfully healthy children do not seem to be as physically at risk from the virus, families still have many challenges. With many schools closed, childcare and child welfare are a concern for churches. 

For many kids from low-income families, their school lunch is their most nutritious meal of the day. Churches are partnering with schools and community centers to provide food for children served by the school meal program.

One church is organizing a program for children to write and mail cards and letters to older members of the congregation and nursing homes that are closed to visitors. These efforts foster intergenerational connection and at the same time provide activities for children and families to bond through.

One church is writing thank you cards to their schools’ kitchen and janitorial staff who are still working.

Finances

Even though many churches have an option to give online, financial giving is a concern when churches do not meet in person. Many churches surveyed said it was too early to say if or how much COVID-19 would impact giving. A few churches expected a small dip in giving but are implementing cost controls to honor missions partnerships, Cooperative Program giving, staff salaries, and other essential expenses.

Be the church

In the midst of all the uncertainty, the Lord is at work through his church. Here are some of the encouraging stories we’ve heard of churches stepping up to serve their communities in this time of need. 

  • One church has several restaurant owners who are working to provide food for those in need within their communities.
  • Several churches shared stories of families creating ad hoc childcare co-ops to help working families meet and manage all of their obligations.
  • Several churches are reevaluating and expanding their benevolence programs for those who may be contacting their church for assistance and also for church members who have been impacted by the economic downturn caused by COVID-19.
  • One larger church with video capabilities partnered with a smaller congregation to ensure the smaller congregation had high-quality sermon video to send to their congregation.
  • One college town church was working to find housing for college students suddenly displaced when university dorms were closed.
  • Several churches shared stories of families folding single church members into their lives—some inviting single church members to move in with them—to combat isolation amidst a time of social distancing.

Above all, we are encouraged to see the responses of Southern Baptist churches and pastors as they rise to the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our prayer is that in the midst of these challenges, God is glorified, his name is lifted high, and many come to know Jesus.

“Praise be to God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

By / Mar 12

Luther’s Small Catechism, in its explanation of the 5th commandment, reads, “We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” My church’s (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) elaboration on this makes clear that we are required to offer help wherever it is needed and avoid actions which might, even inadvertently, harm others through our negligence. Not only must we, like the Good Samaritan, help the man in the ditch; we should pay our taxes to finance highway police to make banditry less common. The duty of care is deep, but also broad.

This sensibility has deep roots in times of disaster. Christians were famous in antiquity for caring for plague victims, with both the Antonine and Cyprian plagues leading to prominent Christian roles. Religious historian Rodney Stark claims that the Christian response to the Cyprian plague reduced mortality in Christian communities by perhaps as much as 2/3, even as it won numerous converts, hastening the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire.

Pointing to the gospel in the midst of panic

In 1527, Martin Luther was asked how Christians should respond to plague. The question was not hypothetical: Bubonic Plague had struck the area. Christians were afraid, and given Luther’s importance to that movement, Protestant princes urged Luther to flee, to save himself.

He refused, instead writing the short tract now known as “Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague.” Luther argued that Christians have a dual duty to care for those whom God has placed in our path through our vocations, alongside a duty to care for the bodies which God has placed in our stewardship. Thus, we can indeed flee a plague for safety: unless we have duties to people who cannot flee. 

Luther makes clear that government officials cannot flee a stricken city, pastors cannot abandon their sheep (especially behind the scenes if it’s necessary to not meet for a season), parents cannot eschew their duties to sickened children, and neighbors cannot abrogate the implied duties of neighborly care. Love your neighbor, sick or well. But if your neighbor flees and you have no other duties, you can go too. And, of course, if governments command quarantines, or a cordon sanitaire, or removals, Christians can comply. 

But Luther makes very clear that he intends to enjoin care even unto death, saying that Christians should not fear “some small boils,” and that “death is death, however it may come.” Christians do not abandon their crosses because they get heavy. We die on them.

I am aware of the burden of this approach because I am living it. My wife and I, and our newborn daughter, live in Hong Kong, where we serve as missionaries in the Lutheran Church-Hong Kong Synod. We have been on COVID-19’s doorstep for weeks, with a government that failed to take basic precautions until after local transmission had begun. Flights have been cut off, basic supplies have run short, school has been cancelled, and the streets have emptied. People hoard masks, rice, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, getting theirs while the getting is good. The devil of mortal fear, an enemy so rarely encountered in modern society, stalks our streets.

When each day brings new uncertainties and worries about how bad things will get, we must trust that God will give us enough grace for the day.

We have been blessed to serve in a church body in Hong Kong which has not cowered before that devil. God’s ministry does not stop for plague. When each day brings new uncertainties and worries about how bad things will get, we must trust that God will give us enough grace (and enough hand sanitizer) for the day. In a time of fear, what our neighbors need is a God who is their rock, not pastors who shrink before physical danger. When death seems near, the promise of eternal life must draw nearer. When sickness can lurk in every handshake, the healing hands of the King of kings are the most needed. Our community needs the promise of the gospel more now than ever.

How our church in Hong Kong has responded

But of course, modern scientific understanding does complicate this reality. We are not helping our neighbor if we expose him to lethal germs through our negligence. And indeed, religious institutions have been at the epicenter of COVID-19: in Washington, D.C., the first confirmed case was the Rector of an Episcopal church. Thus, Christians face a two-sided duty: to comfort those who are afflicted, but not to infect the vulnerable. Fortunately, I believe this duty can be faithfully performed.

Our church in Hong Kong has, thankfully, had zero confirmed COVID-19 cases, and we have sought to reduce the odds of transmission by taking steps appropriate for our particular context to love our neighbors in a time of plague. Every attendee has their temperature checked and recorded at the door: a practice which has been adopted in every country which has beaten COVID, like Taiwan, Macau, and Singapore. Our church has also spaced out seating, adopted sanitary communion practices and refrained from passing an offering plate. We have done away with a time of congregational greeting that includes shaking hands (introverts, rejoice!), and all surfaces are regularly disinfected. And these are just a few of the measures we’ve taken. These measures can’t completely guarantee safety in a church. Especially in very large churches with more than a few hundred members, there are virtually no sanitary procedures which can protect congregants. All of these practices are along the lines of CDC has recommended as well, and such measures can greatly reduce the risk of infection.

The point is, we should do whatever we can to take suitable, recommended precautions in order to protect our neighbors.

A refuge in the midst of fear

But COVID-19 is a great opportunity for witness. Our communities are full of scared people. Depression, anxiety, and suicide are all likely to spike in the next few weeks. I can guarantee you of this: COVID-19 comes paired with a mental health epidemic. Bereft of community, the outdoors, work, and school, individuals and families will face an unprecedented assault on their minds. The Church must respond. We must make our services physically safe places, adopting a higher standard of hygiene than wider society, so that we can provide a refuge of mind and spirit to scared people. 

Since COVID-19 is especially dangerous to elders, churches can seize the opportunity to deliver food and basic supplies to older people in their communities so that they don’t have to go out. This will save lives, minister to the spirits of these dear brothers and sisters, and be a witness to all of their watching neighbors.

Since COVID-19 will lead to school cancellations, Christian families can organize parent-shares for small groups of kids, and use these as opportunities for discipleship in the home, which has proven to have an immensely fruitful effect. 

Since COVID-19 will cause many people to be afraid, Christians can, when appropriate, meet friends for dinner or coffee and talk about fear, and the God who casts out all fear. We can explain that we’re just as afraid as everyone else, that we aren’t really very brave people: but Christ died for us. Whom then shall we fear? COVID-19? Hardly.

Since shortages of basic commodities are a guarantee, Christians can set an example of community support. Our churches can pool masks, soap, and other supplies from members, distributing as needed. Our church supplies a week of masks to everyone who shows up on Sunday morning, while many of our church families, including my own family, have more-or-less resolved to share our supplies until there is nothing left. When they have two dollops of hand soap left, Christians give the first one away. 

This is the witness of our ancestors in the faith since time immemorial; this is the path they have walked; this is how we love our neighbors. We love our neighbor as ourselves, even laying down our lives for them. And crucially, this is also how we reduce the spread of COVID-19 without enabling an epidemic of mental health: with strict sanitation, but generous witness. 

By / Feb 3

In May 2015, health officials reported confirmed cases of Zika virus infection in areas of northeast Brazil. By the end of 2015, further reports emerged regarding an increased number of Brazilian infants born with abnormally small heads and neurologic impairment. Since the beginning of the outbreak, active transmission of Zika virus has spread to other regions of the Americas, and health officials indicate that continued spread to the United States is likely. In the face of this threat, here are some basic considerations to help you understand what is happening.

1. What is Zika virus and how is it transmitted?

Zika virus is a mosquito-borne pathogen currently causing outbreaks in several countries in South America, Central America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands. Zika is a flavivirus, which means it is in the same family of viruses as dengue, yellow fever and West Nile viruses. The primary mode of Zika virus transmission is through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito—the same species that can serve as the vector for other tropical and subtropical viruses such as dengue, yellow fever and Chikungunya. Direct transmission of Zika virus through sexual contact has been reported, and it is also likely that pregnant women can pass the infection to infants in the womb.

2. Where did Zika virus come from?

Zika virus is not a new pathogen. It was first identified in a rhesus monkey in 1947 in the Zika Forest of Uganda. Sporadic human infections occurred in Africa and Southeast Asia, and the first human outbreak was recorded on a Micronesian island in 2007. Additional outbreaks in the Pacific Islands occurred, all of which were associated with mild, self-limited disease.

Beginning with the outbreak in Brazil in May 2015, the virus was introduced into new geographic regions conducive to sustained transmission of the infection. Conditions in the newly affected areas in South and Central America are likely to lead to continued spread of the infection because the areas are home to the vector of transmission (the Aedes mosquito), as well as large populations of susceptible people within which the infection can proliferate. Given the likelihood of international travel among asymptomatic infected individuals and the fact that the range of certain species of Aedes mosquitoes extends into southern portions of the United States, it is probable that pockets of local transmission of Zika virus will eventually occur in certain parts of the United States.

3. What medical problems are associated with Zika virus infection?

Most people who become infected with Zika virus have no discernable symptoms and are therefore unaware of the infection. About 20 percent of infected individuals will have clinically apparent disease, but even in these cases the illness is typically mild. The most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis. These symptoms typically begin within one week of being bitten by an infected mosquito. When symptomatic, the illness usually lasts a few days to a week and resolves on its own. In rare cases, infection with Zika virus may act as a trigger for Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), an autoimmune illness characterized by muscle weakness and paralysis. Most people with GBS make a full recovery.

A noteworthy pattern emerging in some areas affected by the current Zika virus outbreak is the increase in the number of infants born with a condition called microcephaly. Microcephaly is a birth defect where a baby is born with an abnormally small head, indicating some degree of impaired brain development during gestation. There are many known causes of microcephaly, including congenital infections (infections passed from a pregnant mother to her developing child while in the womb), poor nutrition and certain drugs or toxins. While the increased incidence of microcephaly in areas of Zika virus outbreak indicate a possible association, it is important to note that microcephaly rates have not yet increased in all areas of outbreak. Zika outbreaks prior to 2015 did not report increases in the incidence of microcephaly. Further investigations are underway in attempt to definitively determine if there is a causal link.

4. What measures are being taken to control the outbreak?

There are no specific antiviral therapies for Zika virus disease. The standard course of care for symptomatic individuals involves supportive therapies such as rest, hydration and fever and pain reducing medications. Eighty percent of infected individuals have no symptoms and require no additional care.

No vaccine is available for the prevention of Zika virus infections in humans. In areas with active or potential Zika virus transmission, the most effective methods of preventing the spread of infection center around avoidance of mosquito bites via mechanical and chemical barriers. Mechanical mosquito barriers include bed nets, air conditioned interior spaces, screened doors and windows, as well as wearing long sleeve shirts and long pants. Chemical interventions are intended to prevent mosquito bites (through the use of insect repellants) and reduce the overall number of mosquitoes present in a community (through pesticide fumigation practices).

While studies of the possible association between infection and birth defects are ongoing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Health Advisory urging pregnant women to postpone travel to areas with active transmission of Zika virus. If postponement of such a trip is not possible, pregnant women or women trying to become pregnant are advised to speak with a healthcare provider prior to traveling and should carefully follow all instructions on how to avoid mosquito bites.

5. How should Christians respond to the Zika virus outbreak?

While the impending spread of Zika virus and the potential harm to congenitally infected infants represent real public health challenges, we should be careful to wisely consider the proposals for infection control and prevention. Commendable responses to this outbreak are marked by resolve, not panic. Yes, we should recognize the potential severity of the threat and act accordingly, but we should also refuse to allow fear to trump our core convictions of compassion and the dignity of all human life.

The avoidance of unnecessary travel into areas of active transmission is a prudent step in curtailing the spread of Zika virus to further areas. And yet, even if we cancel our Brazilian vacations, we would do well to take interest in the growing burden of disease and be willing to come to the aid of others in need. Even as some pray that the outbreak stays “their” problem, others are thinking of ways to partner with affected communities, healthcare workers and researchers to help stop the spread of infection and care for the people impacted by it. Whether serving on the field (as many colleagues in the medical field do in various ways) or contributing in tangible ways from afar, the point is that our response should not be primarily driven by a self-centeredness that neglects the needs of those around us, but by Christ-like compassion for the suffering of others.

In addition to the temptation to ignore the problem and hope it doesn’t come our way, other proposals for mitigating the effects of the outbreak have the potential to raise significant ethical questions. Several countries have recommended that citizens postpone pregnancies while Zika virus continues to circulate. Some of the countries, such as El Salvador, are predominantly Roman Catholic, which potentially puts the government’s recommendation at odds with the religious convictions of many people regarding birth control.

Even if one does not oppose all forms of birth control, it would be wise to consider whether these proposals will cause an increase in the use of abortifacient birth control measures. These measures include birth control medications and devices that have the potential to prevent the development of a fertilized egg, as well as surgical procedures designed specifically to do away with an infant found to have a birth defect in the womb. Sacrificing the life of an offspring to avoid the possibility of infection or the prospect of living with disability is a wicked trade. The God-given dignity of human life is more valuable than having our fear of earthly suffering assuaged.