There is something new in the air in the world and in the USA. It is the spirit of fear. The
coronavirus and the resulting economic consequences have created a spirit of fear. Nations have reacted in some cases by closing borders and shutting schools. Italy has shut down in isolation a whole nation. Investors who want an economic world without surprises have no way of knowing how this virus will impact us. They don’t know how severe it will be or how long the disruptions will last. Fear is that painful emotional reaction to the threat that someone or something will cause pain, a threat that has many sources right now.
The Bible calls fear a spirit in 2 Timothy 1:7, but it says fear is not a spirit from God. 2 Timothy 1:7 states, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” Fear in a healthy forms causes us to humble ourselves before God in a spirit of repentance, trust, and obedience as we put our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Fear of God leads to peace. But fear for anything else is debilitating.
We see in this verse all the negative reactions fear creates. Fear makes us feel powerless
against the things, people, circumstances that face us. Fear can make anything we do seem futile. Fear also robs us of the sense we are loved and cared for. Fear makes God seem distant and not interested in intervening in circumstances. Fear isolates us from others and the community of loving support God designed for us in Christ through the church. Fear makes us irrational, and we make poor choices. Fear makes us lose perspective beyond the moment. Fear often turns us to the worst case scenario as being the most likely outcome.
As we look at the current threats to us, there are two extremes we must avoid. One is the spirit of fear and panic that would have us wildly overreacting. One person I heard bought enough food so that he could live for a year on what he bought. Panic-buying is emptying store shelves. Of all the things most feared scarce is toilet paper. Open fights have broken out over the last rolls of toilet paper in stores. Fear can lead us to isolate ourselves from others. Fear in the financial world can lead us to panic-selling that makes the crisis only worse. Fear leads to anger and blame. We must stand against the panic and unwise reactions that fear creates.
The other extreme to avoid is denial. We see some seeking to minimize the threat as if it is a creation of a conspiracy. It’s being called “fake news,” a plot by the media to spread panic. It’s being called a conspiracy somehow forged to keep President Trump from being reelected. But it was not fake news that shut down China, that has led all schools to be closed in South Korea and Japan, has led an entire nation of 90 million, Italy, to shut itself totally down. It is no invented conspiracy that has already taken over 4,700 lives. It is no invented conspiracy that has taken lives in nursing homes in Washington and is rapidly spreading in parts of the USA beyond what we know as we are so late in making tests available. Some say more will die from the flu, but the reality is that this virus is ten times more deadly than the flu according to the Center for Disease Control Director in the USA. To deny this reality and to wink at the danger is not helpful. This is a virus that no one has antibodies to resist. It is highly contagious. Angela Merkel, the German government leader, expects 70% of Germans to have the virus. This is a genuine risk to public health and even life itself, and it requires we take the proper precautions
to limit the spread and treat those infected. What Italy is finding is that there are not enough medical beds and professionals to treat the massive numbers that come. We must not deny the reality and its danger.
As Christians we do not give in to a spirit of fear, but we do need a spirit of wisdom. The Bible tells us in Leviticus 13-15 how to deal with highly contagious diseases. In Leviticus it was skin diseases and mold in houses. People with symptoms were to self isolate and go to a priest to get tested. Priests were trained by the Word of God in how to recognize infectious diseases. People identified with contagious disease were to warn people by dress and words that they were unclean and people were to avoid contact with them. They were isolated from the rest of the camp until they were symptom free and certified by a priest. The Bible also recognized that viruses can be transferred to surfaces people touched. Their clothes were to be washed and if they showed evidence of continued contamination they were to be destroyed. Houses evidencing mold were to be cleaned, removing plaster and impacted stones. If after this houses still showed evidence of mold they were to be torn down and put in a place outside contact. Nowhere were Israelites told to minimize the danger or act as if they could not be infected. They were to act wisely and isolate those with infectious diseases until they were symptom free. The church should lead in supporting the necessary steps that need to be taken to protect as many people as possible from infectious diseases. There is a huge difference between faith and foolish denial of reality.
As Christians we do not give into fear, but do yield to wisdom and to restrict as many people as possible from exposure. We also meet the challenge with bold faith, full of the promise from 2 Timothy 1:7 that God gives us a spirit of power, love, and sound thinking. The Bible knows that faith and fear cannot coexist. The Bible also knows that times of fear in society are times for Christians to demonstrate faith, and to reach out to others with the peace and hope that are offered by God to all who call on Jesus in genuine faith.
Jesus specifically called on His disciples to not live in fear but to live in the peace He gives. In John 14:1-7, Christians are called to not let our hearts be troubled. Jesus begins with our ultimate hope of life in Jesus that is eternal. Jesus says He has gone ahead to prepare a place for us in the New Jerusalem. He has prepared a way to that place by faith in Him, and He is prepared to take us to that place as death comes or He comes for the church to take us all home. The reality is, apart from the return of Jesus for His church, we will all die from something. Every Christian before us has died. But we do not fear death, as we know to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). We know also we will have enabling grace when the moment of death comes, and that grace will be enough (2 Corinthians 12:9). I have been in death’s presence for Christians, and I have seen that triumphant witness. So we do not live in fear because the worst that can happen to our body is that we die, and we know that moment will bring us into the presence of the real treasure in life, the Lord Jesus Christ. For us to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).
We also do not fear because we know nothing in life can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:37-39). Jesus promised we who are His disciples two kinds of peace. He said as recorded in John 14:26, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” The first kind of peace that Jesus gives is the foundation for all else. The word “leave” is in a verb form that says it is one time peace established in the past. The peace Jesus leaves is peace with God because we have an everlasting righteousness before God through the sufficient sacrifice of Jesus to satisfy the righteous requirement of the law for those who have sinned. We have a righteousness before God that cannot be lost or taken. The blood of Jesus is enough to cleanse us for all time for our sin. In the books kept on each of us in heaven is written the word “righteous”. This peace of the cross is the peace that all other kinds of peace flow from.
Jesus then promises there is a peace He gives. The word “gives” is in the continual present. It is the shepherding care of Jesus for His disciples in this life. The Bible teaches that life is not random, nothing can come into a Christian’s life apart from the permission of God and for everything that comes into a Christian’s life there is a grace that will enable a Christian not only to make it but to do so triumphantly (Romans 8:37-39). Thus we do not fear what life might bring because we know Jesus is with us, and He will shepherd us through it with His life abundant.
While life for a Christian is not random, we know that God’s will for each of us is unique (John 21:22). We know that in other worldwide pandemics or plagues in the past, some Christians have caught the plague and died. Some Christians have caught the disease and recovered. Some were exposed and did not develop the disease. God has purpose in each life. We saw in the Early Church in Acts that when persecution came, God’s will for each was different. James, the brother of John, was the first Apostle martyred. Peter was miraculously delivered from prison at the same time. John, the brother of James, was the only Apostle to die a natural death which he did as an old man. The difference was not the faith of any one of them but that the will of God was unique for each, as it is for us.
We also know as Christians that God is at work in all things in the lives of those who love Him and called according to His purpose. It doesn’t say all things are good, because some terrible things will happen to Christians. We have to understand what God considers to be good. God has only one definition of good, and that is to know Him and His love in Jesus Christ. Since that is the only good, there can only be one thing that could happen that is evil, and that is if there is anything that could separate us from God and His love. The rest of Romans 8 declares that nothing in this life or in the life to come will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
We also know the good God is doing in all things. We know that God is at work bringing us more and more into intimacy in our relationship with Him (Romans 8:28). We know that God is at work making us more like Jesus (Romans 8:29). All the difficulties in life are part of His refining work on our character. We know that in all things God is at work in our lives to be a witness to others (Romans 8:36). Crisis becomes a great time for us to proclaim the reason for the hope we have in Jesus (1 Peter 3:15). We also know that going through times of crisis and finding the help of God in it equips us to share with others how they also can find that comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). We have relevance not because God kept us from all the hard times, but because we have a witness of how God keeps us through all the hard times.
As Christians we also know that this worldwide disease and resulting economic crisis is a sign of the times and that God is bringing all things to their grand climax. Jesus warned us that in the last days there will be times of increasing crisis. Creation is like a woman in the last stages of birth: the closer to the end, the more frequent and intense are the birth pangs (Matthew 24:8). Absolutely everything the Bible described about the last generation are true right now. The key has been the focus on Jerusalem the capital of a reborn Israel. But all the other supporting signs are only increasing. We are not in the final seven years of the Great Tribulation, but we are so close you can feel its coming like thunder of an approaching storm that is getting closer and closer. We know from Revelation 6:7-8 that the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse will bring through sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts will bring death to a fourth of the world population. We are at 7.7 billion right now, which means we will see the death of close to 2 billion people. The world’s woe in their rebellion against Jesus are unfortunately just getting
We also know the futility of any one nation to protect against the virus is leading the opportunity for a world super leader to come in with a plan to bring the nations together. We know the global economy is so interrelated that economies won’t prosper unless a world wide plan is embraced. I expect soon for a surprising world leader to be offered with support by other world leaders and the world’s religious leaders. This is a plan long ago developed just waiting for the right world crisis that will create the opportunity.
For Christians this is a time to stay calm. It is a time to be wise. It is a time to be bold with our hope in Christ. It is a time for compassion and help for those who are suffering. It is a time to be bold in the witness of the hope we have in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. It is a time to pray. It is a time to look up, for the coming of Jesus is so soon.