Pandemics, Fear, and the Scriptures March 14 2020

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

I have been reluctant to write about anything related to the Coronavirus, as the situation changes so rapidly from day to day. But on the other hand, we know that the Scriptures provide us with certainty for how to live with peace and contentment in a world that is full of uncertainties. This makes the Coronavirus a perfect opportunity to see what God has to say about uncertainties, and how to deal with the fears that a pandemic can bring to the surface.

Indeed, the Coronavirus has created a high level of worldwide anxiety, and we are not used to seeing such uncertainty at this scale. But each of us has faced significant uncertainties in our own lives, and for many of us, that means multiple times within our lifetimes. It might have involved the loss of a job, a severe or sudden illness, a home foreclosure, a serious accident, the loss of a child or parent or spouse, or a broken relationship.

I still remember sitting in the waiting room when Shashi was in the hospital early in her first pregnancy and hearing the speaker announce “code blue.” Or the time I answered the phone on Christmas eve many years ago when the police officer said “I want to let you know they are alive, but ….“ Shashi’s mom and sister had been in a serious traffic collision. It is amazing how quickly your mind can imagine all the potential ramifications after you hear the “but” at the end of that initial statement. All the worst possible outcomes flash before your eyes at that moment.

And in large part, that is what we have with the Coronavirus: a lot of unknowns, a lot of unanswered questions, and a lot of thoughts and actions by people in response to those uncertainties. While the Coronavirus may be nothing different than the other uncertainties we have faced in our personal lives, it somehow seems different when the uncertainty is so pervasive worldwide. But the Scriptures are there to provide powerful assurance and hope in the midst of uncertainty, whether at a worldwide or individual scale.

The Lord reminds us through His Word, that our thoughts and actions should not be driven by fear, and that love is the spiritual antidote to fear. Let’s take 1 John 4:18 for example:

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.”

The real key to biblical success against any temptation, such as fear, is to “lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:22-24). There isn’t time or space to explain this in detail here, but BCF’s Self-Confrontation Lesson 7 provides a complete explanation of the biblical principles surrounding the “put-offs” and “put-ons” in Scripture. 

In the case of dealing with fear, 1 John 4:18 states that love is the biblical put-on for fear.  Just focusing on the put-off, such as thinking “I’m not going to be afraid; I’m not going to be afraid” is not going to help much. In fact, it actually keeps our attention on all the bad things that could happen, rather than on the biblical solution, which is to put on love. A focus on what can happen to ourselves is the path to continued fear; a selfless focus on love for the Lord and others is what “casts out fear.”

In addition to that, crises and uncertainties like the Coronavirus present an unusual opportunity for Christians to show the community how love for others really works. So how do we “put on love” when the temptations toward anxiety and fear about the Coronavirus are so present? Some example practical put-ons that might apply to fears over Coronavirus include:

  • Out of love, checking on senior citizens in your church or neighborhood (who have been more vulnerable to the Coronavirus than others)
  • Out of love, doing the little things to protect and encourage others, even when inconvenient for you: washing hands, keeping your distance, not grumbling about the canceling of events
  • Out of love, listening to what other precautions authorities are saying to take, while not hoarding supplies that need to be more widely distributed (it’s a total mystery why there is a run on toilet paper)
  • Out of love, helping children to adapt to the changes in routine and reminding them that sometimes sacrifices are necessary in the short term to achieve a better outcome in the long term. This is an important life lesson.
  • Out of love, making shopping runs for those who need to stay at home, or being observant about needs others have around us. I heard a news report today about an older couple who was waiting for almost an hour in a car in the parking lot of a store for someone who could go inside the store and buy them a few things. A lady finally came by who recognized their plight and brought the items out to them so that they didn’t have to mix with other customers.
  • Out of love, encouraging pastors who are trying to figure out what to do about church services and other activities, now that states are prohibiting large gatherings

That said, there are also some practical put-offs. We need to recognize that the media, while providing a useful service of keeping us informed, also has a tendency toward emphasis on drama, conflict, and sometimes even incitement to fear. Simply put, drama is good for business. Yet we should not be drawn into emotion-based responses, but gather enough facts to make wise decisions. And if the news is tempting you to fear, there is a simple answer to that, as long as you also have the information you need to make wise choices.

There are other scriptures about thoughts, speech, and actions to “put on” in the place of anxiety and fear. We’ll get to those in the next blog. But one thing you can do for now is prepare for those times when thoughts of anxiety and fear seem like they are closing in on you. As a believer, you have wonderful resources available through the Word of God, the Holy Spirit, and prayer. We should apply those resources to the building up of the body of Christ, and in so doing, we will counter the temptation to fear. We will see next time that God designed Scripture memory as one of the ways the Holy Spirit can use when we are tempted to fear in our thought life (see Jesus’ words in John 14:26 – “the Holy Spirit will … bring to your remembrance all that I said to you”). You can start with memorizing 1 John 4:18, but we’ll get to others as well.

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Steve Smith