Navigating Fear, Faith, & Love: 3 Ways We As Christians Should Respond to the Coronavirus Outbreak
Coronavirus is spreading fast. Schools are being shut down. Events have been cancelled. And governments all over the globe are buckling down in an attempt to halt the pandemic.
How are we as Christians to respond? While God’s world seems to be in panic, how are God’s people to act?
In this post—the first of a series of posts by our CNCC pastors this week—I will give three Christian responses, which, taken together, I hope will give us a general guide as we seek to navigate in this pressing time, for God’s glory and our neighbor’s good.
1. We Redirect Fear
First, the situation leads us to address the issue of fear. Fear is at the root of the panic, driving much of the alarm we see in the media. People are scared. Although we still aren’t sure of hospitalization and fatality rates for coronavirus, and although we can agree there may be misinformation and exaggeration in the news, nevertheless, the numbers are still alarming—enough to cause the world to halt like it has. So, this is a virus to be taken seriously.
But is fear the right response?
As Christians, we first must answer with a resounding, “No.” Many of us, particularly in churches and on social media, have sounded this trumpet: We are not to fear this virus; we are not to panic.
But then, surprising and provocative as it sounds, we as Christians must also say, “Yes, fear is a right response to this all.” The Bible leads us to both—to a fearless fearfulness, if you will—and both are beneficial for us and our world. Here’s what I mean.
Do Not Fear the Coronavirus
If the question is, "Are we as Christians to be afraid of the coronavirus; are we to panic like many are who don’t know Christ?", then the answer is a resounding “No.” “Fear not” is one of the most repeated commands in the Bible, and for good reason. We do not live in a God-less world, or a world where God has his hands tied behind his back. If we did, then we’d have little hope, with ample reason to fear.
Instead, we live in a world where God is really there, he is actually is in control of everything, and he is truly good. This is reality—as real as the coronavirus is our personal God who is in control of everything, including the coronavirus. We need not fear anything that occurs, because in everything—even in pestilence and disaster (e.g. see Amos 3:6; Lamentations 3:38)—our good God is in control with his gracious purposes, working all things for the good of his children (Romans 8:28).
As the Lord is in control of every falling sparrow, so he also is in control of every virus molecule. As Jesus said, “Fear not, therefore” (Matthew 10:31). He’s got this.
When Fear Is Positive In the Bible
But we’d be amiss if we stopped there when discussing the biblical concept of fear. While it’s true that God often commands us to “fear not,” have you ever noticed that God also does command us to fear again and again in the Bible? In fact, this is one of the greatest, most commonplace commands from God: “Fear…” But it’s the object of our fear that is so important: We are to “fear the Lord.”
Take the Psalms for example. The psalmists sometimes beautifully lead us not to fear. In Psalm 23 for example: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). Or the beginning to Psalm 46, which is particularly applicable to the present coronavirus outbreak: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way” (Psalm 46:1-2).
So when it comes to troubles and uncertainties in the world, we are not to fear. Yet more often in the Psalms, the word “fear” is taken positively. It is something we should do. And the amount of times this is so is overwhelmingly on the side of fear being a positive, praiseworthy action. To show this, consider these statistics from the book of Psalms:
- The psalmists use the word “fear” 68 times in the Psalms.
- Only 8 times is the word “fear” used as something to avoid, as a negative feeling, such as in Psalm 46:2 above (“We will not fear though the earth gives way”).
- But 60 times the word “fear” is used as a positive, right feeling. And an astounding 58 of those times are about fearing the Lord.
In other words, apparently we are biblically lop-sided if we believe fear itself bad. God doesn’t. God’s people shouldn’t. Instead, when we read our God-given prayer book, we see fearing God as a celebrated reality—as something that is to be sought, admired, and even rejoiced over.
Redirecting Our Fear
What does this all mean? It means that when discussing coronavirus and fear, the answer is not merely to “not fear.” Of course, that’s correct in context—we are not to fear this virus or its implications. Our good God is in control. But the fuller response as Christians is to redirect our fear.
We are to take that feeling of fear and recognize that the same I’m-not-in-control-and-I-need-help feeling we get from coronavirus should instead be directed toward God. Because think about it: What is fear? Fear is a feeling that something superior to you is actually in control of your life and future. It’s a feeling that comes when you recognize that you don’t have a foolproof schedule, that you aren’t in complete control of your life or your health, that you can’t fully protect and provide and plan—that you are finite and fallen, and that your life is not as solid and guaranteed as you wished. And that you need help.
But feeling all that isn’t a bad thing, because it’s true. We aren’t in control. We don’t know the future. We do need help. So, we fear.
The question isn’t: Do you fear? It instead is: What or who are you fearing? Where are those feelings of "I need help" directed? Are they directed toward coronavirus—does coronavirus make you feel like you aren’t in control?—or are they directed toward God—do you look at our good God and realize he’s in control, you aren’t, and rely on him?
Throughout our lives we each have a choice. We either take that innate human feeling of fear and 1) look to circumstances, 2) look to our own control, or 3) look to the Lord. Those are our three options. It’s the Christian who chooses to fear the Lord. We do not fear circumstances (they're far too transient). We do not look to ourselves for our solidity (we're far too unstable). Instead, by God’s grace, we direct our fear and awe and I'm-not-in-control emotions toward our good and totally-in-control God.
We know he is loving. We know that he is huge. We know he is reliable and trustworthy. So, we fear him. And we wouldn’t want it any other way.
No wonder, then, that fearing the Lord is an overwhelmingly positive characteristic in the Bible. “Happy is the one who fears the Lord” (Psalm 112:1). It’s only when we take that feeling—a feeling that many of us are naturally having toward the coronavirus right now—and apply it to God that we find true peace, hope, and even happiness. He alone is a secure rock. He alone is huge and in control. He alone is to be feared. “Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints!” (Psalm 34:9)
2. We Live by Faith
Which brings us to our second response to the coronavirus outbreak as Christians: We live and walk by faith. Faith is trusting in God—in his goodness, his total control, and his plans. And it’s the result of fearing God: We recognize God’s supremacy, goodness, and control, and so we trust him. “You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord!” (Psalm 115:11).
But what does this mean for our current situation? What is involved biblically when we say we're "people of faith"? Many things, but for our current concern with coronavirus, we’ll point out two aspects of biblical faith. First, faith is ultimately trusting in God (and not in circumstances or yourself). And second, faith spurs us to act (and not be passive).
As for the first, when we say faith is ultimately trusting in God, we mean that, although the world may panic and fear the virus, and although society may put its hope and trust in policies, social distancing, and time, we ultimately put our faith in God. In Jesus. As Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1). Our God is the object of our trust and our hope. We rely ultimately on his word and his ways.
But that leads us to the second aspect of biblical faith. Second, biblical faith is a trust in God that leads to action. Always. This is why Paul doesn’t just talk about Christians having faith, he says we “live by faith” (Romans 1:17; Galatians 2:20) and “walk by faith” (2 Corinthians 5:7). This is why our Lord’s brother, James, can say, “I will show you my faith by my works” (James 1:18). And this is why the famous Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 is full of people who didn’t merely have faith, but acted by their faith (“By faith Abraham…By faith Moses…By faith…”).
Our faith is not passive. It can't be. Truly believing that God is ultimately in control and good and on our side will lead us to live and act accordingly. Our actions then will take many forms (see once again see Hebrews 11 for various examples). But our faith, by definition, cannot be dead and action-less (James 2:26). There is a reason the now-famous idiom “Let go and let God” is not in the Bible. We Christians walk and live and do and pray and read our Bibles and serve and struggle against selfishness—all by faith.
What exactly does this faith-filled action look like? That leads us to our final response.
3. We Walk in Love
We do not fear the virus or the circumstance, we fear the Lord, we live and act and do by faith. But what is the breathtaking pinnacle of the Christian’s life? Where is this all going? Love. This is our final and greatest response.
Our clarion call from our Leader as we respond to the coronavirus outbreak is to be people of love. Love is the culmination of fearing the Lord and of having faith in the Lord. It’s not mainly about who we say we are, or about how spiritual we say we’ve been, or about how much faith we say we have, it’s about our true faith which evidences itself in love: “For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6)
What does this look like in our current situation? It means we will pray. It means we will put others first. But besides these general principles, there is Christian freedom concerning what love will look like for each of us. Because the Bible does not address the coronavirus outbreak in the winter and spring of 2019-2020, each Christian—and each church—will have to decide, prayerfully before God, what it looks like for them to love in this situation. It may involve social distancing. It may mean submitting to quarantine for a time. It may give rise to intentionality in calling and praying specifically for those at high risk. It may entail buying groceries for a family in need. It may include giving generously to someone who lost their job because of the outbreak. And the list could go on.
But whatever the specifics, God’s love through us will be beautifully displayed when we, the church, seek to be humble and wise and gracious and generous and prepared and prayerful, with purpose and planning about how we can love—first our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and then the world which so desperately is longing for a better, more solid hope.
We will not act out of fear of the virus, we will not think that God has lost control, but we will act and make decisions, even very hard and perhaps sacrificial ones, in love. Such actions and decisions of love must be rooted in faith, soaked in prayer, empowered by grace, and, to the best of our ability, drenched in Bible-centered wisdom, but above all they must be genuine love—for God’s glory and our neighbor’s good.
Will We Heed God’s Call?
With all that being said, we do well to realize that, in essence, how we are to respond to the coronavirus outbreak is nothing new. It has always been the call of the church to be the church, to be God’s people shining forth God into God’s world. God is primary—we fear him. God is our object of faith—we trust him. And God’s love is our display—so we act in love for his glory and people’s good.
The difference in our present situation is how this coronavirus outbreak has ramped us the stakes. Will we, by God’s grace, heed his call to demonstrate we’re his people? Will we be people who fear the Lord or fear the virus, who trust God's goodness and control or look elsewhere for hope, who walk in love toward the church and the world or live in selfishness? It is these questions we must answer, by our words and works.
Who is sufficient for these things? Not us. We’re weak. We’re sinful and needy. We can’t do this on our own. And yet, at the same time, who is sufficient for these thing? Us. God’s grace is powerful in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:10), and, as Paul said so well, “Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:16-17). So it’s true, we can’t do it on our own. But by God’s grace, we can—full “of sincerity, as commissioned by God”—heed our Lord’s call. We must and we will.
As God’s church, then, let's aim to biblically navigate fear, faith, and love in this trying time, for however long our Lord sees fit for this coronavirus outbreak to continue.
It's a high calling, but we have our God on our side. And what a reason to be alive.
Article also published on Pastor Ryan's blog at lookingatchrist.com.
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