COVID-19: Fear vs. Hope

Question

I’m a Christian so I don't fear death because I know where I'm going. But I fear the unknown and Coronavirus (COVID-19). How should I confront my fear?

Answer

Most people don’t have to be taught to fear. It’s a built-in natural reaction to many things. Fear in and of itself is not necessarily a sin, but our response to it may be.

It’s proper and even healthy to fear certain things. I live in a Florida neighborhood where there is a large alligator that's been nick-named “Big Bubba.” He's a good 16 feet long and has very large teeth. Big Bubba certainly evokes a certain amount of anxiety in you and this serves to make you stay away from him. This is a good healthy fear to have.

There are many fears that God’s people can have, but we should learn to deal with them in a biblical way. While we should be concerned and responsible during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) health crisis, we shouldn’t respond to it unbiblically. Paul tells us that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7). He is not saying that events like the COVID-19 virus shouldn’t naturally concern us. They should! What he is telling us is that such events shouldn’t rule over and consume our lives.

Genuine godly concern shouldn’t be mixed with anxiety or dread, but rather with godly hope and faith, which is the “power and love and self-control” Paul referred to. While we should continue to learn what to do to combat COVID-19 (cf. Hos. 4:6), we shouldn’t panic. Why? Because, God is with us and this means his love, grace, mercy, goodness and power are with us continually as well (cf. Psa. 23:4-6). As Christian believers even death itself is not to be feared, because "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:8; cf. Prov. 14:32; 2 Cor. 5:6; Phil. 1:23). (Please see, “Is Coronavirus the final frontier?” below.)

Since our help comes from the Lord (Psa. 121:1-8) there are a few biblical truths that we should always keep in mind and not just during emergencies:

God is Sovereign

Since, we live in a fallen world, such things such as sickness, disease, epidemics, and pandemics shouldn’t surprise us. (Please see, “Is Coronavirus the final frontier?” below.)

In the Bible we see God working through the fallenness of our world in such things as plagues (Exod. 7:17, 8:2, 8:21, 11:1; Josh. 24:6-7) and personal loss (Job 1:13-19; 2:1-10). Even the suffering of Jesus on the cross was ordained by God (Acts 2:22-24; 4:27-28; 1 Pet. 1:20; cf. Psa. 22:1-2 [Matt. 27:46]; Psa. 22:7-8 [Matt. 27:41-44]; Psa. 22:15 [Matt. 27:48]; Psa. 22:17-18 [John 19:23]; Psa. 41:9 [Mark 14:10]; Isa. 53:3 [John 1:10-11]; Isa. 53:7 [Mark 15:5]; Zech. 11:12 [Matt. 26:14-16]). God was glorified in many ways: the destruction of Pharaoh (Rom. 9:17) and the deliverance of his people in the Red Sea (Exod. 14:30-31; 15:1, 21); Job’s acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty in his suffering (Job 38:4-7, 8-11, 12-15, 16-18); Christ saving of his own people (Matt. 1:21; John 1:29; Acts 13:38; Col. 1:20); and even in Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7, 9-10).

We may not completely understand why such a pandemic has come upon our world, but from redemptive history we do know that God is still in absolute control (cf. Psa. 135:6; Prov. 16:33; Eph. 1:11; Heb. 1:3). God is sovereign over the Coronavirus. We should rest in this!

Trust in God

God is sovereign — omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful) and omnipresent (everywhere). He can’t lie. Therefore we have every reason to trust him. As the Psalmist says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (Psa. 56:3). And God will never forsake his people (Heb. 13:5). We can meditate on his Word with absolute confidence that he is in control and telling us the truth. Consider these verses:

Deuteronomy 31:8: It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.

Psalm 27:1: The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 34:4: I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 118:6: The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?

Isaiah 41:10: Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

John 14:27: 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.

Romans 8:38-39: For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

By mediating upon the truth, we grow in faith (cf. Rom. 10:17). Genuine faith trumps fear (Mark 4:40).

The Bible also teaches we are not to worry about what will happen tomorrow (Matt. 6:34). God promises to meet our needs (Phil. 4:19). This doesn't mean we won’t be affected by COVID-19; however, it does mean we don’t have to worry about it if we are. Even in the worst-case scenario — death itself — we know we have an eternal inheritance (1 Pet. 1:3-5).

Prayer and Praise

For such a time as this, Paul gives us an elementary, second-by-second truth: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16-19). Jesus taught us how to pray (Matt. 6:5-15). In prayer we acknowledge our complete dependence on the Lord and he gloriously brings about his will to his own glory. And while prayer never changes God’s eternal decrees, it plays a significant part in his providential plan for his precious creation (cf. Jas. 5:16). Prayer changes things. It changes people and events (Jas. 5:17-18). It stirs the hearts of God’s people to faith, hope and good works. We should pray on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests (Eph. 6:18). God uses prayer as a means to bring about his own divine purposes.

The psalmist here gives us the antidote for ungodly fear: “Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting” (Psa. 147:1). Yes, praise! In a time when an enemy virus is invading the world, we should recall when Habakkuk was fearful that his country would be invaded by an enemy. Habakkuk describes his fear vividly in Habakkuk 3:16: “I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us.” Can’t you just feel his concern and literal terror – quivering lips, intensely painful disease (rottenness in the bones), trembling legs! Still, as he waited patiently for the Lord’s answer, what did he do? He worshipped God and reflected on his sovereign power: “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places.” (Habakkuk 3:18-19).

Be a Doer, Not Just a Hearer

James understood that salvation was through grace alone (Jas. 1:18), but he also agreed with others like Paul that God has saved us for a purpose (Eph. 2:10). It’s not enough just to hear the gospel (Jas. 2:14-16; cf. Matt. 25:31-48). James says, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas. 2:17). During such a time as this, there will be many ways to apply the gospel.

It’s never too late to get involved. We may not be able to go to church, but we can still be the church; be a valid source of information; practice personal hygiene; contribute to employees that are out of work; the elderly need special assistance today and we can help look after them. Perhaps we can safely deliver their groceries or medications for them. Or maybe just a phone call or email to see how they are doing is enough to encourage them and let them know help is available. We also can safely look after our neighbors in similar ways — friends at work, even strangers, the homeless, prisoners in jails (cf. Matt. 25:31-46). Even our own families may need our assistance. Don’t just give to charities. Please get personally (but safely) involved.

Don’t Focus on Fear

While we are renewing our minds and works with the truths above (Rom. 12:1-2), we shouldn’t let fear be our focus (cf. Josh. 1:6-9). Reflecting upon few r engenders more fear. We can talk ourselves into a pandemic of fear if all we do is focus upon it. Yet we should be informed about what is happening in the world. We need to listen to the news (general revelation). We need to be properly informed about things that are happening in our specific communities. True general revelation is also God’s truth (it’s important to know if Big Bubba is in your front yard).

While disregarding disinformation we should be aware of good facts and we should also look beyond them to where God desires us to be. When I was younger I used to ride motorcycles. For the safety of others and myself, I attended a motorcycle safety course. A general principle was taught there: you go where you look. A motorcycle tends to go in the direction you are looking, so a rider has to learn to think of their eyes as part of their steering system. When you want to turn, you look through the turn to a point where you want the motorcycle to ultimately end up.

The same is true spiritually. Regarding COVID-19, be equipped with as many facts as possible of both special and general revelation (see below), but look through the "COVID-19 turn" to the ultimate end of where God desires us to be focused. What should we focus on? Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8-9: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” This continual process of looking through the turns of life towards God’s will keep us upright and riding for God’s glory!

O felix morbus (O fortunate disease)

For many, this will be a peculiar phrase. However, God is good; he is not the author of evil (Jas. 1:13-14). (Please see “Why the possibility of evil in creation?” below.) And since he is all-knowing, in a manner of speaking he has already looked through the "COVID-19 turn." He already knows what lies beyond it and what he will accomplish during this difficult time. While the world is unraveling before all of us, he’s still in full control. Ultimately, God will be glorified by COVID-19.

So, what great thing(s) is God accomplishing in you and through you with this pandemic?

Related Topics

Is Coronavirus the final frontier?
What are special and general revelation?
Why the possibility of evil in creation?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).