You may have heard about this little thing called a coronavirus. Specifically, the current coronavirus is named COVID-19. COVID-19 is not the first coronavirus, and it likely will not be the last. A coronavirus will infect both animals and humans. Currently, seven different types exist, with four of those causing symptoms like the common cold. In fact, many of our colds are related to one of these viruses.
But more recent coronaviruses have caused more problems. In 2002, the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) coronavirus infected nearly 8100 people in 24 countries, killing nearly 800. No cases of SARS have been reported since 2004. However, the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) became known in 2012 and has since infected around 2500 individuals, with over 1/3 of those people dying. 27 countries have identified the MERS virus.
Other viruses, such as the so-called “bird flu” and “swine flu,” have impacted our world over the past couple of decades. And one of the worst epidemics was the Spanish Flu of 1918. It is estimated that 500 million people worldwide were infected and somewhere between 20 to 50 million people died. This pandemic came on the heals of some 20 million people dying during WW1.
But this new virus, has the attention of the world. It started in China (as did SARS), and has now spread to more than 100 countries. This week COVID-19 went from an epidemic (upon the people) to pandemic (all people). Some have estimated that as many as 45% of Americans will get the virus. In raw numbers terms, that is 150 million – Americans.
And this pandemic is causing fear and disruption in ways our world has never seen. Certainly, our world has seen major catastrophes before. Earthquakes, famines, plagues, wars (including two World Wars), terrorist attacks, etc., have all caused disruptions for days, weeks, and years. But nothing in the history of the world has caused this level of change so quickly. Decisions are changing by the hour as to how people and organizations are responding. And those decisions will continue to be made in the days and weeks (if not months) ahead.
So, what is our response? Not as a part of the people, but as the church? How should we respond?
Our response should be two-fold – a trust in God and a love for others.
Trust in God
Read Psalm 56.
A follower of Christ should focus first on trusting in God. Fear is real, but it should not rule.
Fear is probably the strongest emotion because once it grips us it does not let go. And, of course, fear is not something the Bible condones. In fact, famously, the Bible records the idea of not being afraid or not having fear 365 times – one for each day of the year. But this is Leap Year, so I guess we get to have fear for one day.
Fear may not be right, but it is natural. But we must also keep it in perspective. Some will call fear a sin, and I understand the rationale. Let me first explain a part of the rationale, but then let me show you from Scripture why I do not believe it is a sin.
First, ultimately fear is the result of a lack of trust in someone or something. Second, the Bible says “do not fear” which is very similar language to “do not lie” or “do not steal” or “do not commit adultery.” But lying, stealing, and adultery are choices we make to do. Fear is a natural response. Just like anger. Thus, as Paul says, in your anger, do not sin. Likewise, I think we can say, “in your fear, do not sin.” Yes, the sin would be different, but the principle is the same.
For instance, David had fear, but he knew where to turn in the midst of that fear. In Psalm 56.3, David say, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” This verse was the first verse I taught our children. By the time they were two or three, they had this verse memorized. Mommy and daddy could not always be there for them, but God would be.
What is great about this chapter is that David never confesses a sin or repents for his fear. At least not directly like he does in Psalm 51. In fact, if you look at Psalm 56, David begins with why he is afraid, then makes his declaration of trust, and then shares more details about why he is afraid. He may have stated his intention to trust in God, but that has not freed his mind from the perils around him. He realizes that simply stating he trusts in God does not remove him from danger. BUT – and this is key – He does not let that danger or fear cripple him.
Notice the structure of this Psalm.
Verses 1-2: He asks God to watch over him because of his enemies. That is, David acknowledges his fear and plainly states it to God.
Verses 3-4: David acknowledges God is greater than His fears.
Verses 5-7: Having acknowledged God, and his desire to trust God, David details why he is afraid.
Verses 8-13: David acknowledges why He can trust in God. David acknowledges that he will trust in God.
A Psalm with 13 verses has 5 verses about the reality of fear. But it has 8 verses about the reality of God triumphing over fear.
38% of the verses talk about fear. That is important. David does not share one verse about fear, then acknowledge a desire to trust God and the fear is instantly gone. A holier-than-thou Christian might think that our response should be 1% fear, and 99% trust. And frankly, maybe it should be. But the reality is that David, the mighty warrior, the man who slayed thousands of people, expressed his fear – openly and honestly.
But David had more trust in God than he did fear. Because 38% of this Psalm addressed fear, over 60% addressed the goodness of God. Again, I am sure some Christians in our world today will say David was weak by only mentioning God’s power over fear 60% of the time. I am glad those Christians have it all figured out and never have any fear. Because you know what, I don’t have the level of faith they have. Frankly, I am not overly concerned about the coronavirus personally, but I have my own challenges, including the fact that I serve a church that has many people who are much older than I and are in the higher risk category for contracting and being affected by the virus.
Now, I do not want the virus. And I will take precautions to avoid contracting the virus. But that fear is not my biggest fear. And yet, whatever fear you may have, the example David gives us in Psalm 56, is that we can have very legitimate fears. And even in the midst of fully trusting God, we may honestly and openly express those fears. And when we do so, we may help others to better process their fears as well.
Love of Neighbor
The second response during this time of crisis – and it is a crisis – is that we should love our neighbor.
Several months ago, when I was preaching on the parable of the Good Samaritan, I made following statement: We cannot love the people we label, and we will not label the people we love.
On Friday, I saw a statistic that a much higher percentage of Democrats fear contracting the virus than Republicans. That is one of the most stupid studies and statements I have ever heard. Who cares? People are getting sick and dying and instead of focusing on this being an issue affecting people all over the world regardless of races, religions, and political leanings, and people are making this political. That isn’t love. That is manipulation.
Again, people are afraid. Certainly, some are more fearful than others, but we do not need to beat down on people for their fears. We need to love them through it. Let me give an example.
Suppose a child wakes up from a dream and is frightened. The child bravely gets out of bed to find a parent (or parents). (Don’t discount how much courage it takes for some children to get out of their bed in this situation.) A parent could respond in a few different ways, but let’s go to the edges.
A parent could respond: “You are an idiot. I told you there is nothing to be afraid of. Haven’t I told you that everything’s fine. I just don’t get why you can’t understand this. Just go back to bed and let me get some sleep.”
Alternatively, a parent might respond: “I am sorry you are afraid. Let’s see what we can do to make you feel better. What if we check to make sure everything is ok and then I will lay down with you until you go back to sleep?”
Again, other possibilities exist. But the first scenario is rather harsh. The second would be considered compassionate. And yet, in the church we often treat others similar to the first example. We are selfish and we show a lack of care. The second example takes time and energy – and love.
And that is what we are to do. Romans 12.15 says to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” We like rejoicing. It is often more difficult to weep. Frankly, in the examples above, I would like to think I will respond like the second example, but I know I am often guilty of the first. Why? Because I am selfish. Because I sin.
However, Jesus tells me to love my neighbor as I do myself. He tells us to love our neighbor as we do ourselves. Thus, I must properly love myself. We must properly love each other. And when we do, the real benefit is that others can know they are loved too.
That is our opportunity right now in the midst of the fear around us. We do have an opportunity to rejoice when it is appropriate, but to weep as well. We do have the opportunities to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6.2). We have the opportunity to stand together to oppose our enemy and whatever obstacles might come before us.
We can do this because Jesus loved His neighbor as He did Himself. And He asks His followers to do the same.
Fear is real. But God is bigger than our fears. And, if we truly love others, we will help them to know that truth as well. This week, fear has been front and center in the lives of millions, if not billions. But realize that fear is based upon a virus with a surface area that is measured to be 1/25,400,000 or .0000049213 inches.
How can something so tiny cause so much fear? But it has, and it will continue to do so. But COVID-19 is not the only fear in our world today. And it is not the only fear within our church right now. Other health issues are front and center. Issues like cancer or other chronic diseases create fear. Or maybe your fears stem from a relationship with a friend, a coworker, or a member of your family.
Maybe it is learning to live after the loss of a loved one.
Maybe your fear is financial.
Maybe the fear is changes in our country, in our town, or in this church.
I know the fears that some of you are experiencing. But I do not know the depth of those fears. I know the fears that I face too.
But I also know that I have a God who desires me to trust Him. A God who desires you (individually) to trust Him. A God who desires us (as a church) to trust Him. He is a God who does not change. So, even though we moved away from the Apostles’ Creed this week (which is itself a change), we are still focusing on our constant – on THE constant – in a world of change. And, in a world of fear.
Our JOURNEY letter for today is JOURNEY.
We are all on a JOURNEY of faith. And this JOURNEY will requires us to acknowledge and confront our fears. So, let me present a couple of verses for you to reflect upon for a couple of minutes.
The first was written to Timothy, and thus is meant to be internalized individually. The verse is 2 Timothy 1.7: “…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
Philippians 4.6-7 was written to a church, and thus is meant of us to consider corporately: “…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
- LEARN. Learn to trust God through your times of fear.
- LOVE. Love others to help them do the same.
As followers of Christ, we must also see this disruption as an opportunity. Fear can drive people in many different directions, but one of those directions is to seek purpose and meaning in their lives, to consider death, and therefore to be open to God.
SPECIAL CALL TO PRAYER
From the SBC:
- Ask God, in His mercy, to stop this pandemic and save lives—not only in our communities but around the world, particularly in places that are unequipped medically to deal with the virus (Isaiah 59:1-2).
- Pray for President Donald Trump and other government leaders—international, federal, state, and local—to have the wisdom to direct us in the best courses of action for prevention and care (Romans 13:1–4).
- Scripture says—teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts. Pray that the Lord will give us wisdom in this moment of fear as the foundations of what we know are shaken, that others would realize how fragile life is and how real eternity is, and they would see their need to turn to God (Psalm 90:12).
- Ask God to protect our missionaries and their families around the globe, using this global crisis to advance His Good News to the whole world (Mark 16:15).