Christians love to talk about not being afraid inside the church — until there’s something to be afraid of outside the church. When real things happen, our talk about faith and courage seems to stay only talk. Give fear a name and we Christians tend to panic just like everyone else.
For instance, the “name” of fear today is “Coronavirus”. Everyone panic! This is the one! We are doomed! You’ve seen the movie Outbreak, right? Perhaps it’s time to drop the bombs on infected areas and cut our losses. Someone find the host monkey!
Here’s what we are being told: Stay home from school, church, work, don’t meet anyone on the street, wash your hands extremely well. With the exception of the last one, they are all panic-induced calls to action that will have little bearing on our protection in the long term. What’s worse is how we keep hearing conflicting reports on how bad this “pandemic” really is.
I remember it was SARS, Ebola, the Avian Flu, and most notably in 2009, H1N1 which infected some 61 million Americans and killed 575,000 people worldwide including 12,469 people in the U.S. and yet I cannot recall this level of panic. According to the most recent data from the World Health Organization, the Coronavirus has infected 101,927 people world-wide and has accounted for 3,817 deaths of which 11 are in the U.S. Unless I’m mistaken or ill-informed, fear-mongering seems to be growing in parallel with the amount of information we can digest about world events from our phones.
The scriptures record 365 versions of the phrase, “Do Not Fear”. But here we are, running scared or at least acting like we should be scared. In 3 months, this will be behind us. The World will be talking about the Olympics, the kids will be out of school and you will probably be preparing for vacation. But this is our moment to panic, just in time for the added pressure of tax season.
Why are we so easily spooked?
The scripture does well to call us “sheep” for sheep are notoriously spooked by almost anything. They need a shepherd because they tend to run from even the slightest noise. They need the calming voice of the One who has watched over them since birth. Jesus is our Good Shepherd who does not simply watch over us, He died for us.
We are easily spooked because we are fallen. Our problem goes back to Eden (as always) to that dreadful moment our first parents ate the fruit, saw their nakedness, and ran for cover at the voice of God. Since that day we have let almost anything scare the life out of us. There were air raid sirens, atomic bomb warnings, fallout shelters, and “Duck and Cover” drills in classrooms during the Cold War. I remember those ancient tests of the “Emergency Broadcast System” that interrupted Sesame Street on PBS during my childhood.
Today the 24-hour News Networks announce every event as a News “Alert.” We are being shepherded into anxious pastures. Add to this the endless options of apocalyptic themed movies. Batman has to carry the Nuclear Bomb to the ocean in the Batwing in 2012, Joker is about to unleash terror on every street in 2019. Don’t make a noise in “A Quiet Place” and do NOT look around in “Bird Box”. Our entertainment medium regularly reinforces the myth that we are constantly under threat of imminent death so sit down, shut up and for heaven’s sake, don’t go outside!
Yet the statistics bear data that counters all these proposals. We have longer life expectancy than generations before us. Life is far more convenient, and technology is empowering more human connection and accomplishment than ever. The two things that are actually threatening us in HARD DATA? Suicide and Opioid overdoes. Yet these are both SELF-INFLICTED threats brought upon a person who FEELS overwhelmed by life. Why shouldn’t they feel overwhelmed? This culture gives them plenty of reasons.
The facts are certain: life is getting overwhelming better in this age as even the perpetually negative Vox.com had to acknowledge. According to ourworldindata.org, poverty is dropping, literacy is rising, democracy is spreading, healthcare is increasing, freedom is expanding and people are getting more education than ever. Still, because we are given so much information about the world that will never touch us, we can always find some remote episode of bad news to shout down the good.
Do you want my advice? Pay more attention to the Voice of your Shepherd than the voice of that old sin-nature in you and in others. Yes, you are descendant from Adam, which means you carry that old nature bent on running in fear but our true Adam, Jesus Christ, has come, borne the weight of our sin and shame, and struck a fatal blow to our last and final enemy – death itself.
You should come to Church this weekend and sing the words of the songs your heart needs to hear: “I ran out of that grave.” The church gathering should be a celebration of life instead of an expectation of death. Perhaps this moment, this coronavirus moment, is our chance to tell fear to “stick it”. We’ve seen this movie before. We know how it typically ends. We will get past this reason for alarm and come upon another one down the road. Jesus said, “Do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34).
I do miss old-school Christianity. The kind that hoped in the life to come instead of hedging ourselves in the life we have. The kind that sang about “mansions over the hilltop” and “some glad morning when this life is o’er”. I remember when Pastors talked about the return of Christ and the eternal reward to come MORE than how Jesus can supercharge this temporary life.
We need to hear the voice of our ancestors. We need to regain a measure of that “old-time religion” that was good enough for them. They are already dead and walking that street of gold in the company of Christ. If you listen to Hebrews 12, they are the cloud of witnesses cheering us on to live by FAITH. Or perhaps we just need to remember the curse of sin was taken for us so that we could do more than sing about not being afraid. We could live it.
 Shrestha, Sundar S, David L Swerdlow, Rebekah H Borse, Vimalanand S Prabhu, Lyn Finelli, Charisma Y Atkins, Kwame Owusu-Edusei, et al. “Estimating the Burden of 2009 Pandemic Influenza A (H1N1) in the United States (April 2009-April 2010).” Clinical infectious diseases: an official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. U.S. National Library of Medicine, January 1, 2011. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21342903.
 Roser, Max, and Hannah Ritchie. “Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).” Our World in Data, March 8, 2020. https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus.