Today, the Coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc in our nation. Countless people are being infected by the virus and the death count is increasing every day. It is tragic and heart-breaking. It shows how helpless we really are in spite of all our achievements. But, as much as the pandemic is doing its damage physically, there are more people who are being shackled by fear and panic. Unfortunately, some news channels are doing nothing, but spreading fear. Countless people who are glued to television sets are being negatively impacted by what they see. Because they are constantly watching gruesome visuals, they live with the fear that what they see is what will happen to them. I am not saying we should be ignorant of the reality or less empathetic towards the suffering. Far from that, we as Christians should do everything we can to help those who are in need in times like this. But, being addicted to a fear-mongering type of negative reporting produces adverse effects.
Let me explain a little bit about how our mind functions in this regard. Our mind is a strange thing. It is a kind of a factory that produces all kinds of feelings and reactions. Some are good and some are bad. Depending on what you see and are exposed to, you have a corresponding reaction that takes place within your head. For example, if you see beautiful scenery, the immediate and natural reaction to that is to react in a mood of excitement. If you see a man lying in a pool of blood, you’re bound to react with fear and horror. Your blood boils when you hear about a 10 year-old girl who was raped and killed by a group of men. If you’re stuck before a computer watching pornography, it’s not rocket science that your head is filled with all kinds of lustful thoughts. In all these cases, depending on what you’ve seen and heard, you have the corresponding reactions taking place in your mind. That’s why, if you are constantly watching news channels that only show visuals of people dying, obviously your mind will be gripped by fear.
When fear grips us, it is almost as if it grabs us by the throat and shuts down our capacity to think. When we are swayed by fear, we become mentally incapacitated. When our minds are dominated by fear, we let our guard down. We become hopeless. Ultimately fear becomes the victor and we become the victim.
So, how should Christians who believe in the Sovereign God of heaven and earth react to all that is happening around us? Let me suggest four things:
1. Accept Your Fears
It is encouraging to be reminded that the God whom we worship is not a hard taskmaster who is obsessed with punishing those who fail to adhere to his rules. Yes, he delights when his children walk in his footsteps (his commands) and disciplines when they don’t (Heb. 12:5-6). But, he does everything out of the abundant love he has towards his children.
Remember how Jesus introduces Yahweh to his disciples. He addresses God as ‘our Father’ (Matt. 6:9). Our God is our Father. Therefore, we can lay bare all the layers of our fears and anxieties before him instead of putting on a brave face.
In the Old Testament, many times we see the psalmists openly complaining to God about fears, anxieties and problems (Ps. 10, 13, 22, 38, 63, 64, 74). So, my friend, if you’re scared about Coronavirus, there is nothing wrong with that. It only becomes problematic when you don’t take your fear to the Lord. We do not have to show how brave and courageous we are before God. We can be vulnerable and admit our fears before God. Our hope and confidence is that God will help us in the end. That is the beauty of the relationship we have with him. Remember, God is our heavenly Father!
Even Jesus, before he went to the cross, prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death….” (Mk. 14:34). Mark records in Mark 14:33 that Jesus was deeply distressed and troubled. If the Son of Man, Jesus Christ himself could pour out his heart before His Father in foreseeing the crushing wrath of God on the cross, why can’t you and I do that before God? Jesus in his humanity was troubled by what would happen to him on the cross and went to the Father in prayer. We can do the same.
2. Do Not Fear
Our heavenly Father does not want us to be gripped by fear. The Sons of Korah wrote, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear…” (Ps. 46:1-2). That little word ‘therefore’ in the 2nd verse of Psalm 46 has volumes to speak about their confidence in God. ‘Refuge’ is a place where you hide when you’re attacked by your enemies. In those days, to gain political advantage, sometimes people who offered refuge suddenly changed their minds and colluded with their enemies and betrayed others. But that kind of a thing will never happen with our God (Isa. 54:10). Because He is the covenant-keeping God who will never leave us, nor forsake us, nor betray us. So, the psalmists’ confidence stems from a belief in a God who is unshakeable and unchangeable. Since we believe in the same God, let us not be afraid of anything, let alone of Coronavirus.
Jesus says “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). Jesus is unequivocally saying that there is no point in being scared of death. If I can apply the principle behind this verse to our present-day crisis, there is no point in fearing what Coronavirus can do to us. We need to be more concerned about what happens after we die. If there is nothing beyond death, there is no point in trusting Jesus (1 Cor. 15:19). But if there is, we should do everything to think about it. Jesus promises an endless life to be enjoyed with God in a place that is beyond our comprehension.
3. Share the Gospel
How do we instil courage and confidence in someone who is struggling with fear and panic? By pointing them and ourselves to Jesus, who died and rose again from the dead. By sharing the gospel, we can give hope to the hopeless and help the helpless. The Apostle Paul, knowing of his imminent death (2 Tim. 4:6), tells his co-labourer, Timothy, to do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5). There is nothing more important, urgent and life-saving than the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is amazing how willing people would be to listen to something positive, especially when they are scared. One thing I have observed while visiting the sick is they are willing to listen to me more than they otherwise would have. I believe there isn’t any better news than the gospel itself. There isn’t a better time to share the gospel than right now. If you’re willing to do it, there are many ways to do it. Just think aloud!
4. Meditate on Scripture
Divert your attention to things that are wholesome, beautiful, pure, praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8). As I said earlier, because our minds can take information and produce various kinds of reactions internally and externally, we must make sure that our minds are exposed to what is good, lovely and pure. In other words, we must deliberately choose what we should do with our time. For example, instead of choosing to switch on the TV to watch the news with all the gory details, you can choose to read Scripture, listen to sermons, beautiful music, watch a wholesome movie with your family, play with your children, do some productive work or read a book to nourish your soul.
Ultimately, in times like this, it is God speaking to us through his Word who will set us free from fear and will enable us by his Spirit to trust him in the midst of so much distress. So, I encourage us all, to spend less time following the news and more time meditating on God’s Word.
Whatever we do, let us glorify God and put all our fears on the back burner and run the race that is set before us. Remember, our affliction is momentary and our joy in Christ is everlasting!
Samuel Boppuri serves as a Pastor at Reformed Baptist Church in Vinukonda, Andhra Pradesh. He is married to Vijaya and has two children.