The cloud of fear hovering over our world today seems so dark. Every day more people are infected or quarantined, more places are closed, more shelves are empty, and more people are fearful for their safety and security. The COVID-19 pandemic, now dominating the world’s attention, barged into an already crowded space. People were already burdened by depression, anxiety, broken relationships, death, disease, poverty, injustice, and politics. When you add a pandemic to space already crowded with concern, fear can be overwhelming.
What is fear?
Fear is an emotion experienced by everyone when faced with a threat of harm. Threats can be real, such as stepping on a rattlesnake, or imagined, such as mistaking a stick for a rattlesnake. Either experience can ignite fear. The more helpless we feel, the more fear moves towards panic.
Is fear real?
Yes. Fear is real. We can’t touch, hold, or measure fear, but fear touches, holds, and measures us. Fear is like the wind. We can’t see it, but we see fear’s effects in our:
Facial expressions (raised eyebrows, tense lower eyelids, opened jaw)
Vocal expressions (higher pitch, faster delivery)
Physical sensations (feeling cold, shortness of breath, trembling, high blood pressure)
Impulses (fleeing, hoarding)
We know that fear is real because God speaks to it over 400 times in the Bible. Some passages invite us to have fear. “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him…” (Ps. 25:14). Many passages invite us to resist fear. “Fear not, for I am with you…” (Is. 41:10).
How do we know when to have fear and when to resist fear?
To find an answer, let’s look at fear’s debut. In the beginning, God created mankind in His image, and life was free of fear. To protect us, God gave only one restriction; yet, believing God was withholding good, we sinned against Him. When God appeared and found the man and woman hiding in the bushes, Adam said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid” (Gen. 3:10). This is the Bible’s first mention of human fear.
This fear was appropriate. God is holy. Man was now sinful. God’s justice should invoke fear in all who sin against Him. The world, which began groaning under the weight of sin (Rom. 8:22), became a dangerous place to live. In this world, fear helps to move us out of harm’s way. Appropriate fear leads us to jump out of the way of a moving train. Appropriate fear leads us to avert the danger of a virus. Appropriate fear leads us to avert the danger of God’s wrath against our sin by trusting His provision in Jesus. This kind of fear honors the Lord.
When God tells us to ‘fear not’, He is not inviting us to a life of recklessness. God is inviting us to stand on His power and promises during fearful times. Let me show you how this works. In Isaiah 41, God reveals that He is just, sovereign, and eternal. This is His unchanging character. Then God says, “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” (Is. 41:10). His command for us to ‘fear not’ is then supported by five promises!
I am with you.
I am your God.
I will strengthen you.
I will help you.
I will uphold you.
When we trust God who makes such great promises, we enjoy peace. But when we ignore God during fearful times and give ourselves over to panic, we sin against His trustworthy character who made these promises to us and endorsed them by the blood of His Son. This is the inappropriate fear we are to resist. This kind of fear is a disease that weakens our faith, disables our hope, and paralyzes our love. This kind of fear is sin; sin that Jesus died to forgive.
What then do I do with my fear?
Let me close with a summary of exhortation. First, allow appropriate fear to lead you to make wise choices regarding this virus. Second, consider God’s character and promises each time you are tempted to panic. Third, remember that God demonstrated His love by sending Christ. He came and died in our place and then rose again! Jesus is ready to forgive all who would trust in Him. Jesus wants to be your God who will strengthen, help, and uphold you. Jesus said, “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” (John 14:27).
Trust Him today!