One of the most-repeated commands in the Bible is to “fear not.” Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount not to worry about tomorrow. And Paul assured the Philippian Christians,
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
~ Philippians 4:6-7 NIV
At the very same time, the Bible has a lot to say about caution and preparedness. The writer of Proverbs told us to see the ant as an example of storing away in summer the provisions we’ll need in winter. We’re to put on the armor of God and be ready for spiritual battle. And Jesus warned the Jewish people in Matthew 24 that Jerusalem would be besieged and to run far away from the city when the time came.
So should you fear? Or fear not?
As I write this, coronavirus is beginning to wreak havoc. Italy has been completely locked down with schools, stores, and public transit all closed. Residents may leave only for groceries and emergencies. Here in America, we’re seeing the initial impact of cases being discovered in almost every state and the inevitability of community spread. The National Basketball Association suspended its 2020 season until things calm down and the stock market has been like a wild roller coaster ride, plummeting in value multiple times in the last two weeks.
In the middle of this initial chaos, stores have run out of sanitizer and there seems to be a crazy obsession with having plenty of toilet paper.
Should you worry about it? Or worry not?
Let me offer three words of wisdom to bring a sense of balance for believers.
1. Refuse to let worry and fear drive your thinking.
As a Christian, I believe strongly that God is in control, on his throne, wide awake and at the ready to take care of his children. He answers prayer. He cares about you very deeply.
That isn’t to say that God will always answer all of our prayers exactly the way we’d like. We still live in a world of sin, suffering, and free agency. We will experience troubles and suffer losses.
But even if you suffer physically, even if you walk through pain and grief, God will never leave you, nor forsake you. You’re safe and secure from eternity’s viewpoint when you trust in Jesus.
Therefore, we get to walk by faith, not by fear. We can step aside from the panicked frenzy around us. To put it more plainly, as Christians, we never need to freak out over situations that freak everyone else out.
Refuse to be ruled by the tyranny of worry and anxiety. Instead, pray continually. Pray about every need you have for provision and protection and then trust God to handle things according to his holy and loving nature.
2. Prepare wisely.
In the current case of coronavirus, people in positions of influence and authority such as leaders and scientists with the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are offering us ample information about what is happening globally and how to prepare for it.
So prepare. Stock up on food, medicine, and supplies (because that’s wise), but don’t hoard things (because that’s foolish).
Wash your hands, more than usual. Stay home. Check in on loved ones. Avoid unnecessary travel. And stay tuned in to what is really happening.
All of that is wise.
3. Love your neighbor.
And THIS is where Christians get to excel. This is where we have the opportunity to prove our faith and let our light shine so that the world may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.
The last two thousand years of Christian history is filled with examples of Christians willing to care for strangers in times of sweeping illness and tragedy. When natural disasters strike, Christian nonprofits and NGO’s show up with volunteers. When communities are hit with tragedy, churches often become ground zero for relief efforts. And in villages and hamlets throughout the earth, the church has established one hospital after another to care for the medical needs of people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to healthcare.
So while “social distancing” is wise to a degree to slow the spread of disease, there may come moments when our assignment is to face the risk and approach our neighbors in need.
In fact, preparing wisely is a means of loving your neighbor. When you take warnings seriously and work to slow the spread of something like coronavirus, you are in essence protecting the people with whom you will have contact.
As followers of Jesus, we believe that wrapped in every tragedy is an opportunity to show love and compassion for those who are hurting. And love always requires setting fear aside in the best interest of the gospel’s advancement.
Don’t live by fear, walk by faith. Don’t waste time worrying about tomorrow, but do wisely prepare for the future. And never, never stop loving your neighbors on Jesus’ behalf!