One of the things the current health crisis has brought to the surface and indeed exacerbated in our society to an alarming degree is a spirit of fear.
While fear has itself become an epidemic, I also believe we need to recognise that healthy fear, and there is such thing, is good and wise and has a role to play in our lives, families and communities. I’m sure we can all point to examples where foolish fearlessness has ended in disaster – and we need to hold that at the back of our minds as we consider this subject. So, the question is, I believe, one where we are required to use rational and careful consideration – not one where we give place to either irrational fear of foolish fearlessness.
But there is another consideration which, I suspect, is very often overlooked and it this. In addition to a rational, careful consideration of the issues surrounding this matter and our response to it – as Christians we should also be asking – ‘what would Love do in this situation?’ In other words – apart from our own wellbeing, personal preferences, opinions and fears – do we consider the wellbeing and welfare of others ahead of our own?
Both the Jewish and Christian faiths are based on two overriding principals – love for God and love for others –
‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.’
Jesus (Matthew 22)
Another key teaching, as far as the issue under consideration is concerned, is, I believe, the statement made by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament –
‘For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.’
2 Timothy 1:7
If fear has become something of an epidemic today, I think we also need to ask the question – has selfishness become something of an epidemic also – not only in society in general but also in some quarters of the church? I hear much these days of ‘our rights’ in relation to the current crisis – but very little about consideration and concern for others – even among professing ‘Christians’ .
I personally see fear as working at two levels in the current crisis. At one level, as we have said, there is an irrational fear of the consequences of the virus itself which leads some to extremes as they try and avoid infection. At another level fear of the antidote to the virus appears to have turned some normal, rational, considerate and loving people in to those who see a conspiracy at the end of every needle and restriction.(1)
Tragically, as a result of opposition to vaccination against the virus, thousands have died, among them Christians (some of international standing) who had hitherto been moderate people of the highest integrity. Whatever our view and personal response has been to the crisis this fact is incontrovertible. This is truly a tragedy of enormous proportions, not only for the people involved and their families, but also for the wider church and the reputation of the Christianity.
Please note that the opposite of the ‘spirit of fear’, spoken of above is ‘power, love, and a sound mind.’ A ‘sound mind’ (KJV) is translated as ‘good judgment or ‘sound judgment’ in some more modern translations. So in every situation the Christian is encouraged to live with power, in love and by using sound judgment (we could, I suspect, say common sense). Fear however is the enemy of all of these virtues.
But I think we have to dig a little deeper here to understand what is really going on.
The ultimate fear, for many, if not most people, is the fear of death itself. And the fear of death and various strategies in how to avoid it can lead to some of the extreme reactions we observe at times today. The biblical writer of the book of Hebrews says this –
‘Since all his “children” have flesh and blood, so Jesus became human to fully identify with us. He did this, so that he could experience death and annihilate the effects of the intimidating accuser who holds against us the power of death. By embracing death Jesus sets free those who live their entire lives in bondage to the tormenting dread of death.’
Hebrews 2:14-16 (TPT)
So whether our fear of death is as a result of something like the COVID virus, or even the antidote to it, I believe we need to examine our reactions and decisions very carefully. The Christian has no need to fear, for death has been conquered and we have been set free from its bondage. The challenge for us is – do we really believe and live in the light of this – or is it only a doctrinal theory to us?
Ultimately, of course, the Christian also believes that one day he or she will give an account to God of their lives, behaviour and actions here on earth. I strongly suspect we will not be asked whether or not we believed such and such a theory about the origins of the COVID virus, or our subsequent views and opinions on the issues surrounding how it has been dealt with – but did we, in the situation, live and act with love and concern for our neighbours. It is a question each of us must also ask of ourselves today as we seek to live out our lives in the face of the current crisis.
But I also see another even more insidious principal at work here. The active purpose of the powers of darkness is always to reduce the Christian to one who abandons the ways of their Lord and Master. Once we replace, with other things, love for God and love for others as the foundation of our faith – we open ourselves to deception.
‘Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons.’
1 Timothy 4:1 (NLT)
At the forefront of this battle, I believe, is a deception whose sole aim is to promote fear, selfishness and lovelessness. As I view the landscape of professing Christianity today, I am alarmed by the numbers of people who, having abandoned these foundational principles, have opened themselves to the influence of ‘deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons. The proof of this, as I have already alluded to, is the death of Christians, some of high standing and who hitherto had been men and women who brought great blessing to the church and the world in which they had lived. I simply ask one simple question? Who is the winner here? Could it be that such deception is leading to the diminution of the Christian witness in our world – cheered on by some Christians themselves?
So, in all we face today I would appeal for an approach which is founded in love, and the consideration of a sound mind. An approach that encourages the same selflessness and consideration for others that we see in the life and example of Jesus – along with a heartfelt prayer that we ourselves are saved from deception and demonic influences.
‘We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.’
1 John 4:16-18 (NLT)
(1) I am not here, by default, defending or otherwise the decisions of governments, lockdown restrictions or theories regarding the COVID virus – that is not the purpose of this post. Nor would I wish to make light, in any way, of those who have seriously researched these issues and as a result have an alternative view from the generally accepted narrative. For the record I too am extremely dubious of our popular national and international press and the selfishness and unreliability of many of our political leaders. On the other hand, from the beginning of the crisis and spread of the virus, there have been, and still are, bizarre conspiracy theories circulating in the wider world and within certain sections of the Christian community that are, bluntly, IMHO, off the wall.
Theories and scapegoats seem to go hand in hand with any crisis. At the time of the disastrous Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 similar conspiracy theories abounded. One of these was that the virus was spread around the world by German submarines. Another claimed that German boats coming ashore on the East Coast of the U.S. had released the infectious agent into the atmosphere. One woman even claimed to have seen a toxic cloud spreading over Boston as a camouflaged German ship drew close to the harbour.
Another question I genuinely find myself asking these days in relation to naysayers is how many of the 50 million people who died worldwide a result of the Spanish Flu would have given anything for the vaccines, holding within them the possibility of freedom from infection and death, which are, in God’s grace, available to us today?