Fear Gone Viral III

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death (Rev. 12:11, ESV).

This morning I got in my car to come to my office; my radio came on when I started my car. I was not interested in listening to the radio just then so I immediately turned the sound down. The only thing that I heard was a financial guru advertising his business and radio program, but he made this statement in the short time the sound was on: “… the most important thing is your health…” I almost shouted back to him, “No it’s not!” My service to Jesus is more important than my health. If I lose my health in the process of serving Him, it is what I was created to do.

Right now, the world is paralyzed by the fear that we will come down with a virus (which, last I saw, 98.5% of people survive). It has closed down businesses and, amazingly, churches. Our fear is mortgaging the futures of our children and grandchildren. I am not wanting anyone to be afflicted with this virus, and I have always tried to practice good hygiene, but there are worse things than getting sick — like hearing the Savior say, “I never knew you…” The true Church has in this day the opportunity to highlight what really is most important, but our fears are keeping us from it. Some try to justify our failure to prioritize this by telling us that social distancing is the fulfilling of Jesus’ command to “Love your neighbor.” But the greatest expression of loving our neighbor is to fear God, not a virus that He has told us plainly not to fear (Ps 91:1-6).

Our fear that paralyzes us because our health may be compromised does a disservice to the countless martyrs who have stood obediently in the face of danger. Look up the story of Polycarp, who was told to recant or he would be burned at the stake, but said “For 83 years I have served my Lord, I will not deny Him now.” Read the stories in Fox’s Book of Martyrs, of those who sacrificed their health — to the point of losing their lives — for the testimony of Jesus. What if Jim Eliot and his four companions had not endangered their lives to reach the warlike tribe of Ecuadorian natives known as the Aucas in 1956? Many would not worship at Jesus’ throne if “the most important thing was their health.” Our denomination, the Christian & Missionary Alliance, has a rich heritage of sacrifice for the Gospel of Christ. Thirty-six of our missionaries lost their lives in China’s Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Many more suffered the loss of their health in internment camps during WWII. The Vietnam War brought more danger to the health and safety of our missionaries.

“The war kept worsening. By 1967 soldiers were dying on both sides at the rate of a thousand a week. The highland cities of Dalat, Pleiku, Kontum and Banmethuot with concentrations of missionaries and churches, were surrounded by roving Communist armies. Yet not a single missionary had left because of the danger” (Hefley, By Their Blood,124-125, emphasis added).

The Church in this generation needs to stand before a fearful, unbelieving world with faith in the God who told us countless times not to fear. We need to call attention to a Savior who told us that HE would protect us. We need to confess our sins as a nation and boldly call — even our government — to acknowledge that the God we serve has “created all things, visible and invisible” (Col 1:16). If we don’t bow before Him NOW when we are powerless to stop this death, we never will. And if we cower in fear like the world around us, it will demonstrate that we are not of the same character as those who have served Christ before us.

Plagues down through history have run their course, but the current fearful response is demonstrating that most in this nation — perhaps even many in the Church — are looking to government and not to Jesus for deliverance. 

The Failure of the Church

Throughout this COVID-19 crisis, I have been very disappointed in the response of the Church — not an individual church but the church in general. Through all of this crisis, I have rarely seen a display of our faith in the Creator and a trust in His Word of Truth.

The Church has quickly fallen in line with the “party line” that has believed the models of science that hundreds of thousands will die. This prediction has been continually revised down but the fear has been maintained, even though now the death toll is less than an average flu season. But the Church that should be confidently proclaiming God’s promise of protection, has settled into our “new normal,” not making waves, even though the command of Scripture is to “not forsake the assembling of yourselves together” (Heb 10:25). 

There is only one condition to the Psalmist’s promise that, “He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence(Ps 91:3, emphasis added).That condition is that we “dwell in the shelter of the Most High…[that we] abide in the shadow of the Almighty” (vs. 1). Those who deny the truth of the Christian Gospel should rightly fear and take stock of their mortality. Similarly those who give lip service to the Gospel but fail to take refuge in Him also have a need to fear. The Bible gives no one assurance that he will be protected from judgment who is not walking (present tense) with Him. By capitulating to the world’s answer (which ignores many others) the Church is unwittingly allowing people to avoid the questions God is raising in the souls of men.

But the longer we maintain our silence, the more the damage is being done to our society. COVID-19 deaths may be controlled but suicide is rising as people despair of their ability to provide for their families. In fact, I read today that the number of suicides in my area due to the measures imposed upon the people exceeds the number of deaths due to the virus. People who have need of medical attention have been denied such for fear of the virus. Parents are being warned that child predators are increasingly active since children are spending more time on the internet. Most of this collateral damage cannot be quantified, but it is just as real. Is death by COVID-19 more tragic than death by suicide? By domestic violence? By child abuse?

The “Love your neighbor as yourself” argument is used to justify social distancing and restrict congregations from assembling for worship. But are we unwittingly shielding people from the hard realities of life by these actions? Our society has become adept at putting off thoughts of our mortality. C.S. Lewis properly noted that the death rate is 100% — in other words, (apart from the return of Christ) all of us will one day die. To state that plainly and offer the solution for the life to come — the substitutionary death of Jesus for our sins — is ultimately the most loving and logical thing we can do.

Medical research continually calls upon us to give so they can cure everything that ails us, failing to remind us that when we find the cure for cancer (et.al.), something else will kill us. This research is not wrong, quite the opposite. But the tragedy of death does not lie in HOW they died, but THAT they died — and that issue is answered at the cross. This is the message that the Church is not able to proclaim when it is too busy accommodating the fears of men. 

The objection is raised that the social distancing command has come from the government authorities, and that we are to submit to those authorities (Rom 13:1). In many nations this is true. However the governing authority of the United States is not a person or an office, but a document — the Constitution. Each of our officials — including our military — is sworn to uphold that document — not the changing decrees of the officials in public office. How quickly we as a nation — fully endorsed by a compliant Church — have ceded our freedoms. By doing so, we dishonor the memories of the soldiers that have died for our freedoms and the Founding Fathers who gave their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor.” These freedoms are less important to us than the fear of getting sick. Perhaps we should rename our upcoming celebrations “National Barbecue Day” and “National Fireworks Day.”

The Church has had a long history of standing against laws that violate freedom — ask the Apostles Peter and John, ask Reformers like Johann Hus, John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, William Tyndale, John Bunyan, the Pilgrim and Puritan Fathers, the list is endless.

In Colonial times, it was the Church that trumpeted the call for freedom. It should be the Church again that is proclaiming, “If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36) — free from sin, free from fear, free to worship.