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.

Fear Gone Viral — Part II

In my first blog concerning the COVID-19 virus, I quoted Psalm 91 in which the Psalmist says, “You will not fear…the pestilence…” (vss. 5-6). The confidence and assurance that we have who walk with Christ is in direct proportion to how closely we are “[dwelling] in the shelter of the Most High…” (vs. 1). So personally, I do not fear this virus. I have tried to follow C.S. Lewis’ common sense from his Christian worldview that I quoted in that blog.

However, in this time there is something that I do fear — the ceding of our freedoms to the government. The media attention to this virus has demanded a response from our government at every level. By creating a fear of the unknown in the minds of the citizenry and by highlighting the worst-case scenarios, the fearful look to Government (Big Brother, if you will) to protect them. This event will likely end with fewer deaths than from a typical, annual flu virus. People like me, who believe that the Lord is our protection (along with common sense), will rue the destruction of our economy, simply because of “an abundance of caution.” Those who rely on government action to protect them will praise (or criticize) the response of our political leaders. This debate will go on ad nauseum.

When I lived in Oklahoma and a tornado ripped through our community, I recall waking up the next morning to the devastation. In much the same way, when this crisis is over, there will be a devastation to the lives of most Americans, and not just economically. Please understand that I don’t want the death of anyone, and I believe that responsible people were/are right in acting with prudence and discretion. But when someone in a retirement/assisted living/ nursing care facility dies in the midst of this and their families have been denied access to them in their last days, the loss will not be diminished simply because the death was not attributed to COVID-19. Already, just in my region of the country during this crisis, we have had an increase in suicides and domestic violence incidents. I have seen reports of increased traffic on pornography sites and warnings to parents about child predators who are contacting kids via the increased internet use.

When we as a people, though, look to government to provide, prudence and discretion go out the window. The failure to exercise “an abundance of caution” will make lawyers the winners in this crisis. As a friend properly put it, “Most are not concerned about getting sick; they’re concerned about getting sued.”

Our nation began when the people of the American Colonies recognized government overreach for what it was. Most of us know the first few lines of the Declaration of Independence, and we recognize the last paragraph and a few of the signatories, but we skim over the 27 “injuries and usurpations” that led to the Revolution. These grievances were like tentacles that slowly threatened to choke the freedoms of our Founding Fathers. They were abundantly patient — after all, it took 27 grievances to ignite the Revolution — and I am not advocating any kind of action at this point. But the ease with which the COVID-19 crisis has allowed for the disruption of our freedoms to assemble and to engage in commerce is what I really do fear. I am grateful that the Executive Branches of our government at the national and state levels are reasonably conservative at this time (at least in Tennessee). But I see states in which the leadership is less conservative and in many of those places the restrictions are far more stringent than here in Tennessee. What will happen when a more Progressive government is installed at the national level, now that this precedent has been set?

Another fear that has been highlighted in this crisis — and this is not a new fear — is that as a society our trust has become less in the God of Israel, revealed in Jesus Christ, and more in other things (especially, but not solely, government). Apart from Psalm 91, I know of no place in Scripture where “pestilence” is not linked to some form of judgment. Government will not protect us from God’s judgment, although many are demanding that it will.

As believers in Jesus, we should — and many of us do — pray for the end of this crisis, but it should also prompt genuine repentance — for our sins as individuals as well as our national sins.

Fear Gone Viral

For He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence (Ps 91:3).

The fear that Covid-19 has caused around the world is (pardon the pun) at fever-pitch! Reactions in every quarter are over the top. Instead of determining the national championship in college basketball by letting the players play and televising the games for the fans (minimizing social contact) the NCAA canceled all sports! Other sports organizations did the same. Fear dominates the scene, even though we have the best medical care in the world and few will contract the virus and far fewer will have any serious complications. The situation reminds me of Proverbs 28:1 where people “flee when no one is pursuing.” (Dare I say that the subject in this verse is “the wicked”?) But, for many, the fear is real.

Since the news is dominated by the reactions to this virus, we are beginning to see people questioning the source as a new angle for reporting. Is it just a flu-like virus gone rogue, just as we experience every year? Some are starting to theorize that it could be a biological attack from the Chinese who were angry over the sanctions that have been imposed upon them by the United States. What I have not heard is that this is a judgment from God Himself. Of course, that would be immediately dismissed by the politically correct who deny that a God of love is capable of judgment. 

I looked up the word “pestilence” in the Scripture. I found there the comforting passage quoted above in Psalm 91, but I also found that well more than half of the references in Scripture are in Jeremiah and Ezekiel where they refer to pestilence as a judgment. Neither Jeremiah nor Ezekiel were concerned about the pagan nations of their world. The judgment of pestilence was upon Judah and Israel that had been given God’s Truth in the many prophets that God had sent to them, but who had been summarily ignored. Pestilence also was part of the judgment for those who prophesied (preached) falsely, preachers that gave their hearers ideas that they had dreamed up but which the LORD had not sanctioned.

If it has done nothing else, the fear that has gripped the world over this virus has demonstrated how frail and vulnerable human beings really are. There ARE things that are beyond us, outside of our control. And, even when this virus has been fully contained, another is destined to come. We need the perspective of CS Lewis who wrote, “It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty” (On Living in an Atomic Age). If this scare awakens us to the certainty of our mortality, it will have done mankind a real SERVICE.

The confidence of the Psalmist is conditioned upon “dwelling in the presence of the Most High” and “abiding in the shadow of the Almighty.” That Psalmist saw the LORD as his “refuge.” The confidence of this generation in the midst of this virus-scare will also be conditioned upon our individual response to trusting in the LORD. Whether the origin of this is natural or man-made; whether we view this as a judgment of God or not, the proper response — in addition to discretion and good hygiene — is to begin or deepen one’s relationship to Christ. Since many are asked to self-quarantine, this is a good opportunity to find a quiet place to meet Him. 

If we, in faith, will turn back to Him, trusting Him when others are fearful, the LORD makes this promise to us at the end of this psalm: “Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him. I will set him securely on high because he has known My name. He will call upon Me and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble. I will rescue him and honor him. With a long life I will satisfy him and let him behold My salvation” (Ps. 91:14-16, NASB).