The most pressing matter in the news this week is obviously the Coronavirus. Searching the term in Google returns a number of articles, and there are constant updates. As I type this, I see a warning that cash could be spreading the virus; the King County, Washington government, dealing with the worst outbreak in the US, have bought a quarantine motel; and that one official in a news conference promoted common sense measures to check the spread of the disease mere seconds before licking her finger to turn a page in her notes. And there are numerous other articles, of course.
No one really knows how serious this disease is, with some downplaying it compared to the flu and others preparing as if it’s the Black Death. Based on the early research published in a helpful infographic in the New York Times, it appears the truth is (as it so often is) between those two extremes: on the one hand, it appears to be much more contagious than other recent pandemics-du-jour like SARS (itself a coronavirus) or the Bird Flu; on the other hand, it is seemingly not nearly as deadly as those diseases, with early estimates placing its lethality between the normal seasonal flu and the Spanish Flu that swept the globe after the First World War. In short, while the Coronavirus is certainly nothing to sneeze at, some of the alarm is probably overblown; perhaps the greater concern at this point is a panicky public hoarding supplies and keeping them from those that need them most.
In the midst of all this, what I know beyond any doubt is that Christians are not to be characterized by fear. Recall a familiar story we read in Matthew 14, where Jesus walks on the water to go to the disciples. He had insisted that they get into a ship and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while he sent the crowd away. Far from the shore, the wind and the waves were assailing them in that small vessel. Then, in the dark of the night, Jesus came walking across the sea to them and they were afraid. So Jesus tried to reassure them that there was no reason to fear. Peter asked, then, that he be permitted to go out to Jesus and he began to walk on the water – until he looked around and realized what he was doing. He started to sink because of his fear of the waves and cried out, Lord, save me! In response, Jesus said to Peter, O you of little faith, why did you doubt? Moffat’s translation renders that How little you trust me! Jesus did save him and they walked on to the ship. When they boarded it, the wind ceased. The presence of the Lord brought safety.
Where Jesus was, there was safety. Only without Jesus there was reason to fear.
When Jesus Christ actually becomes a part of our lives – when He becomes the Lord and Master of our lives – anxiety leaves us, or at least it ought to leave us. The reason so many of us are still anxious about things we have no control over is because we have not really allowed Jesus to take possession of our lives. We can believe in the providence of the Lord without going to extremes. We do not have to believe in things like immediate divine healing or our daily bread dropping from the sky or any other idea contrary to the teachings of Scripture in order to believe that God can work in our lives. In the Sermon on the Mount, where he talked so much about God’s care for his people, there is as much truth for our generation as there was for those in the audience when Jesus spoke the words. If we will allow what Jesus taught there to enter our lives, the things over which we are usually anxious will disappear.
Do we need to be anxious about our lives? The wisdom of the world says that we do. But Jesus said we do not need to be. He said we were not to fear those who could destroy the body, but rather fear the one who is able to destroy both souls and body in hell.
Do we need to be anxious about the future? The wisdom of the world says that we should be preoccupied with it. But Jesus said we should not. He will be there and where He is, everything is under control. Whether we look at it from the viewpoint of future time or eternity, the answer is the same. All we need to be concerned about is keeping Jesus with us. He said the very hairs of our head are all numbered. He said God even watches over the sparrows; aren’t we much more valuable than that? Then he told us where our trouble is, O you of little faith.
If we actually believe as we should, and if we keep the Lord with us, there is no reason for anxiety. Jesus took the fear out of living. He removed the fear from dying. He secured our future. Our task, then, is to do his will, to keep him with us, and to trust in him. When stormy winds begin to blow, Jesus knows how to make them cease.