The global pandemic has put a lot of people in a fearful place. We are locked inside our homes, our phones the only windows into a world that is swiftly becoming unrecognizable from the one we knew just a few weeks prior.
It’s no wonder we are afraid. Fear sits heavily on us as we consider the uncertainty of the future. The interminable nature of the quarantine and its global scale has a great many people worldwide feeling more fear than ever before.
At first, everyone was excusing the fear, or even sneering at it.
“I’m not worried, this whole thing is getting blown out of proportion.”
“I’m not worried about getting sick, I’m really only worried about how other people will react. People are panicky, who knows what they might do.”
“I’m not worried for myself, but I am worried about my elderly parents.”
Now, as the pandemic spreads, the rising death toll has a lot of us backpedaling our opinions from just a few days ago.
“I was wrong.”
“I think this is going to be worse than I thought.”
Fear is often ridiculed as a weakness, but it is actually a biological response to the unknown.
When we feel fear, our senses are heightened. Adrenalin floods our system. We hear more acutely, notice more about our surroundings and even time itself seems to slow down. This helps us to take stock of our assets and assess our weaknesses. It’s an evolutionary advantage. In that way, fear is almost a super power.
The fear we are all feeling at this point carries so much weight that we, for the most part, aren’t even discussing it. We aren’t talking about our fears about the pandemic because we don’t even want to think about them. But there are signs.
The stores running out of food when we all know there is more than enough food in this nation for all of us.
The sudden uptick in gardening, even considering that springtime is a planting season.
The sudden interest in baking our own bread and making our own meals in a nation where the restaurant industry is considered a culture all its own.
The jump in sales of guns and ammo.
Yes, we are afraid. We don’t trust the economy to bounce back. We don’t trust our supply chain to deliver food and paper goods. We don’t trust the government to have our best interests in mind. We don’t trust each other.
What all those fears boil down to, at their most basic point is the fear of death.
We fear the virus will kill us or someone we love, we fear the economic fallout will cause a calamity that will break down the established rules of society, turning average people into murderers and thieves. We fear starvation.
I don’t even like to write those words because that’s how much gravity these fears are carrying. I imagine you didn’t like reading them.
Here’s the thing though: Fear of death is natural
Death is the ultimate unknown. No one on earth can definitively tell us 1. When and how we will die and, 2. What happens after we die.
As a Christian, I like to think that I don’t have as much fear of death as the average person. I know that I have been saved by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 2:8) Logically, I know that, but knowing something and being faced with it, looking it dead in the eye, are two wholly different things.
Facing this pandemic together has brought us all within a really uncomfortable closeness to our own mortality, and worse, to the mortality of our loved ones.
It would be so easy to just admonish Christians for not trusting in God and laugh off these fears. But I think we need to face them instead. Name them. Only when known can they be conquered.
Besides that, consider who in the bible feared death?
In Genesis 12 as they are about to enter Egypt, Abraham convinced his wife to pretend to be his sister because he fears the Egyptians will kill him in order to take his wife as one of their own. Abraham feared death.
When David was on the run from King Saul, he came before Achish, King of Gath, and was so afraid for his life that he pretended to be insane to get away. David feared death.
Peter said to Jesus on the night he was arrested. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” Matthew 26:35. He did though. He disowned Jesus three times saying “I do not know the man!” mere hours later (Matthew 26:69-75). Peter feared death.
It’s possible that even Jesus experienced this fear.
Jesus prayed for God to save him from crucifixion. “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will,’” Matthew 26:39.
Jesus did that! Jesus, who knew that he was the Lamb of God, who knew his whole purpose in life was to die for our sins. Jesus who knew where he was going, knew he would rise again, and even told his followers, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” Matthew 10:28. He still prayed to be saved. He even asked for his disciples to pray, they were up all night praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and he became angry when they fell asleep. (Mark 14:41)
We can’t be sure what Jesus was feeling, it’s possible he feared the pain he knew he had to endure rather than death itself, but we do know that Jesus was both fully man and fully God, and he experienced the entire gambit of human emotions, yet never sinned.
If Jesus was afraid of pain or death, does that make him a hypocrite? No. Because knowing something and being faced with it, looking it dead in the eye, are two wholly different things.
Maybe you aren’t worrying about your own death. There are some things on this earth that are worse than our own death. Losing a child comes immediately to mind. I don’t know one single parent who wouldn’t trade their own life for their child’s in a heartbeat if given the choice. If you don’t have kids, you might feel that way about your spouse, your siblings, your parents, your closest friends or even your pets. The bible says “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13 put plainly, dying to save someone else is the greatest act of love possible.
Unfortunately, we are almost never given the choice to make that sacrifice. People just die. Everyday. And it’s devastating, life altering, and world-shattering.
The one thing we can be certain of in life is death. It is the great equalizer. No matter who you are, how many people know your name, or how much money you have, you will eventually die.
It doesn’t feel commonplace though, when you’re experiencing it from the outside.
Mourning the death of a loved one is anything but ordinary.
When my best friend, Michelle, died of colon cancer last year, it wasn’t commonplace. I felt extreme anger at God. She was young, only 35. She was a good person, a teacher, a mom of two amazing kids, devoted wife to a husband who loved her dearly, sister, daughter, friend… and Christian.
And we prayed. Michelle’s close friends and family did not fall asleep in the garden. We prayed and prayed and prayed.
And yet, she died.
As we all went about the work of laying her to rest I was in shock. I knew that her death was the culmination of so many people’s unspeakable worst nightmares. Fears so heavy we dared not even speak about them until right before the end.
How could this have happened?
Didn’t Jesus promise us that whatever we asked for would be given to us? Didn’t he say that wherever two or more are gathered in his name “there I am with them”? Matthew 18:19-20
Where was Jesus in Michelle’s death?
Well, he was right there. He held her through her illness and walked with her into the courts of His father.
Logically, I know that everyone dies, but knowing something and being faced with it, looking it dead in the eye, are two wholly different things.
As Christians, the expectation is one of exception. Jesus will perform miracles for me because I ask him to. Jesus will save my person. Jesus will stop my tragedy.
For about three years, Jesus performed a great many documented miracles. In that time, he only brought three people back from the dead.
Jesus himself also rose from the dead three days after his crucifixion. He knew that he reigned over death, but during his ministry, people continued to get sick and die. I can guarantee you a great many more than three people died in those three years.
As Christians, we can sometimes walk through this world with this unwavering certainty that God will save us from all hardships, but that’s not biblical, and that doesn’t constitute true trust in God.
We don’t get to know everything. The bible tells us that now we see as though through a glass, darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12 KJV) and we see yet we do not perceive (Mark 4:12).
People die, that we know for sure, but we don’t always get to know why. As Christians though, we expect Jesus to make an exception. When our reality doesn’t meet our expectations, that leads to disappointment, and disappointment can often lead to a crisis of faith.
That looks different for each person, but a crisis of faith centers on unbelief. For some, faith in God hinges on what He can do for me personally. When that is the case, you’ve built your house upon the sand, and the first tidal wave will wash it away (Matthew 7:24-27). The bible tells us that trials will come. Our faith will be tested (Luke 8:13) as is occurring now. When that happens, is your faith built on a foundation of stone, that is the rock of the unchanging God? Or is it built on the flimsy, un-biblical lie of a God who saves us from all earthly harm?
Expecting God to save us and all our loved ones when we know that it is a biological fact that people die, is not reasonable. It doesn’t make sense.
That doesn’t mean God isn’t real. It doesn’t mean God is hateful or uncaring. It means this world is not our home (John 15:19). It means that we have become entitled and complacent, expecting God to clean up all our messes, expecting God to adhere to promises He never made. Instead of “In this world you will have trouble,” (John 16:33) we read “In this world I will save you from all trouble,” (Nowhere 1:1)
Losing my best friend brought me to a new level of trust in God. At this level, I know that bad, horrifying, unjust, and terrible things can still happen to me and my loved ones, even as a Christ follower. But I also know that 1. This world is not my home and 2. God’s plans are greater than I could ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)
So I encourage you, if you fear death, turn to Christ. This world is not the end, and through Jesus, you will live again. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
Eternal life. Living forever. That is the promise of Christ. Not in this world, but in the next, in the perfect world God has planned for anyone and everyone who wants it, and it’s just there for the taking, all you have to do is ask. “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Romans 10:9-10
If you fear losing your loved ones, turn to Christ. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7. Understand that bad things happen, but they don’t change the unchangeable nature of God. God is good. God is merciful. God loves you, and he loves the people you love far better and more fully than you can ever imagine.
Knowing this, do not be afraid, because perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). Just like your children cry when they have to go to the doctor, but you take them anyway, because you know what is best and they don’t. We are God’s children. Put your trust in Him knowing that, whatever happens here and now in this situation we are all facing, God’s promise is everlasting life through Christ Jesus.