The Beginning of Fear
Murmurings had been heard in the last weeks of December 2019 about a spreading sickness in China. On the final day of 2019, the world’s journey with Covid-19 began when the Chinese officially admitted to there being a cluster of pneumonia cases in the city of Wuhan. (The New England Journal of Medicine).
Over the next two weeks, several news stories portrayed the spread of this new virus across China and then spilling over into other countries. At this point, we in Canada did not show much interest. In past years other viruses had come from China with little to no direct impact on us. Besides, it was the middle of January and even if we were paying some attention to the stories from China, most of us were more concerned with our own lives and the frigid temperatures.
It was likely in those last days of January when some began feeling the tingle of unease somewhere deep within. It was like the first cool breeze that precedes a summer storm. The nervousness was not enough for us to change anything we were doing . . . but a low level of concern was developing, and we began paying more attention to Covid-19.
Within a month that feeling of discomfort deep inside us slowly began to surface and turn into anxiety. It became clear the situation was serious when European governments began quarantining communities and eventually locking down entire countries.
On March 11, the World Health Organization made it official. Covid-19 was declared a pandemic.
Alberta abruptly joined much of the rest of the world on March 15 when, with no forewarning, the government announced that schools were closing. In the next days, recreational facilities were closed. Restrictions were placed on public and private gatherings. Nonessential businesses and services were ordered to close. It was surreal to see store shelves strangely empty where toilet paper, hand sanitizer, flour, and baking goods should have been.
Our lives abruptly contracted. We worked from home. Church services were viewed from our couch. Travel stopped.
The Growth of Fear
Discomfort had grown to concern, then anxiety, and continued to grow. The prevailing emotion experienced around the globe in the past 10 months seems to be fear. Merriam-Webster defines fear as “an unpleasant, often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger,” or “anxious concern.”
Covid brought with it an anticipation and awareness of danger. Unless we have an unusual lack of emotion, we have all experienced some amount of fear during there months. Fear of catching the virus. Fear of unknowingly passing the virus on to our families. Fear of economic fallout. Fear of losing our jobs. Fear of death.
And the emotion of fear is a natural and normal human experience. God instilled in us the sensation of fear for our protection. We experience fear because the potentially devastating effects of Covid brings an awareness of danger.
Our concern is not in the fear itself, but how this wave of fear is affecting us.
The Foundation of Fear – The Loss of Control
Think about driving down a steep hill. It is winter. The road is coated with ice. It is snowing, and you pass a sign showing a sharp curve at the bottom. You instantly regret not taking time last week to buy snow tires. Your heartrate matches your increasing speed as you slide down the hill. When you touch the breaks, the vehicle slides, and the back wants to pass the front. You suddenly realize that four-wheel drive makes no difference on your ability to brake and your grip on the steering wheel tightens (as if a tighter grip somehow helps the breaking). You are no longer in control; and that loss of control causes fear.
Fear is often entwined with feeling an absence of control.
This is one reason we experience fear related to Covid. We have no control of where the virus is. Covid is out there, lurking, waiting to latch onto us. We have no control over the government’s response to Covid. We have no control over how schools or businesses will respond. We have no control over whether our co-worker or the person we walk past at the grocery store is following protocols. Regardless of whether Covid infects us; fear infects us.
The lack of control results in fear and that fear is either directed inward, or outward (or both).
Anxiety: fear directed inward
Fear directed inward results in anxiety and a whirlwind of destruction gathers speed. Anxiety brings fear; fear brings anxiety. This becomes an ongoing, endless loop - unless something interrupts it.
The typical method to attempt stopping the destructive whirlwind is to reestablish control. While there are some things we can control, almost everything related to Covid is out of our control, and the anxiety increases.
Anger: fear directed outward
While fear turned inwards brings anxiety; fear turned outward creates anger.
Imagine being a parent in a large, multi-story department store with your very active preschooler. A weekend sale has caused the aisles to be crowded. While looking at winter coats (in case you get stuck in a snowdrift at the bottom of a steep icy hill) you suddenly realize that little Johnny has pulled a disappearing act. Your stomach muscles tighten, and your heart rate increases. As you call Johnny’s name your voice becomes more urgent. After a few minutes that seem like several hours, you discover Johnny hiding among a nearby rack of dresses. When you spot him, your fear transforms from fear to a nanosecond of relief, then immediately Johnny sees the anger on your face.
Externalized fear brings anger, and because of fear a lot of anger has been expressed over Covid. Anger has been expressed towards those who have gotten sick (as if they wanted to get sick). Government and politicians, school boards and secretaries, and people not wearing masks have felt the sting of people’s anger. Some people are angry with God.
A Disciple’s Response to Fear
Though God created the emotion of fear to protect us from danger, Satan tries to twist and use it for his purpose. Satan introduces anxiety and anger to complicate fear and cause us to act in ways that are damaging to ourselves and the people around us.
Relationships are strained to the point of damage. Our witness as a disciple of Jesus is hurt. Our own lives are damaged. Even our relationship with God is harmed.
What can we do to alleviate the damaging aspects of fear? While the Bible discusses both anxiety and anger, I think we should dig a little deeper and focus on the issue of control.
Most times we experience fear, we are struggling with feeling that we have no control. We often attempt to wrestle control from God – which is a pointless exercise. In the Bible the struggle for control is seen with Adam and Eve and their choice to disobey God. They believed Satan’s lie that they could gain control by having a knowledge of good and evil. Satan told them they would achieve wisdom, that they would not die, that they would be like God. He was tempting them with the illusion of control (Genesis 2-3).
The same struggle for control is seen in the next generation as their son Cain wants to control the type of sacrifice he will present to God (Genesis 4). The issue of control was the downfall of many of the kings of Judah and Israel. Throughout the Bible person after person who wanted to assert control in their lives ended up sinning.
The first step to controlling fear is to realize that God is in control and to stop trying to wrestle control from Him. Psalm 23 is an example of understanding that God is in control. King David wrote about God being his Shepherd and guiding him to what he needed, rest and security in the middle of danger.
In Isaiah 40, the prophet Isaiah asserts that God is always in control. He describes God as the “everlasting God.” The God who never gets tired or weary. The God to whom there is no limit to His understanding (Isaiah 40:28). We can rephrase this by saying that in all ways and at all times, God is in control.
Understanding and accepting God’s control gives us a strength and power that we otherwise live without. The result of His being in control is that He gives strength and power to those who follow Him. Isaiah describes it like God giving us wings like eagles so we can soar (Isaiah 40:29-31)
However, it seems hard to soar when we are grounded by fear, anxiety, and anger.
Tips to Help Soar Like an Eagle
1) God understands your fear. He is God. The Almighty. The All Powerful. The All Knowing. God knows and understands your fear. When you cry out to Him expressing your fear (and I encourage you to do this), He understands your fear, and wraps His arms of love around you.
2) God loves you. This is not a worn-out phrase to be brushed aside. Knowing that God loves you is foundational for you to spiritually thrive. God created you. You are His creation. Because He created you, you are valued by God. He loves you! Psalm 107:1 declares: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever” (CSB). In every situation you encounter, God loves you. Remember this.
3) God is in control. Despite the chaos in the world, God is in control. As the Creator and Sustainer of the earth and our lives, He maintains control. Whatever takes place is part of God’s plan to renew His relationship with His creation and to establish His Kingdom on Earth. As we deal with increasing numbers of people getting sick from the virus, it takes faith to believe that God is in control. And this is the way God wants it. He desires that we have faith in Him, that we believe despite not seeing. Whenever you feel fear tightening its grip, declare to yourself that God is all powerful and in control.
As an encouragement to you, please experience the following verses from Matthew 6 by reading them slowly. This is part of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus was teaching that God is in control. He taught that God will provide all we need, and we do not need to allow fear (worry) to overwhelm us.
25 “Therefore I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing?
26 Consider the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?
27 Can any of you add one moment to his life span by worrying? 28 And why do you worry about clothes? Observe how the wildflowers of the field grow: They don’t labor or spin thread. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these. 30 If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t he do much more for you—you of little faith?
31 So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. 34 Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (CSB)
May God bless you as you continue to grow and thrive as a disciple of Jesus.