Fear is not novel

The parking lot of our local Sam’s Club—cars darting in and out—looked like the inner workings of the ant colony my class had in the third grade. 

The inside of the store looked more like the ant colony after Billy knocked it off the book case. One second of freefall and a thousand ants instantly became free grazers. 

Sure, the ants were all still anty and still recognized the antiness of the other ants, but they seemed confused and unprepared for life outside their catacomb. They bumped into one another. They seemed to forget the group. They foraged on their own. 

There was a lot of “cart-bumping” inside the wholesale store, too. Many people seemed to be half-smiling in the midst of the consumer chaos. They were neighborly and not yet serious competitors for resources. Others wore the uncertainty of the times on their faces. 

We didn’t see what some have—people at loggerheads over the last package of one-ply or tugging on the same gallon of milk—but the lines from the registers to the back of the store caused us to abort our mission. 

We instead went to a smaller grocery store and there saw many parents rowing in our same boat. They, too, needed food for the children spending a few more weeks at home after spring breaks were extended. And we still waited 45 minutes to land a register. Sure, our frozen foods were by then unfrozen, but c’est la guerre for resources in the First World (where we’re spoiled). 

It was in this pileup of shopping carts that we had several conversations about human nature. 

The novel COVID-19 (Coronavirus) panic reminded us fear is not novel. If you live in Texas and there’s a hint of ice within 500 miles, you’ve seen it before. The run on milk alone is repeated every time Armageddon of one type or another rolls around. Admittedly, this situation is a little different, but the principles are still the same.

First, times like these remind us human beings are still pretty frail and insecure. Second, fear of the unknown runs deep in most people, and a stubborn self-centeredness—even if buried deeply—can rise to the surface when people can’t see far down the road. Finally, it is quite evident most of our society is deathly afraid of sickness and, well, death. 

We all want to stay healthy, but as many preachers have already said, a healthy life is just the slowest path to a certain death. We will all die physically someday, but probably not from novel COVID-19. 

Still, we can be responsible and reasonable in our reaction to it. Social distancing is a responsible measure to take in times like these. That’s why many churches elected this past Sunday to forego worship services and meet “digitally.” 

Spraying your child in the face with Lysol so he doesn’t get COVID-19 and die is irresponsible. That little incident, which happened in Memphis, demonstrates how irrational fear can be. 

The Bible is full of the word “fear.” In most cases, “biblical fear” is not the type of fear we see being expressed today. 

Biblical fear—referenced hundreds of times in the Old Testament—either conveys reverence for Almighty God or an attitude standing contrary to the expressed will, purpose and promises of God. The first type of fear God commends. The second type, where faith is absent, he condemns. 

In fact, God repeatedly exhorted those he called, such as Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets, to “fear not,” for he was with them. He promised to fulfill his promises. 

In the New Testament, fear also fell into broad categories. There was fear of the power of God, fear of persecution and persecutors (“for fear of the Jews”), and, finally, fear of the unknown. It is the last most people are dealing with today. 

There is, however, no reason for the Christian to fear. Jesus has told us there will come a time when men grow faint because of the disruptive judgement of God on this world (Luke 21:26); but even then, we should not fear that judgment (1 John 4:18). He has also already promised he will provide for his people (Matt. 10:31).

Times like these, at least for me, reinforce those teachings. Fear the Lord. Do not fear the things of this world. Not persecution. Not uncertainty. Not novel COVID-19. Whether in life or death, should it come to that, we are his. And where he is, all fear subsides.

Published: Mar 16, 2020


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