The future is decided, not by our fear, but by our Father - the third blog in a five part series exploring Christian responses to the Coronavirus pandemic. By Terry Young
The depressing thing about whistle-blowers is how many get attacked themselves, and that having spoken up for others they must then protect themselves. A friend of mine even wrote a book about raising concerns and finding himself under attack as a doctor (Little Stories of Life and Death). Being brave takes courage in the first place and then more courage to conquer the fear of the threats.
When I was out of work in 2001, I was both excited and worried. I remember a chill as I watched 9/11 unfold. It was terribly selfish, but that’s what I felt as I realised what a bad time it was to be unemployed with a house on the market. And I worried about money. It wasn’t a reasonable fear, since I had a year’s pay. My wife, Dani, and I felt that God was leading us, so we trebled our mortgage not long afterwards and moved: church, house, school, everything.
I believe we got those decisions right but looking back I realise that a sort of dull ache limited my enjoyment and family life. When something similar happened in 2018, I decided not to worry about money – spend sensibly but as normal and trust God – and I have enjoyed the experience of uncertainty the better for it. The psalms keep reminding us to share our memories of how God has protected us, not least because God uses the past to encourage us now. However, we need more than good news stories, and there is more.
The Bible’s teaching around fear has several layers, the uppermost being that God looks after us, as I have just described. Jeremiah tells us that God is steadily planning for our good (Jeremiah 29:10-14), a theme to which Paul returns (Romans 8:28-31), while in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explains that we need not worry about food or clothes because we have a Father in heaven (Matthew 6:25-34). The future is decided, not by our fear but, by our Father.
To help his disciples take this on board, quite literally, after the storm on the lake (Mark 4:35-41), Jesus teaches about fear and faith, but in an odd way because he explains that one must push the other out. Why were they terrified? Because they thought they were going to drown. Why didn’t they realise they were not going to drown? Because they lacked faith! Clearly, they could see Jesus in the boat but they felt he had to be awake to save them. What he did to save them once he woke up scared them silly and turned disaster into a learning exercise. Jesus wants them to connect his power and their faith against fear. If he can sleep, perhaps they can relax!
This time, the plan took them through, rather than around, the scary experience and so the second layer of truth is that even if a threat materialises, God’s presence brings peace. As Moses discovered (Exodus 33:14) and Isaiah explained (Isaiah 43:1-2), the truth is that when threats materialise, God makes the path bearable by sharing it with us. Jesus taught about a yoke where we find ourselves in harness with him (Matthew 11:29-30), so that those who are weary or burdened are refreshed and recharged to keep going.
Tough times are also when our faith develops. The disciples emerged from the boat with a new sense of wonder, while Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will teach us what to say in dangerous arguments (Luke 12:11-12).
So, how bad must it get before we can be afraid? The backstop is that even death has been disarmed, and Jesus urged his disciples to fear nobody whose worst threat was merely death (Matthew 10:28). Ever since the resurrection, Christians have been confident that this worst danger cannot hurt them. Their lack of fear fuelled their heroism and they changed the world because they knew the greatest danger it possessed was an empty threat.
Last summer, I read The resurrection of the Son of God by NT Wright (Tom Wright’s academic alter ego). I don’t buy his theology entirely (but I’m not consistently at ease with the opposing theologies, either) and I do wish NT could write with half of Tom’s compact clarity. However, his call to reclaim our resurrection heritage is spot on, and I’m so glad I persevered to the end of the book. Easter is the cornerstone of our faith!
Most of us usually find this backstop less reassuring than the idea that God plans our way around difficulty or walks with us through it. The current crisis helps us with this by making death – ours or someone’s near us – a distinct possibility, and soon. Our challenge now is to appropriate these layers of truth and pray for the faith to banish the fear.
The last word on fear, however, is that we win in the end. I enjoy American football, or NFL, especially when the quarterback gets a pass away, milliseconds before hundreds of pounds of defensive line hits him. The successful quarterback always focuses on that critical pass, trusting his offense to protect him but willing to take the hit if it fails.
I was born in New England, so my team is the Patriots and when in February 2017 they reached the Superbowl, I watched on TV in a hotel bedroom late that night. With my team down 28-3 in the third quarter, I switched off and went to sleep. I told Dani in the morning what a sad game it had been, but it was only when I was trying to catch up online, that it dawned on me that I had missed the greatest comeback in Superbowl history and the Patriots had won.
We are on the winning side, not British Christians but Christians everywhere. It would be tragic to emerge from this crisis and realise that, with one thing and another, we had slept through one of the great comeback experiences.
This is the third blog of a series exploring Christian responses to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Christians in the crisis: introducing the series
God and the nations: how does a crisis challenge the global gods?
Fear not! Reasons to be confident through a crisis.
Hezekiah’s tunnel: the balance between trust and action.
Blessings in disguise: finding the upside of a crisis and using it gratefully.
Image | Lennart Wittstock | Pexels
Terry Young was born to missionary parents working in the Middle East. He has always tried to unify his life of worship and secular missions, and has been part of church leadership teams in Essex, and at Slough Baptist Church. He has written a few books that link worlds, including After the Fishermen, and Jake, Just Learn to Worship.
After a mobile early childhood his family settled in the UK to the northwest of Birmingham, and eventually he studied at the local university. After his doctoral studies he worked for 16 years in Chelmsford undertaking research and business development in the aerospace sector, where his interest was in fibre optics and photonics. In the end he gravitated to healthcare systems and move to Datchet with a position as a university professor
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