These are probably the two most common activities in our world today. Everybody’s disinfecting. And most people are afraid. Where has that got us? To a Sunday like a today. What a crazy week! Just this week all travel from Europe was cancelled. The stock market lost trillions of dollars in value. The President declared a national emergency on COVID-19. The governor of Indiana mandated no gatherings of 250 or more. Bethel Church is forgoing our normal eight worship services for a morning of livestream. And tomorrow, who knows? There is a lot of disinfecting and there is a lot of fear. It’s much easier to wash your hands than to wash your heart, wash your fear. Let’s talk about how to disinfect fear.
Is it a coincidence that “pandemic” and “panic” start with the same three letters? Pan comes from the Greek. “All.” Pandemic. Everybody’s got it. Panic. Everybody’s freaking out. Thankfully, not everybody’s got it. In fact, at this point, relatively speaking, few have it. But what about panic? Almost everybody’s got that. Fear is an infectious disease and it is spreading rapidly. Universities are shutting down. The NBA is suspended. No March Madness. Local schools are all closed. Nobody is shaking hands, if not because of Coronavirus, then because there seems to be a shortage of toilet paper. Either reason is good enough NOT to shake hands.
Pastor Steve, what’s going to happen? I’m a pastor, not a prophet. How about we just talk about what’s already here? Fear. What is fear? Fear is anxiety over the potential loss of something very important to us. We especially fear the loss of ultimately important things. The Bible says these ultimate things are the true functional gods of our hearts. There is a direct connection between the true gods of our hearts and the terror we feel at the possibility of losing them.
Our last good look at these functional gods was 9/11. Some of you were here back then. Different circumstances for sure, but the distress felt the same. Many people feared further violence and wouldn’t fly on an airplane. Some feared financial loss and watched in horror as the stock market plunged. Some people feared war and we watched sons and daughters of our church deployed to the Middle East. On and on. To love is to fear the loss of the beloved. Love money and we fear losing it. Love your health and we fear losing it. Love our children and we fear losing them. Love your life and death is your ultimate fear. Love whatever and the panic we experience shows just how important that is to us.
Now don’t get me wrong here. Do any of us wish ill health, financial ruin, loss of life, job, or school, on any of us? No. Nobody wishes those things on us or anyone else.
But our response when they are threatened is very revealing. We can live decades in prosperity and general good times without ever realizing how idolatrous our hearts actually are. Then we get the cancer diagnosis, or the market corrects, or a pandemic threatens at our doorstep and what bubbles up is what has been there all along, secretly stealing our joy but so subtly we never realized it. It takes a crisis to unmask them and here we are.
David Foster Wallace is not a Christian, but writes that worshiping God has this benefit:
“The compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship…is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never feel you have enough. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. Worship power, and you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect…and you will end up feeling…a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is…they’re unconscious. They are default settings.”
Well said. So, what is this really all about? Control. Humans crave gods we can control.
Pandemics put the modern man out of sorts because pandemics put the modern man out of control. In calmer times, our technologies make us feel like we are in total control. I can change my thermostat from my phone and trade stocks in Hong Kong too. I’m in total control. I’m awesome.
That’s why we freak out when we can’t find our phone for like two minutes. Suddenly our world feels out of control. Pandemics, on a much grander scale, remind us we can’t control the one thing that’s more important than anything else—our health and our very lives. We all assume that our modern healthcare and a reasonably healthy lifestyle will mean living into old age, walking our kids down the aisle, eating our grandkids’ wedding cake, and at least one absurd late-in-life purchase like a decked-out Harley. We expect it. We feel entitled do it. Pandemics remind us that things don’t always work out this way. Simply being near the wrong person or touching the wrong door handle might cost me my life. My ultimate thing is out of my control.
We can disinfect doorknobs, but how do we disinfect fear? Did you know the words repeated more than any other from the lips of Jesus? Do not fear. Do not fear. I’ve always found that truth comforting. God tells us many reasons NOT to fear. This is not exhaustive at all, but Romans 8 is a fear-killing chapter of the Bible. If you are a part of Bethel Church, this is a familiar portion of Scripture. We taught through this chapter a year ago. Perhaps the greatest chapter in the Bible. Its true greatness shines through when our hearts are afraid, like right now. I won’t read the whole chapter, but there’s plenty of disinfectant here.
The Gospel Eradicates our Ultimate Fear
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1–2)
There is a common thought out there that goes like this, we don’t want to panic. A former president famously said, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” Another great leader named Jesus contradicts that by telling us, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)
There is something we should greatly fear—the judgment of God against us and our sins. So, let’s make sure we fear the right things. We are in terror of a virus that can kill the body but not the soul. At the same time, we have little fear of Almighty God who will punish forever in hell. Jesus says, don’t fear the virus, or the cancer, or the car accident, fear the judgment of God forever. If our society had half the fear of hell that it has for this virus, a great revival would spread.
So, we see in this one of the keys to disinfecting fear. We must fear the right things, the ultimate things. For this God provides eternal disinfectant; “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
If God’s condemnation is our greatest fear, then Jesus is our greatest comfort and hope. No matter what happens, my soul is safe in Jesus. See that this promise is for those who are in Christ. This is Bible language for those who are true followers of Jesus. Those who have recognized their sin before God and trust in Jesus as the Savior of the world who died on the cross. His death for our sin. His resurrection for our eternal life. Jesus promised to save from judgment by forgiveness all who trust in Jesus.
Jesus said to fear God more than a virus. Is that you today? If not, might a pandemic fear lead you to faith? There’s no condemnation for those in Christ. We disinfect our biggest fear by faith in Jesus. Trust in him today.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2020 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
 David Foster Wallace, “This is Water,” Commencement speech delivered at Kenyon College, 2005.
 Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933.
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