I don’t know what our world will be like when you read this article, but at this time, while I’m writing it, most of the world’s population is in a state of high anxiety over a pandemic1 virus sweeping the globe. Whether this turmoil is deserved or not, will be evident sooner or later, I guess, but the problem brings up a subject I had been planning to write about — fear!
Today, it is not just the disease that people fear, but the news reports describing just how bad that disease could be. An article in Psychology Today, twelve years ago, made some good points, when considering if President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words were still relevant to the financial crisis they were having at that time.2 Our 32nd United States president was speaking about the Great Depression of the 1930s, when he said “There is nothing to fear, but fear itself.”
Just as it was back then, many people are living in fear made worse by constant consumption of news media. We “need to look at the motivations of the media who advise us. Keep in mind that one of the main goals of media is to keep you consuming it. If you quickly change the channel to another station, they don’t make money. Watching people talk about financial concerns will likely not keep your eyes glued to the tube as much as talk of a financial crisis.”3
Our current situation is much more than a financial crisis, but one about our health, too. And if the news media is correct, there is a serious possibility of massive deaths and severe sickness. Maybe that is so — maybe not so much. History proves that not all news reporting is correct, and neither is the narrative coming from a national government.
Regardless, what is going on today is definitely keeping peoples’ attention upon the news. And it appears people will give up most anything to combat such a threat, real or imagined. Generally, when you hear a government say that something is being done to protect its citizens’ safety, health, and well-being, chances are you are going to lose some of your rights in exchange.
One thing, I suspect, is that whenever this current situation ends, the changes to our society will never fall back to what it was like before. Even if this is a real crisis, the “powers that be” will use it as an opportunity to implement many things they want in place for better control of society. It will be what they want, not what you or I want.
A current news article, authored by an American constitutional lawyer, says that panic from a pandemic unleashes unchecked governmental power. “The government operates like a virus in a case of a pandemic panic, infecting our minds and bodies, monitoring speech, association and movement, with tools of surveillance unthought-of to the founders.”4
I know I am ranting about politics, but this article is not really one on political issues, so for the most part, I’ll let others handle that. My point in bringing all this up is that the news media and government are scaring the heck out of the population. They are hawking fear. So, I believe Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words hold true in our current crisis, too.
What is fear?
According to that same magazine article, scientifically, “fear is an embodiment of our ancient ‘fight-or-flight’ response. The adrenaline is released from our adrenal glands and heightens ones ability to physically react. This adrenaline response can be experienced in a number of ways including fear and worry. This fear and worry can be thought of as ‘distress’.”5
There are both good fear and bad fear. A fear of heights or fear of a hissing serpent can be helpful and possibly save your life. Or, it can also condition us to live a certain way, as it controls our attention through that conditioned response. I guess that is the same way a government, or even Satan, can condition and control us.
Some types of fear can be overcome, and some can’t. Timothy, the Apostle Paul’s protégé, had a timid personality and was fearful of opposition as he preached the Gospel,6 and he worked hard to overcome his disability and become a teacher instead of just a pupil.
When those fears seem to be real stumbling blocks, the advice is to lean on God for support — let him help you if you have difficulty overcoming anxiety. Or as Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Philippians, “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:5-7, ESV).7
In that letter, Paul and Timothy showed they cared for the people they ministered to and they retained trust in God.8 Prayer, as the scripture indicates, is necessary in difficult times and the readers were told not to be anxious about anything, but direct their requests to God.9 Jesus warned against fear and worry, which obviously eliminates trust in God, when he said the following and pointed out that God takes care of what belongs to him.10
And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?” (Luke 12:22-26).
Jesus is not suggesting that work isn’t necessary, only that worry is senseless because it does no accomplish anything. The root problem with worry is a lack of faith, so trust in God and pray to avoid being anxious or fearful.11
Prayer is the antidote for fear.
Yes, to fear or worry is anxiety, but prayer is the antidote for that condition.12 To fear or tremble entraps the sense that one’s actions are controlled by another person (or entity or condition) that is dreaded. But security in the Lord removes intimidation.13 “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.” (Proverbs 29:25).
Psalm 34:4 says, “I sought the LORD and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” This is delivered in the typical instructional form of most Psalms, and its advice to pray, is “to remember that the Lord is watching, opposing evildoers, helping all who are in need or are crushed. For even the righteous meet many hardships, but the Lord limits them and delivers. In the end, the righteous will be totally vindicated.”14
What is happening in our world now is out of control and losing control is a trigger for extreme anxiety. If you feel afraid or worried, acknowledge the truth of the situation and that will help your brain adjust to it. Focus on things that you can control, like keeping in contact with friends and family, working in the yard, or doing chores.15 Some people will try to deny the truth, but denial is your enemy. So continue praying to God and maintaining the faith that he will get you through it. Don’t let this fear remove your faith in God.
The effects of stress are cumulative, so “ongoing stress makes us susceptible to illness and disease because the brain sends defense signals to the endocrine system, which then releases an array of hormones that not only gets us ready for emergency situations, but severely depresses our immunity at the same time. Some experts claim that stress is responsible for as much as 90% of all illnesses and diseases, including cancer and heart disease.”16 So the current induced stress from the news media is only compounding the problem — making it easier for disease to affect us.
What are we to do as our society changes?
As one pastor (and former CDC17 medical professional) said, “I believe the church must lead in love rather than be manipulated by stigma. We are called to provide compassion instead of cowering in fear.”18
“During Jesus’ earthly ministry, physical contact was a common means of his healing. With a leper, Jesus risked what others would have feared as both contamination and ritual defilement (Matt. 8:2–3). Like Jesus, we should not be afraid.”19 We need to draw near, rather than socially distance ourselves from others.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I had never heard of the term “social distancing ourselves” from others, and now the whole world is saying it. That is the power of the news media, right? Anyway, I am not saying we should be stupid and plow willy-nilly into areas of disease and quarantine. But, unless there is a clearly defined and present risk, maybe we should consider continuing our lives as usual. We have free will and, personally, I will consider the circumstances and pray, then do what I am comfortable doing to bring others to God.
“Satan and his minions torture believers by provoking them to abandon their trust in God and bury themselves under the weight of fearful circumstances. Fear is momentary atheism that denies God’s goodness, his ability and his plan. It reduces the majesty and power of God in our hearts and shrinks [us to] one who is effectively powerless. It deceitfully whispers the lie first spoken in the Garden of Eden [implying] your Creator is not a good Father. This scenario is repeated every time we yield to irrational fear.”20
These minions (followers) of Satan, knowingly or unknowingly, would be anyone opposed to Christian ideals. They are those whose agenda is evil and they attempt to implement fear to manipulate control or direct us into ungodly situations. When you recognize this happening, put your faith in God and pray. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” (Psalm 56:3).
Probably the most popular biblical reference to rejecting fear is from King David in Psalm 23. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4). My song selection for this article is based upon Psalm 23.
The song “You Never Let Go” is by the Texas gospel music artist, Guy Penrod. The performance starts off rather mellow, but soon swells into a moving crescendo as more background vocalists enter the stage during the last half. Selected lyrics are below. The video of this performance is listed in References & Notes and ‘closed captioning’ is available, if you want to follow the words.21
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
Your perfect love is casting out fear.
And even when I’m caught in the middle of the storms of this life,
I won’t turn back. I know you are near,
And I will fear no evil, for my God is with me.
And if my God is with me, whom then shall I fear?
Copyright © 2020, Dr. Ray Hermann
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References & Notes
- pandemic: occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).
- Winner, Jay, “Nothing to Fear, but Fear Itself?” (Psychology Today Magazine, 14 October 2008), https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/stress-remedy/200810/nothing-fear-fear-itself
- Barnes, Robert, “I am an American constitutional lawyer – and I see our government using Covid-19 to take away our fundamental rights”, (RT Op-ed, T-Novosti, 22 March 2020), https://www.rt.com/op-ed/483758-coronavirus-constitutional-rights-government/
- Winner, Jay, “Nothing to Fear, but Fear Itself?” (see above).
- Barry, John D., et al., Faithlife Study Bible, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), 2 Timothy 1:7.
- All scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV), ©2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. The text has been used by permission. All rights reserved.
- Luter, A. Boyd, Jr., “Philippians,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, Baker Reference Library, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), vol. 3, p. 1046.
- Lightner, Robert P., “Philippians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, (Eds.) J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), vol. 2, p. 663.
- Martin, John A. “Luke,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, (Eds.) J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), vol. 2, p. 238.
- Schreiner, Thomas R., “Luke,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, Baker Reference Library, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), vol. 3, p. 823.
- Melick, Richard R., Jr., “Philippians,” in CSB Study Bible: Notes, (Eds.) Edwin A. Blum and Trevin Wax, (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), p. 1888.
- Walvoord, John F. and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), vol. 1, p. 969.
- White, R. E. O., “Psalms,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, Baker Reference Library, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), vol. 3, p. 379.
- Kousoulis, Antonis, “How not to let the cononavirus crisis turn you into a paranoid wreck and keep your mental health in tip-top shape”, (Daily Mail, 21 March 2020), https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-8138201/How-not-let-cononavirus-crisis-turn-paranoid-wreck.html
- Goliszek, Andrew, “How Stress Affects the Immune System”, (Psychology Today, 12 November 2014), https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/how-the-mind-heals-the-body/201411/how-stress-affects-the-immune-system
- CDC: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the official national public health institute of the United States.
- Ko, Stephen, “Coronavirus Fears Mean We Need More Communion, Not Less”, (Christianity Today, 18 February 2020), https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/february-web-only/coronavirus-fears-mean-we-need-more-communion-not-less.html
- Darling, Dand and Fries, Micah, “What Have I to Fear”, (Christianity Today Magazine, 20 January 2016), https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2016/january/what-have-i-to-fear.html
- “You Never Let Go”, Artist: Guy Penrod; Album (CD/DVD): Guy Penrod: Hymns & Worship, (Gathier Gospel Series, 2016, Licensed ASCAP, SonyATV, Capitol CMG and others) – VIDEO (close captioning available): https://youtu.be/PgM-NIPev2w