Satan was the direct actor in the calamity that cut down Job. Job knew the Sabeans had struck his servants and he knew that the Chaldeans had raided his camels, but what Job said was, “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)
We know that God is Lord over the drought, the famine and the plague and that He brings these things upon us for our chastisement and for judgement. Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it? (Amos 3:6)
But God is also Lord of the panic that follows.
When Jehoshaphat’s army marched down into the wilderness of Tekoa singing, “Give thanks to the Lord, for His steadfast loves endures forever”, the Ammonite, Moabite and Edomite armies that were arrayed against him in overwhelming numbers suddenly fell into a panic and slaughtered each other (2 Chronicles 20:20-23).
When Jonathan and his armour-bearing bobbed up from behind the rocky crag, the Philistines fell into a sudden panic sent from God and the whole garrison fled from these two men (1 Samuel 14:13-15).
At the foot of Sinai, God warned of the many judgements that would come upon the people if they became faithless. Cities would be laid waste and disease, enslavement and famine would overtake them. But the crowning indignity would be faint-heartedness.
I will send faintness into their hearts…. The sound of a shaken leaf shall put them to flight… they shall fall when none pursues. (Leviticus 26:36)
Panic and fear would be among the judgements that God would send to discipline those who walk contrary to Him.
And here we are.
At the time of writing, Australia, the country where I live, has a population of around 25 million. Of those 25 million less than 470 have active cases of COVID-19. Of those, 99% will show mild to no symptoms. Of those with more severe symptoms, 98% have recovered or been discharged.1
Even if all of the current cases were lobbed into my home town with its population of around 5,000 people, you still could not call this a pandemic. You could not even call it an epidemic. But you could, very reasonably, call a good portion of the churches’ response to it a faint-hearted panic.
An irrational fear, fuelled by the media, a frowning government “eager to help”, and the madness of crowds seems to have been a leading feature of our response so far.
There are currently no known COVID-19 cases in my region. And yet, we are afraid to touch. We are afraid to sing (which happens to be one of the chief weapons of corporate Christian warfare) and we are afraid to gather.
No doubt the sickness, where it exists, is real, and because we live in herds it is capable of spreading. However, because we live in herds, it is also possible for God to send something else that spreads through our ranks. And that something else is fear. That something is panic. And God is the one who sends it.
But why would He do this? All such trials can have only one sensible meaning for a sin-riddled people, and that is the clear and obvious summons to repentance (2 Chronicles 7:14).
And so, finding out our sin, unmasking our compromise and then bending the knee in repentance would seem to be a wise place to start if we want to be rid of this plague of fear.
This takes courage.
The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion. (Proverbs 28:1)
There are many sins in which a man may boast. He may boast of his immoral exploits. He may boast of his craftiness and deception or how he did his annoying neighbour over financially. But men do not boast of their cowardice.
Because this is true, we will seek to mask our fear with love. We will say our response is grounded in love for the vulnerable and our duty to the state. But love does no harm to its neighbour – either in regard to a virus or the rising number of deaths of despair suffered by those same vulnerable people. Deaths which threaten to far outnumber the deaths from this virus.
Love does not knowingly spread sickness. But neither does it coerce, oppress, or isolate the healthy. It does not intimidate and does not enslave a people with fear (1 John 4:18).
I have some sympathy for those called to serve and rule within the church. Fear has done a number on many and no-one wants their reputation in this world shattered by the public humiliation of knowing someone in their care has become ill.
But nor should we lay aside the Lordship of Christ over the church in order to curry favour with the world.
The world does not write the rules of engagement for the church. They do not set the standards of our fellowship and they do not determine who or what we ought to fear.
We will not cheat death, but we can overcome fear and that victory begins with repentance and that repentance includes a confession of our cowardice.
If not, then what Raegan felt was true of the government may soon become terribly true for the church.