When Fear is Love

Throughout this crisis, I have been reminded of the conflict in many of us over fear and faith. So often, fear is discussed as a sin. It is faithless. It is evil. As someone who struggles with fear, I know this can be true. I have seen how fear can separate someone from God–and how separation from God can cause fear.

But I also believe that all of our deepest temptations came from a perversion of something good. Sloth, for instance, is when rest becomes laziness. Gluttony is when thanksgiving becomes greed. Pride is when confidence becomes self-glorifying.

And fear. Isn’t fear also good? Doesn’t fear protect us from recklessness? Doesn’t it steady us and make us act towards the protection of ourselves and others? It is this fear that makes us take our prescriptions and follow traffic laws. It doesn’t have to be a constant struggle of worry. It can be a quiet, gentle voice of caution.

Ever since the outbreak broke the news and people started hoarding, I have heard many people say “faith over fear!” and “all we have to do is have faith!” I love the power of this response, and I believe many people say it honestly without a doubt that God will work through this crisis. I believe this too, and I hope that we all do have faith over fear, especially when fear becomes despair.

But I wonder if we sometimes see our responses of caution and safety as the same thing as a response of desperate fear. Even more, I wonder if it is associated with faithlessness and doubt in God’s provision.

We have many reasons to fear right now. This epidemic, if not controlled soon, can be disastrous, as it has been disastrous in other countries. And we do see people acting in desperate fear as they hoard and worry endlessly over things they can’t control. As I try to respond in faith, I pray and cling to my hope in a God who loves the world. I believe this hope has a foundation, and it keeps me going. It’s a faith that looks beyond the immediate crisis to the cross of salvation.

But right now, the best response to the crisis can look a lot like that desperate fear–vigilantly washing our hands, staying home, and having church online. But the difference is in the heart of the action. Are we acting in despair, or are we acting in caution? When we say “faith over fear,” are we undermining the good, healthy fear that God gave us?

I believe in a big God. I believe in a God who heals, who does miracles, and who absolutely without-a-doubt has the ability to end this disease and keep it from spreading. I believe this. But I will be honest—I do not believe God would have me do nothing because of this hope. I don’t believe that my country is more blessed than the countries that have already been impacted by this crisis, or that God wants me to ignore CDC recommendations because everything is in His hands.

I believe we live in a broken world where bad things happen–where tornadoes rip across Nashville, killing people and destroying homes. But I also believe in a God who works through God’s people in crisis. I believe that God’s church is glorified all the more when its people are working to rebuild communities. I believe God uses healthcare professionals to save people.

And I believe in a God whose law in the Old Testament is filled with regulations on sanitation to protect people from disease. I believe that people who did not follow these regulations were susceptible to death.

I believe we are the church, and that the church should be in the frontlines when it comes to protecting the community.

I believe that true fear–the fear that God will not act which leads to despair–comes from the sin of separation from God. But I also believe that healthy fear is a gift from God to keep us safe and to protect others.

What if, then, being safe and listening the CDC guidelines is not an act of fear at all but an act of love?

If love drives out all fear, then let’s act in love for our neighbor. If we can do that, then there will be no need to worry. We will be together, protecting each other, and ending this as soon as possible.

So, yes, I will join my voice with those who call for faith in this time. I will pray that we will not have the kind of fear that comes from doubt in God.

But just as I wouldn’t give up rest to avoid of sloth, or food to avoid gluttony, I won’t give up healthy fear to avoid despair.

We can be safe and still have faith, and, in doing so, we will love.

As writer Anne Voskamp wrote this week on her instagram: “All social-distancing right now is actually social-togetherness: keeping our distance from each other is the gift we give each other to get through this together.”

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