Be Not Afraid
This morning at the sparsely populated Ballard Health Club I said to an acquaintance, “Does the fact that we’re here mean we are foolish or that we are addicted (to our exercise routine)?” He responded by saying, “Be not afraid,” which is a frequent injunction in the Scriptures of both the Old and New Testament.
But what does that mean? And what does it mean in our current situation?
There are, in life, genuine threats. Fear, as an emotion, is nothing more than recoil an object that threatens. It may be a rattlesnake on a trail, a forest fire heading our way, or virus for which we have no immunity or immunization. Such fear is human, understandable and even wise. Which is to say that the Biblical injunction, “Be not afraid,” does not, i.m.h.o., mean that we are never to experience fear.
Life is full of risks and dangers and we cannot expect that all threats will be eliminated. The effort to do that results in its own kind of distortion of life.
What I take the injunction to “Be not afraid” to mean is no stock market plunge or spreading virus can threaten us ultimately.
Paul puts it this way in the famous text from Romans. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, not anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Roman 8: 38 – 39)
Paul does not say there are no diseases or tyrants or catastrophic events. There are, as he knew well. But what he does say, or so I take it, is that these things are robbed of their ultimacy. Against the love of God they shall not prevail.
I like the way Dorothy Sayers put it. “Christ does not promise to deliver us from all suffering and danger, but to deliver us in suffering and danger.”
Amid life’s threats and challenges, we are called to root ourselves in this faith and promise, to root ourselves in the life of God who alone is God. Not all of life’s threats will then dissolve. COVID-19 will still be real and alarming. But, rooted in God and God’s love from which nothing in all creation shall be able to separate us, we can live these strange days with a measure of Christian calm. Perhaps “Christian calm” does not sound like much. But when anxiety rages, a certain calm can be a sign of faith, hope and love.
So my take is that caution is appropriate both for one’s own health and that of others. And it is right to do our part to minimize risk so that the health care system is not overwhelmed but there for those who need it. But we can do these things with a certain baseline spirit of calm, of trust, for our lives are rooted ultimately, finally, in God’s love and grace.
So, keep washing your hands, etc. and be not afraid.