“Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls...”
Jeremiah 6:16 NASB
I’ve been amazed to discover that the recent coronavirus pandemic has exposed me to many levels of danger. My own observation is that there are at least three dangers directly confronting me as a Christian, and one of them is particularly hidden -- so I want to particularly expose that one.
The Obvious Danger
The first level of danger is the health threat the novel virus has imposed upon me. That’s certainly real, and I don’t mean to downplay it by calling it “obvious.” By all means, we should exercise proper care for ourselves and others. But I have seen that this level has been the most natural danger for me to defend myself against, through various handwashing routines, and other precautionary measures. I believe that however real the physical danger the virus poses may be, the physical danger should be the least concerning threat to me as a Christian, because no sickness or infection can send me to hell!!
Even if you are among the shrinking minority who believe the virus poses no great health threat, it is still proper and wise to submit to the government’s guidelines that have been placed upon us during this time - 1 Peter 2:13-14. It is not a sign of spiritual maturity to ignore those governmental directions that one deems irrelevant.
Because the health threat is an obvious danger that many are speaking about elsewhere, and because this level of danger cannot separate me from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39), I’ll devote my attention to two more serious dangers, and particularly to the one that’s more subtle than the other.
The First Real Danger
“For thus the LORD spoke to me with mighty power and instructed me not to walk in the way of this people, saying, “...You are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. It is the LORD of hosts whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, And He shall be your dread.”
Isaiah 8:11-13 NASB
Beyond the heath concerns covid-19 poses, there is also the spiritual danger of worry, anxiety, and fear. I say this is “the first real danger” because while contracting coronavirus itself cannot send anyone to hell, living in a cycle of fear and despair most certainly can! Jesus commanded us, “Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36 NASB).
Because Jesus’ return will come as a “shock” to people whose hearts have been weighed down by worry, it’s so important that we be on guard at all times against such attacks of the enemy, and keep on the alert to fight against any sense of fear that grips our hearts. Such feelings are certainly not from God, but from our flesh, and must be rejected as such. “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
2 Timothy 1:7 ESV
We may certainly be tempted to anxiety — indeed, as long as we are in this world, we will be tempted — but true disciples of Jesus Christ are those who are diligent to “recall to mind” what is true about God in the midst of such attacks. In Lamentations 3:21, in the midst of extreme pain and suffering (detailed in v1-18), everything changes for Jeremiah inwardly when he renews his mind according to God’s Word, when he fixes his attention on what God has revealed about Himself rather than on how Jeremiah feels about himself. Please take a moment to read Lamentations 3:1-32, and notice how everything turns on v21, “this I recall to mind...”
(No really, open Lamentations 3)
The same thing happens to Asaph in Psalms 73 (v17) & 77 (v11). This is not a coincidence; and the same principle applies to our lives amidst the coronavirus pandemic as well. Jesus warned us that “...the kingdom of God suffers violence (through such tormenting feelings of despair, attacks from outside and inside), and violent men take it by force (true disciples fight back!)” (Matthew 11:12).
The Holy Spirit has commanded us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind...” (Romans 12:2). Certainly, we are in times where we see “men fainting with fear and the expectation of the things that are coming upon the world...” (Luke 21:26). This is the pattern that we must not be conformed to (Isaiah 8:11-13). Jesus warned us of this beforehand! Now is the time to “straighten and lift up our heads, because our redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). I have found that meditating on Who God has declared Himself to be in His Word, and on Who He has proven Himself to be in my life, is a wonderful source of the strength that I need to obey Jesus’ command to lift up my head.
The Hidden Danger
Having described the physical danger and one real spiritual danger above, I wanted to mention one additional danger that I have seen subtly lurking beyond the very real spiritual danger of fear, worry, and anxiety.
If you’re like me, when you read Jesus’ warning above, in Luke 21:34 (“Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap”), you immediately acknowledge the dangers of drunkenness (the tendency to want to escape, more broadly) and worry (as mentioned above), but you probably blast right by the warning against “dissipation.”
Yet I’ve seen that dissipation is every bit as dangerous as anxiety and escapism, if not more so, because of its deceptiveness. What is dissipation? It’s becoming dispersed in our thinking, or distracted in our affections. And herein lies the hidden, yet very real, spiritual danger of coronavirus: it’s something we can easily be absorbed with!
I noticed how my tendency to become absorbed in current events sapped my spiritual vitality over a decade ago, when I became engrossed in a presidential race, and then again more recently after closely following the Golden State Warriors’ historic (and ultimately heart breaking!!) season a few years ago. I noticed how my tendency to want to read opinions, watch highlights, and engage in conversations about these topics, if left unchecked, left me lukewarm in my devotion to the Lord — I just didn’t have enough bandwidth to seek Him with all my heart, with other interests absorbing all my attention. I discovered that there are only so many things I can really love as a disciple of Jesus Christ! “Jesus said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment.”
Matthew 22:37-38 NASB
And this is what I think is perhaps the greatest danger facing me in the light of the coronavirus. Unchecked absorption. Unbridled interest. Dissipation. Diminishing my interest in the things of God, slowing the pace of my pursuit of God, cooling off my passion for His name and devotion to Jesus Himself, losing sight of His absolute love and wisdom and power. I believe the pandemic is more dangerous than being absorbed with the NBA Finals (to use a recent personal example) for at least four reasons:
1 - there’s no time horizon! Whereas the NBA Finals are a couple of weeks at best, and thus can only dominate headlines and heartstrings for so long, there’s no known time frame for the pandemic — there’s potential for virtually unending absorption.
2 - there are many more possible conversation partners! Whereas the NBA Finals is a niche interest that a big chunk of the population doesn’t share with me, the pandemic is something on almost everyone’s mind! It’s become as natural a conversation topic as asking about the weather.
3 - it actually impacts my life! Whereas the NBA Finals has no material impact on my health, income, or livelihood, yet the pandemic poses very real threat to all of the above. So it’s especially easy to justify or rationalize being absorbed with the latest news - after all, it might affect me! It probably will!
4 - I have some measure of control. Whereas the NBA Finals will never be impacted by anything I do personally, yet there’s the very real sensation that my own behavior and planning can have direct influence on the impact of the pandemic on my life and the lives of others. So there’s a natural desire to be as informed as possible.
Praise God if He’s kept us healthy, absolutely. And praise Him if He’s kept us from fear and worry. We should certainly appreciate Him for what He’s done (Psalm 103:2, Luke 17:18, 1 Corinthians 4:7) by way of health and deliverance from fear. But will we also ask the Lord to help us measure our attention, to “number our days so that we may present to Him a heart of wisdom” (Psalms 90:12)? We are commanded to lay aside not only the sin that entangles, but also every hindrance (Hebrews 12:1) that distracts us from pure and simple devotion to the Lord (2 Corinthians 11:3).
I’m asking the Lord to help me be an encouragement and example to others as well, making sure that my speech gives grace to those who hear, and preserves them in devotion to Christ. I want to share words of faith, not fear. What will I sow into others' lives as well? Am I the bearer of the latest news, or a seeker after “the ancient paths” (Jeremiah 6:16)?
“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.”
Ephesians 5:15-16 NASB