The pandemic spread of the recent novel coronavirus strain COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) has, following an explosion of cases into a worldwide pandemic in 2020, given us another real-time example of how quickly world conditions can change and give rise to fear and panic.
Stock markets were destabilized, with whole nations diverting resources and attention to containment and cities and regions quarantining citizens. It’s been like a storm that rises quickly on the horizon and, before anyone can discern what’s happening and take shelter or other precautions, it slams into society and upends normal life.
This virus is serious for several reasons. First, like flu viruses, it causes death in a significant number of cases, the elderly being most vulnerable. Second, as of this writing, there is no vaccine, and development takes months. Third, many who have the virus show no symptoms, making it hard to tell who does or doesn’t carry it and may be spreading it to others.
But perhaps more serious is the reaction to this virus because of our interconnected world. With growing cases, people everywhere have been on lockdown. Huge numbers have lost jobs. Many are worried and scared—very scared.
Dismayed at what may come and lack of state protection
Fear is a common reaction in the face of a pandemic outbreak —fear of the unknown, fear of where this could lead. Will it kill a few thousand or hundreds of thousands? What will happen to the economy? What will the impact be on jobs? On travel? On political elections? On international relations? People wonder whether we’ll ever see “normal” again and regain control of events.
In a Geopolitical Futures column earlier this year, international strategist George Friedman wrote about the reaction to the virus. He commented: “The threat of the virus is not only that we may die, but that the fear of death will cause the world to heave up out of control. The virus first emerged with authority in China, a country dominated by the idea that the state’s power governs all things. This belief holds a fractious nation together in pride at how the state had made China great.
“The coronavirus showed the limits of human power, even in China. Beijing insists that it will deal with the virus and that its edicts will stop its spread, but the reality is that China is being overwhelmed, both by the disease and by the fear of the disease” (“Thoughts on the Coronavirus,” March 3, 2020, emphasis added throughout).
While China has made strides in bringing down the number of fatalities, Friedman’s underlying point is crucial: Our global world fosters trust and reliance on the state. People look to the leader, the party, the system, the government to provide for our needs and protect us from enemies—whether a foreign power or a tiny, invisible virus. The Bible shows that in the years ahead, world conditions will get so bad that people will cede sovereignty to a totalitarian system called the Beast, a supranational political, economic and spiritual power promising order and security (Revelation 17:13; Revelation 13:3-4).
Such misplaced confidence underlies some of the panic we’ve seen over COVID-19 and the casting of blame in the face of it. Friedman goes on to say of such “unpredictable events that wreck economic and geopolitical expectations . . . We search for explanations. Since we no longer believe that they are here as God’s punishment for our sins [—not that this must be the case, but how many these days would even consider it?—], they must have been caused by biological warfare units, or have spread because of the incompetence of scientists and politicians. Where priests used to comfort us, now leaders do, and now we hold the leader responsible not for causing the virus, but for not acting quickly enough to protect us.”
Gradually the state has over the years effectively become the secular religion, and not just in communist or other despotic nations. The size of government has grown massively while religion has declined. In the Western world, God, the Bible and organized religion no longer hold the position in people’s minds they once did.
Friedman concludes: “But we have come to expect to be protected, and when we are not our imaginations turn to the apocalypse. The successes of science and the claims of politicians have led us to believe in human invincibility so that the arrival of the virus is a violation of the social contract between the state, science and us. There are limits to power, and that, above all else, frightens us.”
Fear is a major aspect of coming dire events prophesied in the Bible. The end of the age is marked by not only increasing war, famine and disease pandemics but by increasing fear of these things and worsening calamity. Even if the corona-virus pandemic itself does not turn out to be as catastrophic as many have predicted, as appears to be the case, people’s response to it—in either dismissal or panic—can have devastating effect. This should be a wake-up call for all of us. It also gives us lessons in what to expect going forward.
Warnings of increasing panic
Government cannot guarantee your safety or immunity from catastrophe. Much in nature is beyond the control of human beings. Far better for us to learn this now so as to be prepared when much bigger calamities erupt on the world. We can all start right now by not reacting with paralyzing fear.
Notice what Jesus said in His Olivet prophecy, as it is called, about events as the end time approaches: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven” (Luke 21:10-11).
Great earthquakes and famines combined with pestilences will be terrifying to experience. Coupled with heavenly signs unlike anything ever seen, you can imagine the human reaction. But there’s more to it than that.
He continues, “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26, emphasis added throughout).
Consider for a moment that there have long been earthquakes, pestilences and other calamities around the world. But people in other places often didn’t hear about them—or news of them would arrive at a much slower pace.
Today, because of our modern interconnectedness, we hear it all instantly and see it in real time! News from China, Italy, Africa, Europe or other parts of the country we live in seems to be next door even when it’s not. And that drives an increase of fear everywhere—of mass panic.
It’s made even worse by the sensationalism of the news media. Fear sells, and so we have more of it. Bad news draws attention to cable network shows and drives traffic to Internet sites.
One serious consequence of both genuine health concerns and overhyped ones is that the economy is being severely damaged— bringing far worse hurt overall than the health crisis alone probably would. And the negative economic reporting and forecasting plays into yet more fear—which perpetuates the cycle.
Notice Jesus warned of not only terrible events to come, but of a terrifying expectation of worsening events and resultant widespread fear.
The Bible long before warned of such fear as part of the curses for disobeying God: “Your life shall hang in doubt before you; you shall fear day and night, and have no assurance of life. In the morning you shall say, ‘Oh, that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Oh, that it were morning!’ because of the fear which terrifies your heart, and because of the sight which your eyes see” (Deuteronomy 28:66-67).
We of course don’t want to minimize this virus in any way, but it is good to step back and survey what is happening.
Regardless of how widespread and/or dangerous this pandemic proves to be, we should not buy into fear—not if we are wise and heeding what Scripture tells us. Of course, we must take wise precautions in the face of danger—and the wisest of all is knowing where to put our trust and acting on that.
Christ’s faithful followers need not fear
While not giving in to fear, we also must not reason that we should just live it up as though nothing matters. Jesus goes on to say to His disciples in Luke 21:
“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36).
A disciple who is in a watchful, ready state of mind will not be caught off guard when such events occur. That is why Jesus spoke about them. He wants His followers to “lift up your heads” (Luke 21:28) when these awful, age-ending events occur.
Today when earthquakes occur in remote poor regions of the world where buildings fall like cards or tornadoes roar through a city leaving buildings in piles of sticks and bricks, it is terrible. Multiply that by many levels of magnitude and to saturation everywhere in the coming calamities at the end of the age and the scale boggles the mind. Yet uncontrolled fear will not rule those who hear Christ’s teaching and do what He says.
At the end of His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus showed the difference between those who watch and obey and those who ignore the warning and go about their lives as if nothing will happen or just hunker down in fear while remaining unrepentant. It is the difference between building a foundation on rock and building on sand:
“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
“But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall” (Matthew 7:26-27).
COVID-19 and the fallout that has accompanied it have come up like a sudden storm on the world horizon. We don’t yet know how severe it or its economic impact will ultimately be. But Bible believers do know that it is a harbinger of greater and more deadly storms to come. For now we have a moment to learn—a moment to examine our foundation—a wake-up call. Are our lives built on the rock or on sand?
Do not give in to fear. Do not panic and despair. This is a time to lift up your head and heart to God and seek Him while He may still be found. He hears those who seek Him and who humble their hearts before Him!