By Rev. John Agagwa
As we are all aware, since the first COVID-19 case in Kenya, the government has issued regulations and precautions that would help prevent the spread of the virus. This has led to concerns raised by Christians and non-Christians alike as to whether it is okay for Christians to follow these precautions. Some of the precautions include washing of hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, avoiding touching our faces (very hard) and keeping a social distance of about 1m which includes avoiding large gatherings including places of worship. This has led to many churches closing down physical meetings and opting rather to go online. The question then has been are these Christians responding in fear, like much of the world? Shouldn’t they trust God to protect them?
Below are some five considerations that I believe could help give clarity to this concern.
Is all fear sinful?
I believe there could be two dangers in thinking about this pandemic. On the one hand, one could trivialize it, caring so little about its spread or taking the advised precautions. For people with this attitude, COVID-19 has been the subject of memes, laughter, lightness and humor. The other danger lies in being overtaken by fear and anxiety, consumed in worry about everyone’s unwillingness to take this seriously enough and bracing oneself for the worst. Which of this is the right response?
When it comes to the question of faith vs fear, I find that there is much to learn from the Biblical story of Nehemiah. Nehemiah is a civil servant whom God uses in the reconstruction of the wall of Jerusalem, Judah’s capital city. Together, he and Ezra, a priest, lead the spiritual revival of the people, directing the political and religious restoration of the Jews in their homeland after the Babylonian captivity.
In chapter 1 & 2, as the story begins, Nehemiah is sad in the presence of King Artaxerxes due to the ruined state of the walls of Jerusalem.
In his day, appearing sad before the king carried a death sentence. In addition, this same King Artaxerxes was the one who had stopped the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem 20 years earlier (Ezra 4). Nehemiah’s request to rebuild it could easily have been regarded as high treason!
He could be facing sure capital punishment, hence he rightly confesses that he was very afraid.
…I was very much afraid…
His fear though is not such a debilitating fear that he is unable to act and trust in God through prayer, for we also observe that he immediately prays, despite being afraid.
...So I prayed to the God of heaven...
Nehemiah’s fear reflects a correct assessment of his problem, yet his prayer reflects a correct assessment of his Sovereign and Mighty God. He is neither trivial about the problem before him nor is he overtaken by fear. He is afraid, but he does not give in to fear.
The kind of fear that God warns us against is the kind that causes or reveals our distrust in Him.
COVID-19 is a deadly pestilence that must not be trivialized. It has affected over 182 of the 195 countries in the world, infecting over 246577, people of which over 10,049 have died, in little over 12 weeks (data as at 20th March 2018 at 11:41 am EAT). However, we must only think of it in light of our Sovereign God in whom we trust, who is far greater than any pestilence. He directs, regulates and governs every creature, action and thing, from the greatest to the least, by his completely wise and holy providence.
Are precautionary actions based on fear or faith?
Who is the Christian that has faith in God? The one who follows the CDC precautions or the one who ignores them?
This record of Nehemiah reveals that two saints may act in seemingly opposite ways, yet both be motivated by faith and trust in God. Let’s contrast Ezra and Nehemiah.
When Ezra was heading to Jerusalem , he refused to request the king’s cavalry for protection and chose rather to pray and fast for supernatural protection. (Ezra 8:21-23) On the other hand, when Nehemiah took the same journey he asked for the king’s letters of protection and accepted the Kings cavalry for his safe passage. (Nehemiah 2:7,9).
It is clear that both acted as they did because they had faith in God. It would be unwise to conclude that Ezra had greater trust in God than Nehemiah or that Nehemiah succumbed to fear.
N/B: It’s important to note that Ezra’s first instinct was to ask the king for protection but was embarrassed to do it. (Ezra 8:21). This implies that he was not simply trying to presume on God to protect him by supernatural means. His decision to fast and pray for protection rather than ask for the king’s men was one made out of prudence as his unique situation dictated.
Proverbs 22:3 reminds us that, “…the prudent foresees danger and hides himself but the simple go on and are punished…”
In this verse, hiding is commended as an act of prudence, not fear. Both Nehemiah and Ezra acted in prudence, each having wisely considered his unique circumstances.
In the same way it would be wrong to assume that Christians following the precautions given by the CDC are simply acting out of fear. Nehemiah’s example teaches us that it is in fact prudent that every Christian in as far as he/she can, complies with the safety precautions given.
How does God protect his saints?
When opposition arose to the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah both prayed to God and stationed a guard. He understood that God would indeed protect them, yet he also trusted that he would accomplish this through the stationed guard.
…Sanballat, Tobiah, …plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem, …So we prayed to our God and stationed a guard for our protection day and night.
In the end it was from God that they sought victory, not the guards or the weapons.
…Our God will fight for us!”
Faithful Christians need not fear that there is a conflict between following the guidelines for caution and trusting God for protection. According to Nehemiah, taking caution is the evidence of trusting in God’s protection.
Indeed the horse is prepared for battle, but God gives the victory (Proverbs 21:31). The horse must be prepared and victory must be from God.
Could you be tempting God?
I believe that there is a clear biblical difference between faith and presumption.
Nehemiah does not presume that God would supernaturally protect him from the adversaries without him taking the necessary prudent precautions. In as much as he prays he sets men with weapons to stand guard.
From that day on, half of my men did the work while the other half held spears, shields, bows, and armor…
Nehemiah must have known how God had fought for Israel in their past, such as at the time of the exodus. They didn’t have to lift a finger or get swords to fight the Egyptians, only to stand still and see God’s victory. (Exodus 14:11). This though wasn’t reason enough for him to presume God would act in the same way in his particular circumstance, as sometimes is our temptation.
A clearer example is to be found in our Lord Jesus himself when He was tempted by Satan to jump off the pinnacle of the temple. (Matt 4:6). In as much as He believed the promise of God in Psalm 91:12 (rightly understood) He did not foolishly jump. On another occasion, they tried to forcefully throw Him off a cliff (Luke 4:29-30) yet even then, He did not presume on God’s promise to send angels to catch Him! He escaped their grasp and walked away, just as He did in John 8:59, when they tried to stone Him.
Christians must not ignore the precautions against the Coronavirus, lest in our negligence we be tempting and presuming on God.
What then shall we say to these things?
As we walk in these unprecedented times, all Christians must act in such a way as to honour God, to love neighbour and to practice good citizenship. This will require walking many lines of biblical tension, wise tolerance and understanding.
COVID-19 is indeed a deadly pestilence. It has served for me and perhaps for you too, as a reminder of our weakness, our own mortality, our fragility. Yet our greater and far more fatal weakness is found in our sin.
But Christ enjoined Himself to us in our deepest weakness and suffered for us.
1 Peter 3:18
For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God…
This is why, beloved Christian, you ought not to give in to fear. If Christ did not desert us in the infinitely greater pestilence of sin and death but saved us at the excruciating cost of His own life, we can trust that He will not desert us in this infinitely smaller disease by comparison. Therefore, do not give in to fear, child of God, run to Jesus!