In the Bible, I think, Job experienced the most wounding trials a person can have. He lost both his family and all his wealth. Other than those things, he even suffered from a physical ailment to the point of almost dying. Yet, he exemplified a kind of “fear” that is godly. In almost the same way, John Owen—a Puritan—had to witness the burial of all eleven of his children, and his wife, Mary. Still, he uttered, “there is no better way for our healing and deliverance… but the obtaining a fresh view of the glory of Christ by faith, and a steady abiding therein” (Glory of Christ).
Sufferings, pain, earthly trials, and natural disaster can cause fear in the hearts of many people. Contextually, in our time, the COVID pandemic once again has risen caused by the new Omicron variant.
Nevertheless, as said by many scholars, there are two kinds of fear: a “sinful fear” and a “godly fear”. The latter is also coined by Michael Reeves as the Right Fear. This fear is our response towards the holy, majestic, and powerful presence of God when we have encountered Christ by His Spirit. It leads us to revere and adore God—in a word, worshipful.
The former one, Sinful Fear, is the one that is crippling the hearts of many of us today. This fear drives us away from God. Instead of coming to Christ, we choose to run away or isolate ourselves (2 Tim 1:7). It refers to one who flees from battle and has a strong pejorative sense referring to cowardice. Remember when Adam and Eve, during the Fall, realized the rebellious act they did to God. When God was looking for them in the Garden of Eden, they hid and tried to pull out from God (Gn. 3:9-10).
Our prayer, amidst the fear that was caused by this pandemic, is that it will not lead us to retreat from God but to stand firm in our faith, cling to the promises of God, and lead us to embrace Christ more. Reeves said, “True fear of God is true love for God defined: it is the right response to God’s full-orbed revelation of himself in all his grace and glory.” A Christian fear is way more different from worldly fear.
Two responses: fight and flight. Fight through prayer. Luther said that God-fearing faith is being responsible and submitting to the service of the Lord. He said, “I shall ask God mercifully protect us… If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely.” Likewise, Luther acknowledged that sometimes the best way is flight.
Flight is to be prudent—out of love—taking precautionary actions as an expression of care and concern to those who are vulnerable and weak. Thinking about ourselves can be secondary. The primary reason for both fight and flight is because of our love for God and others (Matt. 22:37-39). Is your response aligned to God’s love?
Christians find joy in Christ—our ultimate hope and confidence; while others, they swim in the lake of despondency (hopelessness) because they think that the fullness of life is just here on earth. Prudence is necessary as we navigate through this pandemic. Yet, it is still necessary to understand if we are truly fearing God or running away from Him.
Is this moment, or your moment that you experience right now is drawing you closer to God or not? It is not limited to the Covid situation, but in each aspect of our life that causes us fear. Rest assured that at any point of this matter, Jesus Christ is the only solid, unchangeable, unshakeable reality that He is our very confidant.
Martin Luther, “Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague,” translated by Carl Schindler (1999; 2021).
Michael Reeves, Rejoice and Tremble: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord (Crossway, 2021).
Stephen Coleman and Todd Rester, eds., Faith in the Time of Plague (Westminster Seminary Press, 2021).
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