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No Fear
© 04.04.20 By David Eric Williams

The spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus has been accompanied by a corresponding distribution of fear. Even among Christians there is sometimes uncertainty; will God protect his own or are we subject the same calamity as the unbeliever? As a pastor and chaplain, this is a matter I confront on a regular basis.

One of the Scriptures I have been asked about is Psalms 91. There we read, Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease. He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection. Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day. Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday. Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you (Psalms 91:1-7).

At face value, this passage declares that those who "live in the shelter of the Most High" will be protected from harm - including deadly disease. Yet, the everyday experience of Christians seems to contradict what the Bible says at this point. In my own family I have children who deal with serious lifelong physical infirmities. I have relatives in my extended family who have experienced the ravages of cancer, heart disease and other physical maladies. So, is this Psalm only for the "super Christian?" Is there some secret way to access the shelter of the Almighty's wings? The truth is, this Psalm is often misunderstood and therefore misapplied.

In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul wrote, don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done (Philippians 4:6). Truly this should be the common condition for every Christian. Yet, the fact Paul took time to admonish the Philippian Believers concerning anxiousness reminds us it can be difficult to be at peace in times of trouble.

In our quest for peace, we must not overlook Paul's prescription for the sickness of anxiety. Verse four of this same chapter says, always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again - rejoice! Indeed, the joy of the Lord is the antidote to strife both within and outside the church (cf. Philippians 4:2-3 and so on). So, if we want to be at peace in the midst of trouble, we need to be full of joy in the Lord. How do we do that?

After the completion of Jerusalem's wall under Nehemiah's oversight, the people gathered to hear the law and to celebrate before the Lord. The multitude responded to the reading of the text with mourning and weeping. However, Nehemiah and the other leaders admonished the people not to mourn but to recognize it was a sacred day before our Lord. Don't be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!" (Nehemiah 8:10b). The principle here is that godly joy (even when surrounded by enemies) is based upon a right relationship with God. The people had obeyed their godly leaders and completed the wall in 52 days. They heard the word of the Lord read and explained to them and they responded with broken and contrite hearts. Yet, joy was in order. They were in right relationship with God and regardless of the surrounding circumstance God was with them (cf. Deuteronomy 12:7, Psalms 5:11).

The New Testament reaffirms this connection between right relationship and joy. in the midst of a discussion concerning putting others before self, especially in the matter of diet, Paul declares, for the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). In other words, a life lived under the authority of Jesus Christ is not about outward ritual but about right relationship with God. It is about Christlike character that produces good works. It is about serving the father in Jesus Christ and the joy one experiences in that covenant relationship. All of this empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Thus, the person possessing the joy of the Lord is free from anxiousness in times of trouble no matter the outcome. Indeed, to "live in the shelter of the most high" and to "rest in the shadow of the Almighty" is to be in right relationship. The author of Psalms 91 is not telling his readers they will never experience hardship. Instead, he says those in right relationship with God are safe in that relationship. They know God is in charge. They know nothing happens apart from his will. We must not think this Psalm promises we will be spared hardship. Rather, it is a promise to be protected from the degrading effects of hardship. As Charles Spurgeon wrote, "Christian, Jesus does not suffer so as to exclude your suffering. He bears a cross, not that you may escape it, but that you may endure it. Christ exempts you from sin, but not from sorrow. Remember that, and expect to suffer."

Therefore, whatever the folloer of Christ might experience they are assured God is with them. And - as the apostle Paul tells us - we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them (Romans 8:28). There it is again. Good comes from every experience of the believer who is in right relationship with God. For to love God is to walk in obedience to him. To be called according to his purpose is to be in Christ and in pursuit of the kingdom in your life and arena of activity. As Douglas Moo says in his commentary on the book of Romans, "Certainly Paul does not mean that the evil experienced by believers in this life will always be reversed, turned into 'good.' For many things that we suffer will contribute to our 'good' only by refining our faith and strengthening our hope. In any case, we must be careful to define 'good' in God's terms, not ours." And "good" to God is anything that helps us grow in Christ likeness (cf. Romans 8:29-30)

We must also affirm we sometimes experience hardship as a form of discipline (and, of course, this is designed to make us more like Jesus as well). One of the things I advise people who ask for advice in the midst of crisis is to examine themselves. I ask them, "do you know of anything in your life displeasing to the Lord? Is there sin in your life you have been unwilling to deal with? Is your walk with Jesus advancing or have you lost your way?" and so on. Now, some will be outraged at the suggestion Christians might suffer because of sin in their life. However, the writer of Hebrews assures us the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child (Hebrews 12:6). While the context of the letter to the Hebrews is persecution for the faith, the principle expressed may be applied further afield. Therefore, it does not exclude the physical suffering of sickness as a form of discipline.

Scripture also says physical sickness may be part of the tribulation we endure in entering the kingdom (cf. Acts 14:22). For instance, Epaphroditus became sick almost unto death when serving as a messenger between Paul and the church in Philippi. Here is an example of a man who was in right relationship with God and engaged in the (mundane) service of a go-between. Yet, he risked his life for the work of Christ, and he was at the point of death while doing for me what you couldn't do from far away (Philippians 2:30).

The follower of Jesus Christ must not live in fear. Christian, you can claim the promise of Psalms 91 and know that God will watch over you in every situation. If you wish to be free from anxiety you must know the joy of the Lord. If you wish to know the joy of the Lord you must be in right relationship with him and living in a way that seeks to bring your life and arena of activity under the Lordship of Christ. You can be assured that the Lord God will use everything in your life to mold you into the likeness of our Lord Jesus. Hence, the follower of Jesus Christ must not believe they are immune from the COVID-19 coronavirus. Moreover, they cannot "claim by faith" that if they contract the virus they will not become sick or at least not seriously sick. Instead, the Christian must affirm that God does truly watch over his own and leads them through the exact life experiences necessary for growth in Christlikeness. This is the most profound protection you may experience; to be kept from ungodliness.

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