Why is it that despite having our pantries stocked with food and being safely ensconced in our homes are we still overwhelmed with fear and anxiety? Could it be it is not so much the fear of the covid-19 virus but it’s ability to tap into our two greatest fears; uncertainty about the future and the fear of death. The distress and anxiety accompanying these fears is a universally painful reality. Further, our distress is intensified by the loneliness of physical distancing (it doesn’t help that some refer to this as social distancing). Many have begun to voice concern over the mental health implications for the world community that may ensue in the wake of this intersection of issues in our daily experience. But there is a spiritual perspective that changes how we think about these issues and thus change the way we experience them in a way that keeps us strong and hopeful about the future. It is based on the words of Jesus to John the prophet at at time when he was overcome by fear. What Jesus said to him has profound implications for people of faith and those who take Jesus seriously. They are written in Rev 1:17-18:
Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and HadesRevelation 1:17-18
In this verse Jesus addresses the two greatest fears we mentioned above, uncertainty about the future and the ultimate fear of death. Although the two are related, uncertainty about the future draws attention to our daily activities of life such as working, shopping, planning to do this or that. The second fear is that life itself is about to end.
He starts by telling John, “don’t be afraid”. When you tell someone not to be afraid when they are being threatened by a scary situation it may sound as though you are either foolish, naïve, or deceived, or all three. But that is exactly what Jesus says to the Prophet. For a person of faith, when Jesus says something it is different than when another human person says it. A believer takes the words of Jesus seriously. His life depends upon it. It is not a matter for debate or quibbling. It is a life or death statement. It changes the way she deals with whatever is coming at her. It removes hesitation or procrastination and demands a response of commitment. It is not like the decision about buying the latest iPhone or Android, a Mercedes or a Tesla. These things bear no relation whatsoever to my ability to handle the fear of the unknown or the fear of death. But the words of Jesus can do that. Therefore, if he says “don’t be afraid” it changes my perspective on things and suddenly I am made ready to face my worst fears.
Still, some ask why do the words of Jesus make such a difference? What is reason for his ability to make such a dramatic impact on our lives? Jesus addresses the first fear by identifying himself as the First and the Last. This is a title that describes his eternal nature. To say he is eternal is to say he not in any way subject to our fears. Both the fear of the unknown and the fear of death are temporal in nature. They are related to life on earth which makes them subject to the effects of time and circumstance. Everything on earth deteriorates and dies because of time. Therefore, it is futile to think that anything subject to time can change the effects of the ravages of time. But Jesus is eternal and not affected by the fears of living in time, therefore connecting to him gives us that eternal perspective on things.
Secondly, He identifies himself as the “The Living One”. Because he is the only one who left eternity and entered time, that is, made himself subject to the effects of time and died. But his eternal nature enabled him to raise himself from death and gave him power over death such that those who believe him will lose their fear of death. That is why when Jesus says, “don’t be afraid” it has the effect of bringing eternity into time and changes the way we think about and react to our fears about time bound problems like the threat posed by covid-19. The eternal perspective Jesus offers takes us beyond time but enables us to deal with the daily effects of time. In this way we can negate covid-19’s ability to arouse these two great fears. To loose the fear of the unknown and of death is be reborn into hope. Hope strengthens us to face the unknown and to be prepared for any outcome. “Don’t be Afraid.”