The daily tallies of infection and death from COVID-19 assault our hearts and minds. Rather than calm us, the syncopating admonitions to wash our hands, wear a mask, or—best of all—stay home and “shelter in place” stoke our fears.
As we toss and turn, the questions just won’t leave us alone. When will all this “be over”? When will life get “back to normal”? Will I still have a job? A retirement? Is the virus going to infect me and leave me to die alone?
Anxiety. It comes to us in a thousand different scenarios. We’ve all been there. Especially in times like these.
We are Christians who seek to apply our faith in God’s providence during the coronavirus crisis. But the torrent of emotions rains down mercilessly, leaving us feeling hopeless and anxious. Sometimes even the Scriptures that so often have comforted us seem not to warm our cold and frightened hearts.
We understand quite well the concept of Philippians 4:6-9:
[D]o not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
These wonderful verses encourage us to think on things that are praiseworthy and true, with prayer and supplication, shunning worry in favor of thanksgiving, and God’s inscrutable peace will guard our hearts. Indeed, this precious promise is altogether true. But in some moments of crisis we find ourselves so distracted that we feel unable to control our thoughts and thus incapable of finding peace. What then?
The Essential Problem
When the chaos of sin grabs ahold of our souls, anxiety naturally follows. The word translated anxious in Philippians 4:6 comes from the Greek word merimnao. It is related to the Greek words merizo, “to divide,” and nous, “mind.” This divided mind is the unhappy condition of the man described by the Apostle James as “double-minded, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8).
Such instability routinely focuses on the object of anxiety—to the exclusion of God. In such moments, the sick feeling in our stomachs and shortness of breath in our chests confirm that the devil’s flaming darts (Ephesians 6:16) have pierced our spiritual armor. We’ve been hit, and we are in trouble.
And we are not alone. Every society, to a certain extent, concentrates its attention below the horizon–in the cacophony of human affairs without reference to God. This has been true from time immemorial. Hellenistic culture said, “Know thyself.” The Romans said, “Rule thyself.” Buddhists say, “Annihilate thyself.” Islam says, “Submit thyself.” Modern New Age religion says, “Love thyself.” Jesus, however, counsels us to trust not thyself, saying, “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Frankly, Jesus’ emphasis on our inability is offensive to unconverted people. It aggravates human pride and cuts us down to size. In reality, though, we are desperate for God’s liberating power, without which we are enslaved to the destructive power of anxiety.
But there is hope.
Christ, our Prince of Peace, has promised, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). What is this truth? That He, the crucified Savior, has disarmed principalities and powers, triumphing over them through his cross and resurrection (Colossians 2:15). He broke the power of sin that keeps us enslaved to anxiety, so that we may now enjoy genuine freedom.
What caused a bunch of first-century Jewish disciples—men who were previously afraid of Roman authorities to the point of abandoning and denying Christ—to boldly declare his death and resurrection? What encouraged them to publicly announce that their Lord was alive, that the great reversal of sin and death had begun, that the Almighty was pouring out His Spirit upon every tribe, tongue, and nation, and that a new day had dawned?
Such a marvelous victory over apostolic anxiety came only from the empowering presence of the resurrected Christ, the One who assured them, “Take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Friends, we too can experience the presence of a Savior who can put all of our anxieties to flight—even while we shelter in place.
An earlier version of this article appeared in Ligonier Ministries’ TableTalk devotional.