Over the past few weeks, I’ve been seeing a number of reactions to the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the U.S. While things seem to be improving in countries like South Korea, the United States now leads the world in confirmed new cases.
People are torn on how to feel. How many of us are overestimating it? How many of us are underestimating it? Are all the circulating memes a sign of not taking things seriously, or is humor the only way most of us know how to cope with the hardship and uncertainty of what’s going on?
I’m a Christian; I hope that’s not news to my current readers given some of my previous content. And even for the Christian community, there is a divide in terms of how we should go about congregating during a time in which our meeting like usual would essentially be breaking the law.
There’s a term thrown around a lot, even more so than usual: Faith Over Fear. I exercise this philosophy, but it seems to me that not enough people —religious or not — hold a deep understanding of what that actually entails.
What ‘Faith over Fear’ Isn’t
Americans have been advised not to hold nor attend large in-person gatherings. Assuming the church you attend (or previously attended) has more than 10 members, that would mean they would have to stop congregating altogether or pull resources that allow their members to congregate virtually.
For larger congregations, this wouldn’t necessarily be too much of a problem in which they can comply. Larger churches that host multiple services per Sunday typically already have some sort of online streaming resource that their members can use — typically for the purpose of people who are not physically able to get to church, not as a permanent replacement for attending in person. Smaller churches without streaming resources have even gotten creative, implementing parking lot services.
However, even leaders of larger congregations have been reluctant to comply. Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, the lead pastor of Revival Ministries International, purposely went against regulations and even had his congregation shake hands during their service on March 16th.
His reasoning was that his church “is not raising pansies”.
Unfortunately, Pastor Howard-Browne is just one example of the false interpretation of ‘faith over fear’. There are a number of religious leaders claiming that following the rules and regulations is a sign of ‘a lack of faith’. That somehow you don’t actually believe that God is going to deliver us from the crisis and that you’re letting the media, government, etc. influence you.
What some of these leaders seem to be forgetting is that followers of Christ were the OG’s of quarantining. What about Leprosy?
For context, Lepers (people suffering from Leprosy) were outcasts in society. When someone had Leprosy, currently known as Hansen’s Disease, they were expected to live in desolate places away from other members of society. They had to wear ripped clothing, stay very far away from healthy people, and when they did come near your vicinity they were to cover their mouths, shouting “Unclean! Unclean!” Someone suffering from Leprosy would endure constant pain that would eventually lead to numbness, as well as a damaged larynx.
Now, thankfully, people diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus do not have to go to the same lengths as a Leper. Assuming that you are not elderly or someone with pre-existing conditions, your chance of survival is pretty high and your quarantine time is temporary rather than a whole lifetime.
Faith over Fear does not mean that you blatantly disregard common-sense practices: washing your hands, coughing into your elbow/sleeve, avoiding excessive physical contact with others, etc. It does not mean that you blatantly ignore regulations that are supposed to keep your congregation safe in order to “prove God”. People like this tend to be more about their own pride, rather than the glory of God.
It’s attitudes like that which remind me about this old joke about a man who was stranded in the middle of the ocean with almost no resources to keep him alive. A man in a ship came by, asking if he needed help. His response:
No, thank you. God will save me!
The man continues to sit in the scorching heat, becoming more thirsty and hungry as time goes on. It was then that a second man came in a ship, offering the stranded man some help. His response again:
No, thank you. God will surely save me!
Time passes and eventually, the stranded man dies. When the stranded man is given access into Heaven, he turns to God and asks:
My Lord, why didn’t you save me?!
God looks to him and says:
You dummy….I sent you two boats!
Yes, as Christians we believe that God is merciful and powerful. He can make true miracles happen. But what people forget is that God blessed us with two very important things: common sense and free will. If He’s giving you the resources to do something, it is up to you to make use of those resources. He’s not a genie.
So What is Faith Over Fear?
One of the most challenging things that non-Christian friends have asked of me is to explain why I believe what I believe. They want me to explain the concept of ‘faith’. Here are two definitions of faith, one is from the Bible and the other is from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
“…confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”. (Hebrews 11:1, NIV)
“Firm belief in something for which there is no proof”. (Merriam-Webster 2.b.1)
In short, faith is believing in someone or something even when there is no physical proof to back up that belief.
Faith is not an exclusively religious term. People execute faith every single day. When you get in your vehicle and turn the key, you expect your car to start. That’s why your heart drops and your eyes grow wide in the case that it doesn’t. You had confidence and assurance that your car was going to start and you would go about your day normally. You didn’t have a real reason to believe that your car would start, but you also didn’t have a real reason to believe that it wouldn’t.
I think the reason why it’s so hard to explain the concept of faith is that it’s something that isn’t meant to be explained. No one really likes the idea of believing in something “just because”, but that’s really what it boils down to. Inevitably, there are times when having faith just doesn’t make sense. If it did ‘make sense’, it wouldn’t be called faith.
While explaining faith is hard, explaining Faith Over Fear is pretty simple.
Faith Over Fear doesn’t mean that you don’t feel afraid, it means that you will not let your fear consume you or your actions. People hoarding toilet paper and other resources that they likely won’t even have the chance to use are operating in a manner that is driven by fear.
When I go to the grocery store now, there is some risk involved with that. Faith Over Fear tells me that I’ll be able to go there, get what I need, and then go home without being exposed to the virus.
Faith Over Fear doesn’t mean that you as a church leader will blatantly put your life and the lives of others in danger to “prove a point”, it means that you will encourage your congregation to protect themselves and emphasize the philosophy that the people are the church. That worship and ministry can (and should) take place anywhere.
So many people don’t have the means to work remotely, leaving them to put themselves even more at risk or lose their job entirely. Medical professionals are at the forefront of it every single day. Active duty military workers aren’t able to come home to their loved ones. Grocery store and warehouse workers are working harder than ever to keep their places sanitized and stocked.
With that being said, many of us (including myself) are in a position of privilege. Rather than focusing on the uncertainties, I’ve taken this time to do a lot of self-reflecting. I’ve been thinking about what I may have neglected due to distractions that I no longer have. I’ve been thinking about what I need to do, what I need to stop doing, who I need to reach out to. Really, I’ve been asking myself: What is something that I need to change?
Ultimately, Faith Over Fear really just means that — despite what is going on — I believe that our society will be able to overcome it much sooner than we think. Not only that, but we’ll come out on the other side better than we were before.