My mom used to tell stories of my grandfather. That he used to work for the CIA. Of the things she saw growing up as she pieced things together. When we visited her childhood home, she showed me their underground bunker—dug by her father, a veteran of the world wars—after buying their home. That bunker was a teenager’s paradise—stocked with more processed food than a local grocer.
I tell you all this to suggest that I’ve developed a hypothesis: Fearful preparation might be genetic. While my grandfather’s preparation was more likely rooted in experience rather than fear, my untrained mind is like a terrorists playground. I quickly get caught up in the what-ifs. I’m ready to buy guns and ammo, stock peanut butter and water, and create a getaway plan for the Canadian border.
So over the last two weeks as my husband patiently listens to me ramble, I’ve also been impatiently asking God what my response is supposed to be in light of the horror overseas and the illnesses crossing borders.
Exchanging Fear for Power
For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment. 2 Timothy 1.7
I saw this verse come across my newsfeed independently, without any context, and I thought, “This. I should hang onto this when I feel fearful. And in the mean time I’ll use my sound mind for preparation.”
Then, like the rest of the fearful world, I turned back to Amazon to research respirators approved for potential airborne viruses.
Except that there is more. And I want to unpack it.
For this reason I remind you to keep ablaze the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment. So don’t be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner. Instead, share in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God. 2 Timothy 1.6-8
- Keep ablaze the gift of God’s Spirit in you.
- That blazing Spirit is one of power, love, and wisdom.
- Don’t be ashamed of the gospel.
- In fact, identify with the gospel so strongly that you are willing to share in the suffering.
- As you suffer, rely on God’s power—not adequate preparations.
I’ve watched a lot of conversations go down on what should and should not be done about Ebola. My husband and I have had a lot of healthy conversations about appropriate border response. Last night, I read an interview with Nancy Writebol, the nurse who contracted Ebola in Liberia before being transported to the US. She suggested the Ebola was a spiritual battle as well as physical. And I would have to agree with her.
She also mentioned that she had a healthy fear of Ebola, but not one that overpowered her love for her brothers and sisters in Christ who were left in Liberia and other nations suffering.
A Better Response
Which leaves the question: What should Christian response be to the suffering of those overseas?
Should we close our borders or keep them open?
Should we go and serve in their suffering, or leave them to their own resources?
Timothy Keller discuses Christian exclusivity in his book, The Reason for God. He closes the first chapter with this insight into the first century church:
“One of the paradoxes of history is the relationship between the beliefs and the practices of the early Christians as compared to those of the culture around them…The Greco Roman world was highly stratified economically, with huge distance between the rich and poor. By contrast Christians…lives and practices were, however, remarkably welcoming to those the culture marginalized. The early Christians mixed people from different races and classes in a way that seemed scandalous to those around them. The Greco-Roman world tended to despise the poor, but Christians gave generously not only to their own poor, but to those of other faiths…During the terrible urban plagues of the first two centuries, Christians cared for all the sick and dying in the city, often at the cost of their own lives (p.20-21).”
Isn’t this what Jesus modeled for us?
Didn’t he touch lepers when touching was entirely unnecessary?
Didn’t he make time to tend to those who were suffering and sick?
Do you think He had a special place for those suffering, knowing the extent of pain and agony that was before Him?
And so it appears I need to have a softening of heart. Before Jesus left his followers he told them, Wash others feet in the same way I’ve washed yours. “For I have given you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” John 13.14-15
And then again, “Love one another…By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13.34-35
Change the Conversation
Would I feel safer if our borders were closed to those who come from dangerous countries right now? Probably. I could watch from a distance and feel grateful their life isn’t mine.
But our world isn’t one where villages are isolated. We have the ability to look any direction we desire. Journalism, photography, reporting, and the internet grant us that privilege.
So our responsibility to love spans borders. And our capacity to love globally, coupled with the ability for the world to watch, gives us a choice. Are we going to make Christ attractive by our love? Or are we going to show people we are nothing but a self-preserving genre of society.
Being grateful their lives aren’t ours is unacceptable.
What is an alternate response?
What if those of us who are The Body stopped posting fearful comments and streams of conversation online and instead posted powerful prayers for those who are suffering?
What if those of us who are healthy and safe stopped fearing the worst and, instead, asked ask the Spirit what His power looks like in this situation?
What if, rather than spreading rumors of martial law while stocking up on guns and food, we stocked up on supplies that could help those in need?
What if we prepared to participate in the suffering of others?
Then those open borders wouldn’t look so frightening. Instead, it would seem that God is bringing to us the people we are reluctant to serve. May He open our eyes to our own fearful apathy.
It’s a shift in perspective. And it feels empowering.
So my prayer for myself and for the Church is that God would do what it takes to make us a people whose love is known. That God would empower us to serve and identify in the suffering of the gospel. That God would strengthen us through His Spirit and give us courage to touch lives that, under normal circumstances, we’d prefer to keep at a distance.
My prayer is that our public conversations would be infused with less fear and more power.
Then we could look in the face of suffering and say, “Bring it.”
Ok, maybe “bring it” is a stretch…but no more fear that keeps others alone in their suffering.
I do want to add that I think a capacity to feel deep rooted fear is simply misdirected compassion–or compassion without faith. I know several who feel apathetic regarding current events, and that is no less of an issue than reacting in fear. So for those who share in fear based responses–take heart. You have capacity to feel. Empathy is foundational to gospel-driven compassion.