Households across the world are aglow from screens delivering coronavirus updates. They’re also replete with fear.
Leslie worries about her aging husband, whose health has been in slow decline since he turned 65. Tom knows he has no control over his pregnant wife’s health (or their baby’s) and goes to sleep nervous every night. Jessica is scared about her kids’ safety when they have to run to the grocery store, and Ron fears contracting the disease when he goes to work at the nursing home. Brittany can’t seem to control her anxiety over the virus, but it comes on full force at random moments, and she fears the next unexpected attack.
Then there are fears surrounding policies and quarantines, as people anxiously await the choices their leaders will make, choices that are out of their hands. And there’s the fear of tragedy, the worst-case scenario coming to pass, as sudden harm visits our family members—even us.
As finite creatures living in a world affected by sin, we fear anything out of our control.
Why We Fear Being Out of Control
To get to the root of this universal fear, we must start at the beginning. In the garden, sin corrupted our fear of the Lord, turning awe of God into terror before him; worship of God into idolatry of created things; and reverence into rebellion against him. Now, our human predicament is dire: We’ve rebelled against the only One who’s in control, crowned ourselves as little sovereigns, and discovered we’re terribly inadequate for the task.
We fear what we can’t control because we’ve tried to control it, but can’t because we aren’t God.
In the Old Testament, we read of the Israelites repeatedly falling prey to this uneasy attempt at self-sovereignty as they take refuge from their enemies in other nations and in idols. In Isaiah 46, Israel has been exiled to Babylon, and God rebukes the Israelites for their worship of false deities:
To whom will you liken me and make me equal,
and compare me, that we may be alike?
Those who lavish gold from the purse,
and weigh out silver in the scales,
hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god;
then they fall down and worship! . . .
If one cries to it, it does not answer
or save him from his trouble.Isaiah 46:5-7
God describes Babylon’s idols as dead and worthless substitutes for him, mere inanimate objects that are unable to save the Israelites. We may think, Who in their right mind would think a statue could help them? But we’re more like Babylon than we’d like to admit.
We may not craft gold and silver into gods, but we do try to control our money for stability and power. We tremble in fear when the stock market crashes.
We may not fall down and worship statues, but we do worship ourselves and other people, as preserving our health—even our very lives—becomes an ultimate pursuit.
We reason that we would never cry out to an immovable object to save us from our troubles—but then we look to medicine, doctors, news media, political leaders, right habits, and anything else we think will give us some semblance of reassurance, of peace—of salvation from our circumstances.
But in making idols of these things, and trying to take control of what can’t be ultimately controlled, we set ourselves up for fearfulness in times of inevitable trouble.
What Sovereignty Means for Fear
We see God’s remedy for fearful and rebellious self-sovereigns in what he says next:
. . . I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose . . .Isaiah 46:9-10
Throughout the book of Isaiah, God’s boundless wisdom and endless power are displayed, as he unveils to his people his sovereign plan to save them, both historically from Babylonian captivity and also eternally from the captivity of sin. He announces the coming of a Savior, One who would give up his heavenly crown to wear a crown of thorns, fulfilling God’s sovereign plan of salvation for his people (Isa. 53:10; Acts 2:23).
Since Jesus is Lord, we don’t have to be. Because Christ is on his throne, ruling all things with perfect wisdom and power, we are freed from the crushing pressure and fearfulness of trying to rule ourselves, other people, and the circumstances that expose how out of control we are: our health and safety, the welfare of family and friends, the salvation of loved ones, the future, money and possessions, political powers, and nature. Even the mysteries of evil and suffering submit to the lordship of Christ and are no mystery to him.
Ultimately our sovereign God calls us to trust him. Trusting him means we walk by faith, not by sight. It means we seek him for wisdom to steward the resources and responsibilities he has given us. It means we believe his sovereign wisdom is right and best, even when we can’t make sense of it. It means that when we feel out of control, we choose to rest in his perfect control:
Clap your hands, all peoples!
Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared,
a great king over all the earth.Psalm 47:1-2