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The Pandemic of Fear – EN

This months article in Evangelicals Now.  

The Pandemic of Fear

It was a revealing moment. Walking back from the hospital I turned a corner and saw a woman walking towards me. She stopped in her tracks – as though she were astonished to see another human being; stared and then turned back to the corner, where she stood aside to let me past.

CommentDavid Robertson
Figure Image
photo: iStock

The path was two metres wide and even though she was somewhat portly we could easily have passed each other without making any human contact. Instead she backed off and as I passed, gazed at me with what can only be described as a look of fear. This is not the first time this has happened.

Fear has become pandemic. In May a survey showed that 70% of people in the UK were scared to leave their homes. I can empathise with that. Often after a traumatic event we are paralysed by fear. When I almost died in 2011 and spent three months in hospital, the NHS psychologist told me that often people who have gone through such experiences would be so traumatised that they would scarcely venture out of the house. I remember going to a theatre in London several months later and finding myself frozen to the seat with a panic/fear attack. We started up an ICU steps group in my church to help those who have gone through such experiences to overcome their fears and return to normal life.

Perhaps churches will need to do the same for much of the British population as we come out of the Covid-19 crisis. The trouble is that the government, aided by the media, has been far too effective in instilling fear in people. Fear, shame and guilt are great ways to control people. When you are told that if you go for a walk in the country you are ‘killing people’, or if you visit your elderly parents you are ‘destroying the NHS’, it can be a powerful motivation.

Fear has been used by religions to control. Cults instill a fear of the leader. Clergy warn of dire consequences if they are disobeyed. I think of the lady sitting at the back of the church – shaking and sweating because she was terrified that she was committing a great sin by not going to her ‘normal’ church but visiting us. Families too can use fear to control. The abusive husband or the manipulative wife make fear their primary weapon. And perhaps most of all, the devil manipulates and uses the fears in our own hearts to dominate and paralyse. Our hearts can condemn us.

Fear is also used in different ways. The fear of failure means that we won’t try anything that might fail. The fear of losing face means that we won’t challenge or think for ourselves. How many politicians joined in the weekly clapathon rituals lest they be accused of ‘not caring’? How many Christians do good things, not out of a good heart, but because we fear what others might say if they don’t see us doing them?

There is of course a legitimate use of fear. Teaching a child to fear putting their hands into the fire is not a bad thing! But it can be overdone. The UK government is now somewhat concerned that their ‘fear’ tactics have been too successful. People with cancer are not going to hospital because they are afraid of getting Covid-19 and of overwhelming the NHS. Even if the schools re-open, some parents will not want to send their children back. And in a year’s time I will still meet people who turn aside on the road, lest they be contaminated by another human being. There will be a significant number of people who want to live in their own personal quarantine bubble. For those who don’t have the financial resources of the ‘we’re all in it together’ celebrities and can’t self-isolate in our private mansions, we can apparently purchase on the Internet a real plastic bubble – which ensures we never have to have real contact with another human being.

The trouble with fear, apart from its dehumanising and debilitating nature, is that it feeds on, and produces, ignorance, prejudice, frustration and hatred. Living in a 150510188250798026081419world of our own means we are ignorant and scared of the world outwith. When, a few weeks ago, I was able to hug my grandchildren, I posted a photo on Instagram of the great event and was immediately taken to task by a Christian who accused me, as a Christian leader, of setting a bad example and disobeying the government! The police in the UK have apparently been swamped with people ‘grassing’ on their neighbours for taking more than one period of exercise per day.

The deadly fruits of Covid-19 will be seen and felt in the thousands of deaths that occurred. But I wonder if the psychological harm of instilling an almost pathological fear of other human beings will in the long run be more significant. Covid-19 has slain its thousands, fear its tens of thousands.

There is only one fear that is absolutely healthy – the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning and foundation of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). If we start there and move on to the person and work of Jesus – the one who came to free those who all their lives are held in slavery by their fear of death (Heb. 2:15) – we have the perfect antidote to the pandemic of fear. ‘No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me.’ Let’s not fuel people’s fears, or seek to control by fear, or be controlled by fear of whatever sort. Instead let’s proclaim the hope we have – in Christ alone.

David Robertson is the Director of Third Space in Sydney and blogs at

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  1. You have handled the subject well and it is also relevant for us in Kenya.

  2. Well stated that there is a healthy fear and it isn’t the fear of a pandemic. I am re-blogging. Thank you for an excellent blog!

  3. If we took refuge in a plastic bubble, wouldn’t we eventually die from lack of oxygen?

  4. A good word, brother. We have much to learn as Christ followers, and always need to balance everything with what God’s Word teaches and what we know about God’s sovereignty.

  5. Good to read this.

    Especially the line “Covid-19 has slain its thousands, fear its tens of thousands.”

    The fear epidemic has been most distressing to watch. I suspect that I am not alone in thinking of Luke 12:4-5 several times in the past few months.

  6. Fear, shame and guilt are great ways to control people.

    As you astutely pointed out in your next paragraph.

    After all, when one considers what we are told awaits non-believers such tools are the stock in trade of religions.

    The trouble with fear, apart from its dehumanising and debilitating nature, is that it feeds on, and produces, ignorance, prejudice, frustration and hatred

    In light of the above , another incredibly astute observation. And yet , I fear you have completely failed to recognise the irony.
    Especially when you end with this …

    There is only one fear that is absolutely healthy – the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning and foundation of wisdom (Prov. 9:10).

    I am surprised the cognitive dissonance is not actually ringing in your ears like a Klaxon, David.

    1. And yet Ash you are the one who lives by fear…fear of the religious…why else are you so obsessed that you attempt to post anti-Christian messages here every day?! Christ sets us free from fear…you should try it some time!

  7. Douglas,
    I’m old enough to have men walking around the city centre with clapper boards over their shoulders: THE END OF THE WORLD IS NIGH.
    That has been replaced by dystopian personal and finger pointing pandemonium YOUR END IS NIGH.
    Why “rage, rage against the dying of the light” if personal mortality does not induce fear.
    Why weep and wail and mourn when our lives are failed by following the science? Which science?
    Why, when our lives are but a breath in the light of eternity, are of no ultimate significance, forgotten, wiped out, never a part of history, unknown.
    Our last heartbeat carries the weight of the incredible lightness of being. Transient from first to last, our hearts yearn, ache for significance, glory, permanence, for eternity not dust. It is dust we fear, it carries no comfort no glory. Death is unjust, so rage, rage, fear, fear.
    And maybe, just maybe, it is a justified fear: flight or fight fall. Flee to Christ. He’s been there done that, got the scars and with an aching yearning heart says Come to me… And I will give you rest. In his resurrection and ascension to Glory he brings us with him, many sons to glory.

  8. David. I understand fear of corona can be overdone. Still I read your post with mixes feelings. My mother died because she failed to to keep social distance. Despite the warnings she had several friends over for coffee. Her death was unnecessary. At the same time I am living wel my 84-year old father with ill health. I have to go to work, where I know quite a few of my colleagues including the directors think the hype around corona is all nonsense and not more than a bad cold. And yes that is frightening. Because I now know from personal experience how quickly this disease kills. And I am depending on their common sense to wash their hands regularly, to not socialise too much during the weekends and to cough in their ellbows. And I know they are not following these rules. Just like my mum did not follow these simple rules. Fear can be unhealthy. Fear is no necesarily unhealthy. We just need to find balance.

    1. Thanks Rachel…and I’m so sorry to hear about your mother. But you misunderstand me…I think Covid 19 is far worse than flu and should be taken really seriously. I observe social distancing and obey the governments rules. I just think that the fear being instilled in the population (and the economic damage) will in the long run end up being much worse. I agree completely about finding balance.

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