“Have faith not fear.”
“God’s got this.”
“I’m just choosing to trust God and not live in fear.”
These are three examples of slogans that many believers are using in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic and America’s current political climate. Not all who say these slogans are Christians. But it does seem like the vast majority of their use comes from such.
However, these phrases are nothing more than useless jargon. They’re hollow. They’re void of any real meaning. And all Christians would do good to wipe them completely from their vocabulary.
Let me explain why.
Useless Phrases Aren’t New to Us
There are actually a few different areas in scripture where God’s people hide behind hollow slogans as an excuse to not completely follow the Lord.
The first can be seen here:
“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.”Jeremiah 7:3-8
In this passage, we see that God’s prophet was charged to deliver a message to Judah. The people had fallen into the trap of worshipping the Lord in only superficial ways. They offered sacrifices and preformed other religious obligations but weren’t actually following the “heart” of the law. Jeremiah had warned them before about this. He had told them of God’s plan to empower the nation of Babylon to wipe them out because of their idolatry. But it seems that false prophets had also arisen who claimed that Jeremiah’s words were incorrect. According to them, if the people of Judah just swore by the temple, saying things like “the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord,” they would be spared from any harm.
There was a kernel of truth in what these false prophets were saying, though.
God did promise national security to Israel. The Lord did miraculously save Jerusalem from the Assyrian armies not long before Jeremiah’s time. But their promise of safety was contingent upon their faithfulness to Torah (Deuteronomy 28:1-68). Their unjust acts towards the marginalized voided such promise.
In the end, this slogan did not do Judah any good. God’s people did not fear the Lord. Babylon came and burned Jerusalem to the ground despite the majority insisting that they wouldn’t.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”1 Corinthians 6:12-13
A second set of examples can be found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. It seems that a similar situation to that of Jeremiah’s was happening in Corinth.
Certain opponents of Paul had begun to teach the Corinthians that, in order to be more spiritual, they had to reject a particular view of the physical world. Taking on the Platonic philosophies of their dominant culture, the church had apparently begun to believe that only the things that you did in your spirit mattered. Physical bodies needed food. Physical bodies participated in sex. And because the physical was inferior to the spiritual, false apostles were teaching that what you do with your bodies doesn’t really matter. The Corinthians could be gluttonous or sexually deviant with a clear conscience!
But Paul refutes this in his letter. He quotes their slogans back at them, rhetorically refuting their claims. And in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul makes the case for a physical bodily resurrection. It isn’t just the spiritual that matters; physical matter is here to stay.
The religious-sounding slogans were used in the Corinthian church to spread ideas that were antichristian. They were used by believers who traded in faithfulness for falseness. And these phrases likely sounded orthodox to new believers or to those who were unfamiliar with the story of scripture. But that’s exactly what made them so dangerous.
So again, the repeating of useless phrases isn’t a new phenomenon. There’s examples of such in the Old and the New Testament. These phrases brought deception and destruction wrapped in nicely sounding religious jargon.
And the slogans that we’re using now, if we’re not careful, will do something similar.
Trust God and Live in Fear (of Him)
Slogans like “Have faith not fear,” “God’s got this,” and “I’m just choosing to trust God and not live in fear” do have an element of goodness within them. They do succinctly express commands that we are given in the Bible. They do contain kernels of truth.
We aren’t supposed to worry about the woes of this world (Matthew 6:25-34). And “fear” and “faith” are often antonyms in scripture. God tells Joshua to “be strong and courageous” when entering into the Promised Land (Joshua 1:9). Paul tells Timothy that we shouldn’t live with a spirit of fear because God’s has given us the power to love and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). And many of the psalms encourage Israel to not live in fear because the Lord was their sovereign protector (Psalm 23, 27, 34, 46, etc.).
The slogans that many are using in relation to the pandemic or American politics do have some value. But I don’t think that many are using them to actually represent what’s said in scripture.
Instead, we use them as an excuse to not follow state mandated health guidelines. Wearing a mask in public has become synonymous with “living in fear.” And “God’s got this” has become synonymous with refuting election results or right-wing propaganda. All of these religious-sounding slogans that we are using have become politically charged which has invalidated any sort of truth they may have once contained.
Just like the Southern Kingdom of Judah was doing in the time of Jeremiah, we are using scriptural soundbites to justify our sinful actions. We are choosing to ignore God’s sovereignty and choice in order to substitute our own. We are choosing to not love our neighbor. Like the Corinthian church, we’re listening only to what sounds good to us in order to justify our selfishness.
And, of course, some believers are using these slogans correctly.
They really do mean to express exactly what scripture has to say about fear. But because so many others are using them irresponsibly, the message gets muddied.
What Should We Say Instead?
What should we say instead? Is there a phrase that we could use in order to express our genuine faithfulness to God in this moment?
Well, first, we need to remember that no one phrase will be sufficient. We cannot reduce our witness to cute sounding sayings. We need to be ready to explain what we mean by the things we say. We also need to make sure that we are backing it up with genuine action.
Nevertheless, here are two suggestions.
“God have mercy on us”
This short prayer, I believe, does a much better job at expressing what we should be saying to others.
Instead of using attack language shrouded in Christian-looking clothing like “don’t live in fear,” asking God for mercy shows others that we are compassionate. It isn’t self-centered. It’s also an expression of trust in God’s healing and sovereign will.
“I’m just trusting God and living in fear of Him.”
This phrase might be more jarring to hear for some. But that’s exactly the point.
As believers, we aren’t meant to live in fear of what can harm us within this world. Jesus’ resurrection marked the end of death itself. And the kingdom coming will be one with no sickness or sin. Neither present politics or pandemic-level viruses should cause us to run and hide.
Nevertheless, scripture’s call to courage isn’t also a call to recklessness.
We still need to be careful to follow the command to love one another well. We still need to fear the Lord. That means, as believers, we should be the first to put on masks and social distance. We also should not get mixed up within the divisive rhetoric of party politics. Whether we like the state of our current nation or not, our allegiance as believers should be only to the Kingdom of God. Nothing that either the Republican or Democrats do should distract us or dissuade from faithful living in a way that brings God glory.
Let us all trust the Lord by living in fear of Him.
 Ironically, Torah also has laws about quarantining. If a virus spreads around an Israelite tribe, those affected are to stay away. They are to wear face coverings. And after a period of time, a priest would come and check on the unhealthy person to see if they’re able to return to the camp (Leviticus 13:45-46, Leviticus 14:1-32). These laws weren’t meant to be unloving. They were put in place with the entire community in mind. There were even provisions for ill individuals who were too poor to afford the sacrificial offerings one was meant to preform after their quarantine was over.