Categories are good things! Categories help us think logically and soundly and can often help us process reality when otherwise we might find it difficult to make sense of things. When I was in seminary my professors gave me many categories that helped me make sense of what I was reading in Scripture. The same is true in my training for biblical counseling. Biblical counseling has given me many wonderful categories in which to think related to human behavior and theology. One set of categories is the category for fear. There are “healthy fears” and there are “sinful fears.”
Healthy fear is a natural fear that allows us to live well in an otherwise dangerous world. When storms come around in the springtime, if I were to walk outside and find a funnel cloud swinging for my house, it would be very natural and good for me to feel the emotion of fear. That fear is good, as it would prompt me to run for cover. This fear is healthy and not sinful. This kind of fear is required for humanity to flourish in a fallen world. Imagine a community with no fearful regard of things like heights, or venomous snakes, or guns.
However, there are also sinful fears. Sinful fears are fears that govern, or rule over us in some irrational way. If, because of my fear of tornados, I drove to a different state every time there was a forecast of rain, then I would have an unhealthy fear of tornados. This would be a sinful fear, as it would have power over me in a way it should not. In this case, I would be falling short of trusting the Lord and His sovereign power over the world and goodness toward me.
In a world with COVID, we need to be aware, all the more, of these categories of fear. You may be tempted to think any fear of COVID is sinful, but in truth, COVID is a virus that can kill, or in our case, cause a family to be stuck in a house for over 2 weeks with a lot of little kids. And so with COVID, we need to understand there is some level of healthy fear that is right and good. However, that fear should not control us in an irrational way.
When we think about the fear of COVID, I see two common pitfalls for Christians.
The first pitfall is to have a sinful fear of a virus that God is in control of. We see this when people become controlled by their fears in a way that leads them to disobey God, or not love others well.
But the second pitfall is just the opposite. The second pitfall I see Christians make is to disregard altogether the categories of fear, and put into one bucket all fear, calling it “sinful fear.” These are those who label anyone desiring to wear a mask, as being guilty of sinful fear.
As followers of the Creator, let’s guard ourselves from falling into either one of these pitfalls. May we guard hearts from having sinful fears and be gracious in our judgments of those around us who may just be expressing a healthy fear of a dangerous thing.