On average, there is a Friday the thirteenth every 212 days. Such a day occurs in any month that begins with a Sunday. Fear of this day has been given the scientific name, “paraskevidekatriaphobia,” from the Greek words for Friday, thirteen, and fear.
By contrast, we don’t yet have a scientific name for “fear of coronavirus,” but that makes such fear no less real. Or less dangerous.
Beware the “bias for threat”
US stocks had their worst day since the 1987 stock market crash. The NCAA canceled its basketball tournaments for the first time in history. All eleven Disney theme parks in North America, Europe, and Asia have been closed. The PGA has canceled the Players Championship and the next three events on the schedule.
These are frightening days, indeed.
One psychologist notes, “Fear influences how we react to media coverage of health hazards.” In times of anxiety, we tend to pay more attention to threat-related information, which drives up our anxiety and distress.
This “bias for threat” can exacerbate our reaction to the disease, leading to panic. And panic is “an irrational fear reaction that, by definition, your body’s reaction and adrenaline response take over from your ability to actually rationally evaluate the situation.”
Cortisol and lymphocytes
Responding appropriately to fear is therefore vital not just for our psychological wellbeing but for our physical health as well.
According to Cleveland Clinic, stress causes our bodies to produce greater levels of the hormone cortisol and can cause anxiety and depression. These can lead to elevated inflammation that can compromise our immune system.
Stress also decreases the body’s lymphocytes—the white blood cells that help fight infection. The lower our lymphocyte level, the more we are at risk for viruses such as SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Since, as one professor notes, “the main way we relate to information about the world is through feelings and gut intuitions,” it is vital that we focus on objective medical advice and practical steps we can take today.
And it is vital that we turn to resources that can provide peace we cannot produce ourselves.
76 percent of doctors say they believe in God
This week, we’ve focused on ways the Christian faith uniquely helps us in times of crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve discussed Jesus’ responses to our prayers, his invitation to trust him with our fears, the power that comes from submitting to the power of God, and the relevance and hope found in Christian community.
Unfortunately, many in our culture believe we have a binary choice: we can trust God or we can trust science, but we cannot do both. This is a false dichotomy.
Scientists use minds and abilities given to them by the God who calls us to steward his creation with excellence (Genesis 2:15; Philippians 4:8). Christianity has made dramatic contributions to the development of hospitals and the advancement of medical care.
It is a mistake for scientists to discount God’s wisdom, just as it is a mistake for Christians to discount scientific wisdom. The Great Physician uses physicians in his continued ministry on earth.
Jesus “had to pass through Samaria”
In John 4, it says that Jesus “had to pass through Samaria” (v. 4). As you may know, Jews typically avoided Samaria on their way from Judea to Galilee and vice versa.
But Jesus went where other Jews would not go. In fact, had to translates a Greek word meaning must or to be necessary. Every time we find this word in John’s Gospel, it indicates divine direction and necessity (cf. 3:7, 14, 30; 9:4; 10:16; 12:34; 20:9).
Jesus “had to pass” through Samaria because his Father sent him to those who could not or would not come to him. Our Lord now continues his earthly ministry through us. We are his hands and feet, the physical expression of his spiritual presence (1 Corinthians 12:27).
As a result, here is the positive mindset I hope we’ll adopt: let’s join God as he is already at work in this crisis.
He calls physicians just as he calls pastors. He uses their expertise to advance his healing ministry in our broken world. Let’s pray for them, encourage them, and follow their guidance.
In addition, he calls us to use our gifts, abilities, resources, and influence in proactive ways as he leads and empowers us. People may be more open to their need for God now than they were a month ago. They may be more aware of their mortality and limitations. They may be more willing to seek help. And they may be more open to our witness and compassion.
The coronavirus pandemic is indeed unique and frightening, but it also presents a unique opportunity to take Christ to our frightened culture. The God who redeems all he allows wants to redeem this physical threat for eternal spiritual good.
How can you join him today?