All it takes is a few deaths in a flu outbreak and panic sets in. Commentators write alarming columns in newspapers about potential pandemic, TV feeds the panic around the clock, and suddenly the line ups for flu injections are huge. But when fear takes hold, it’s just like a virus too; it’s highly contagious, it spreads like wildfire, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it.
And that creates even more fear in those whose job it is to protect our health, because underrating the danger could backfire badly if the flu turns out to be a really bad one, but exaggerating the danger could get them hammered later for creating a lot of unnecessary fuss and disruption, and a “Cry Wolf” situation in the future. So now the authorities are fearful too, of either not creating enough fear to get people to protect themselves, or creating too much fear that then makes people batten down hatches, stay home and stop buying, creating more fear in those responsible for keeping the economy functioning. So now fear is spreading further and wider and faster than the flu virus itself.
But that’s the world we live in; we are never far away from a crisis or the unstoppable fear pandemic that always follows a crisis, and we live on that knife edge all the time.
What a horrible way to have to live, but, as Paul explained, there’s a “spirit” in this world that made us “slaves to fear” (Romans 8:15). That’s why we’re so easily frightened; it’s because there are powers beyond our own that MAKE us fearful, and they’re able to create a culture where fear is so ingrained that we cannot escape its grip. And to make things even worse, God has allowed those powers to rule us, subjecting us on purpose to a life of “futility” (Romans 8:20, RSV). A flu outbreak soon illustrates that, because what’s the point of it? Nothing good comes from it. It’s all completely futile.
But God offers an antidote, an injection of his own (so to speak) to protect us against this awful virus of fear and futility we’re enslaved to. It’s an injection of a far more powerful Spirit, the Spirit of “sonship” (verses 14-16), that reaches down deep inside us where the fear virus is and neutralizes it with a withering blast of who we are to God. We are his children, and a flu outbreak doesn’t change that. No crisis in this life changes that. But only the Spirit can make that real. It’s only the Spirit, therefore, that can stop fear when it threatens to get the better of us.