By Steven Chan
Why do people react differently to similar events? During the recent covid-19 situation, people reacted to the lockdowns in different ways. One interesting response was the stockpiling of toilet papers while others were buying hand sanitizers. These people responded with great anxiety; others exhibited great fear.
2. Note the different responses to the signs performed by God. When the Pharaoh experienced the ten plagues that Moses had prophesied would befall Egypt unless he allowed the people of Israel to leave the country, he “hardened” his heart (Ex 8:19) and refused to let them go. On the other hand, when Nebuchadnezzar saw how God had delivered the three Jewish men from the fiery furnace, he said: ““Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God! (Dan 3:28). “I thought it good to declare the signs and wonders that the Most High God has worked for me. 3 How great are His signs, and how mighty His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion is from generation to generation.” (Dan 4:2-3).
3. Even during the time of Jesus, the people responded differently to the signs performed by Jesus. He said: “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Matt 11:5). “Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” (Matt 11:20-21).
On another occasion: “Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. 23 And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” 4 Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”
The Pharisees had a completely different response from the multitudes as regards the same sign performed by Jesus.
4. Another instance was that of Peter and Judas Iscariot. One betrayed Jesus while the other denied Him. Yet Peter repented and became one of the pillars of the church in Jerusalem (Gal 2:9) but Judas went and hanged himself: “Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” And they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!” 5 Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.” (Matt 27:3-5).
Being sorry for having done the wrong thing can lead to one of two possible responses: “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (2 Cor 7:10).
5. What is the possible explanation for such differences in response? In the parable of the seed that is sown on four types of soil, Jesus said the “ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:15).
According to Jesus, the difference lies in the heart of those who heard the Word. If the person has a “noble and good heart” (i.e. “honest and good heart” ASV, “lovers of the truth” 2 Thess 2:10), then he will receive the Word of Truth gladly as the 3,000 did on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41).
6. The Bible warns us to “watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov 4:23, NASB). Jesus explained: “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45).
So, we ought to watch our hearts – what do we fill our hearts with? What do we treasure in our hearts? Is it God’s Word that we treasure in our hearts – just like the Psalmist: “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” (Psa 119:11). It is out of what fills our hearts that will cause us to respond accordingly to what we encounter in our lives.
7. The hearts that are filled with anxieties and fear will respond with somewhat irrational behaviour such as stockpiling toilet papers when faced with covid-19.
How ought those who profess faith in Jesus respond?
Let’s consider the response of the Psalmist who declared: “The Lord is my shepherd… Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” (Psa 23:1,4). Those whose hearts are guarded by the awareness of God’s presence as their loving Shepherd will fear “no evil” – whether it be covid-19 or persecution or diseases or uncertainties in the future.
Jesus assured those who believed in Him: “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me… These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 14:1, 16:33).
8. This does not mean that the Christian ignores the need to take proper precautions to prevent one from being infected by the Covid-19 virus. In the Old Testament, God instructed the people to practise quarantine with regards those who had leprosy (Lev 13:45-46). Trusting God does not mean being foolhardy or stubborn and ignore the SOPs issued by the health authorities.
9. But one should not be so troubled, anxious, and fearful in one’s heart that one acts irrationally and is not able to function properly. The Bible tells us: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” (Isa 26:3).
10. We need to continue to worship God and do His Will/Work even in the face of such challenges. We should not be so troubled that we are paralysed and unable to continue to do the work of God. When the early Christians were persecuted: “those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. 5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them.” (Acts 8:4-5).
This is probably what Paul meant when he wrote thus: “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” (2 Tim 4:2). “In season and out of season” could refer to favourable conditions/times and unfavourable times.
We cannot wait until the Covid-19 threat is over and then re-start our work of preaching the Word. While we wait, many are dying (of Covid-19 and from other causes) without having heard the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Are our hearts stayed on God? We need to watch our hearts with all diligence. For it is out of our hearts that we respond and act accordingly – whether to show our faith and trust in God as our Shepherd (having peace), or to show our “little faith” in Him (feelings of anxieties and fear) (Matt 6:30).