Photo Credit: ©Pexels/Anna Shvets
I was recently at a farmer’s market, and a particular family stood out to me. In a sea of face masks, they were the only ones not wearing them. Then I glanced down at the woman’s shirt, and emblazoned on the front were the words “Faith Over Fear.”
Then I got it.
They were apparently among those who feel that wearing a mask displaces trust in God. They may have even carried sentiments of “freedom over control,” “facts over hype” or even “right over left.” You’ll understand if I don’t touch those other sentiments with a 10-foot pole—I just won’t take the bait—but I will not walk away from “faith over fear.”
Not as a theologian, much less as a pastor.
You will not find a single case in the biblical record of God wanting people to throw responsibility and common sense to the wind in order to demonstrate faith in Him before a watching world. Yes, you find God calling people to do things that make no sense before a watching world as an act of faith—from making a boat on dry land in preparation for a flood, to walking around a city for seven days blowing horns.
Yet you won’t find a case where someone presumes upon God’s protection independent of God’s promise of protection in a flagrant disregard of the reason and rationality He’s employed them to use.
Do Not Test the Lord
Going further, what you will find are clear admonitions that we are not to take it upon ourselves to test God in ways He has not directly advised. In fact, the phrase “Do not test the Lord” is a common refrain. In the great critique of the sins of Israel in Psalm 78 the phrase “they put God to the test” is mentioned not once, not twice, but three times.
In the Old Testament book of Numbers there is a telling story of the men of Israel wanting to confront the Amalekites and Canaanites in the name of the Lord. Moses warned them against it; the advantage would be their enemy’s, and the Lord had not said He would be with them in their actions. The scriptural description is revealing: “… in their presumption they went up toward the highest point in the hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the Lord’s covenant moved from the camp” (Numbers 14:44, NIV).
“Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down…” (Numbers 14:45, NIV).
They presumed God would be with them. God wasn’t. He never said He would be.
And lest we forget when the devil took Jesus to the holy city and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple saying: “If you are the Son of God… throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone’” (Matthew 4:6, NIV).
If that is not a “faith over fear” moment, I don’t know what is.
“It is also written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:7, NIV).
Foolishness over Wisdom Is Not Faith over Fear
I am a person of passionate faith. I have not once “feared” COVID-19, nor stayed awake at night trembling with anxiety. But I also wear a mask, practice social-distancing, and have led the church I have been entrusted with to engage in online services for the foreseeable future.
Out of fear? No. It has been out of a deep faith that reminds me to not test God, to not presume on God, but to use my very God-given faculties and reason to honor and glorify Him and care for myself, my family and His people.
Just as it is not fear over faith when I put my grandchildren in a car seat, get an annual medical examination, lock my doors at night and turn on my alarm system, wear a seat belt or any one of a thousand other things that add safety and protection and health to my life and the lives of others.
Purposefully choosing to avoid such things—such as using a car seat for your child—is not putting faith over fear. It would be putting foolishness over wisdom. And to do any such thing in the name of God?
You are then doing the one thing He has said you must never do.
Which is to test Him.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.