Currently I am in the middle of a 4-day meeting of the World Council of Churches Commission on World Mission and Evangelism – online, of course. One of the reasons I have enjoyed my involvement with the Commission is that it has a very inspiring Moderator – His Eminence Metropolitan Geevarghese Mor Coorilos (who prefers to be called George).
George always gives an opening speech, which invariably features a story, often culled from his pastoral experience. This time it was surely going to be a story somehow related to the coronavirus pandemic. And he did not disappoint.
He recounted an Arabian tale about a pandemic that was once travelling to Baghdad. On the way, it met a caravan and the head of the caravan stopped the pandemic and asked where it was heading and for what purpose. It said that it was going to Baghdad and planned to kill 5,000 people there. On its way back, it was stopped by the same caravan at the same spot and the head of the caravan asked the pandemic why it had not kept its word since it was reported that it had killed 50,000 people instead of 5,000. The pandemic responded by saying that it had indeed kept its word and had killed only 5,000 as promised. When it was asked who killed the rest, it said, “fear”. 45,000 people actually died of fear of the pandemic.
George did not have to elaborate further for us to grasp the relevance of the tale to our current situation. Who among us has not had to battle with our own fears as the pandemic has posed a threat to our very life? The increased number of suicides being reported in many contexts bears witness that fear has indeed been a killer, no less than the virus itself.
The punchline of George’s address was that there is a vaccine for fear. “Perfect love casts out fear,” according to a precious biblical text (1 John 4:18). The opposite of fear, in the Christian lexicon, is not courage but love. The way to counter the demoralising fear instilled by the pandemic is to live lives of love.