Fear is very easy to pick up from others, isn’t it?
Our world seems to be surrounded by fears, anxieties and worries at the moment. But I don’t think the coronavirus pandemic has created this situation, it has just brought into sharper focus perhaps.
I don’t know if you have come across the phrase ‘doomscrolling’? It is when you become obsessed with the stream of bad news and worrying stories that we have access to every hour of the day. You end up glued to your computer or device, continuously scrolling through news item after news item, surrounded by a cloud of fear and anxiety. I doubt many of us choose to do this, but it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of doomscrolling in our current circumstances.
As God speaks to the people of Israel through Jeremiah, he might have been talking about doomscrolling if such as thing was possible in the sixth century BC. He spoke to a people facing difficulty and devastation and surrounded by other nations in fear of similar difficulties and devastation. Into that culture, Jeremiah speaks:
This is what the Lord says: “Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky, though the nations are terrified by them.” (Jeremiah 10:2)
The nations were terrified by signs and omens, things they saw in the sky that made them worry that bad things were coming their way. Their answer was to turn to idols and other ways of attempting to control their fate. Jeremiah pours ridicule on them in the verses that follow, comparing their gods to ‘scarecrows in a melon patch.’ They are people terrified of what might happen and vainly trying to control what they might face.
God’s people, however, are not to be like that. “Do not learn the ways of the nations” says God. Don’t be terrified by the things that terrify them.
Why? Because God is greater than any situation or circumstance. “No one is like you, O Lord,” declares Jeremiah, “you are great and your name is mighty in power.” “God made the earth by his power, he founded the world by his wisdom.” Do you think there is any situation outside of his knowledge and understanding? Do you think there is any circumstance outside of his might and power?
I don’t know about you, but I find myself ‘learning the ways of the nations’ rather too often. I fear what the world fears and am terrified by the same things that terrify others. Some things, of course, are worthy of concern. We are living through a pandemic which is real, disturbing and dangerous. We are right to be careful and wise. But we need not be afraid or overcome with terror. Why? Because we know the creator of heaven and earth. He is not unaware. He is not absent. He is not lacking in power. I need to remember that next time the urge to doomscroll comes upon me once again.