“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”—Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933.
President Roosevelt spoke these words as part of his inaugural address in 1933 to a nation that was reeling from the effects of the Great Depression. Roosevelt sought to allay fear and anxiety with calming words and by pointing out that the panic that had gripped the nation had become self-fulfilling. For Roosevelt, fear was an enemy that was neither productive nor effective, only truth would prevail over the panic.
We find ourselves in a very similar situation today as we confront another national catastrophe that has produced much fear and anxiety in our people. The COVID 19 epidemic is a real and present danger for many, but the panic that has accompanied it has done nothing to help stop the spread of the virus nor aid in its cure. Fear is an enemy that must be defeated. Anxiety accomplishes nothing. Roosevelt appealed to human self-reliance as a means of combating the fear and panic that gripped the nation. I will appeal to the words of a superior leader and a far greater solution.
In Matthew 6, Jesus addresses a group of people who have gathered to hear him preach, in what is known as The Sermon on the Mount, which contains Jesus’ most extensive teaching on the characteristics of true discipleship. Addressing similar concerns of fear and anxiety over meeting such commonplace needs as food, clothing, and shelter, Jesus explains that being anxious about these things profits nothing and he rhetorically asks, “which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Applying this to our own context we should see that even though we face similar circumstances with concerns over food, protection, and medicine, being anxious about it will not aid in our overcoming this situation. Fear only multiplies our suffering, never relieving it.
You see, Jesus taught that above all God is in control of our circumstances. He cares for his people and will provide for them. Jesus used the birds of the air as an example of the Father’s watchful care, saying, “[the birds] neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” Jesus uses them in comparison to the superior concern God has for human beings, “Are you not of more value than they?” he asks. Jesus meant that if God is keenly aware of the needs of little birds and provides for them, he is more so concerned for us and our provision. In light of this, Jesus concludes by admonishing us not to fear, but to trust, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.”
Franklin Roosevelt’s words are credited with comforting and inspiring a nation during one of its darkest hours. The words of Jesus comfort and inspire generations of people worldwide to not be afraid but trust in the provision and protection of the Lord. Self-reliance can overcome short term obstacles but eventually breaks down, but true and lasting freedom from fear and anxiety comes from trusting in the Lord who cares for us and will provide for us in our darkest hour.