There are two ways in which my fellow Italians are trying to handle the fears that the COVID-19 emergency is spreading around us. The secular way is to use the phrase Tutto andrà bene, meaning “all will go well.” It is obsessively written in blog posts, pictures, and messages that people exchange with frenzy. It is used as a secular mantra in an attempt to exorcise the worries of the pandemic. The hope that all will go well is grounded in the promises of medicine to cure the sick and in science to quickly find a vaccine.
Of course, we are extremely grateful for the help of doctors and nurses, for whom we pray. Yet, we know that not all of the sick will survive even with the help of modern medicine. Ultimately, sooner or later, we will all die. Yes, we are also hopeful in the new discoveries of scientists, and we support medical research, but we know that COVID-19 is just one of the threats to our lives. For all its wonderful achievements, even science will capitulate to the inexorability of death. Medicine is not our ultimate hope—God is. Science is not our ultimate resource—God is. “All will go well” is a misleading hope if it is not grounded in the right theology. Without recognizing the God of the Bible as the God of all, the hoped-for happy conclusion to this pandemic and to all crises is wishful thinking. Fear will continue to have the last word.
The other way Italians are attempting to manage fear is through Roman Catholicism, the majority religion in my country. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have witnessed a flurry of Marian prayers and intercessions to the saints. Rosaries, processions, devotions to crucifixes that are alleged sources of miracles, etc., have been used by people to plead for protection and help. Roman Catholicism teaches that in times of need, Mary and the saints are near, certainly nearer than God, because they are human like us and can understand us better.
This response is a problem as well. Yes, Mary was an extraordinary woman, and she is now in the presence of God. However, she depended on God no less than we do. Moreover, all believers will likewise enjoy eternal life in God’s presence. She cannot help us, but God can. Yes, many of the “saints” were outstanding Christians whose example we are called to imitate. But they cannot help, for they have gone to be with the Lord. Only God can help us. He is eternally alive and powerful. The Father is always ready to receive our prayers (1 Peter 3:12). The Lord Jesus is the only mediator who intercedes for us (Heb. 7:25), and He knows exactly what we are going through. The Holy Spirit, not departed believers, intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Rom. 8:26). In trusting in the intercession of Mary and the saints, Roman Catholicism undermines the reality of the Trinitarian God of the Bible and replaces Him with other figures. Since its remedy is based on a flawed theology, it cannot make fear go away.
Both secular and religious treatments for fear are built on faulty theologies and therefore lead to frustrated expectations. Ultimately, they bring delusion and despair. In order to deal with fear without succumbing to it, we need to fear God and God alone. Our theology determines who and what we fear. If we believe in God the Father, Creator, Provider, and Savior of the world, we will not ultimately trust science or religion. Instead, we’ll trust in the covenant God of the Bible who keeps His promises and works out His purposes for His glory and our good (Rom. 8:28). If we believe in God the Son, God incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ, who came for our salvation, suffered for us, died on the cross, was raised from the dead, and will come again, then we will not need to invoke anyone else but Him for help in times of trouble (Heb. 4:15–16). If we believe in God the Holy Spirit, who was sent to be our Comforter, then we will have confidence that He is our helper and He will be with us forever (John 14:16). If we believe in the only true God, the triune God of the Bible, we will trust and fear Him, and all other fears will become penultimate.
Thinking of the present-day emergency, let this verse become the hymn of our life: “‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55–57).
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on April 2, 2020.