3-19 St. Paul and Tom Paine.jpg

At a moment like this, with the coronavirus pandemic turning our world upside down, let us remember the lessons learned from those who have gone down a similar road.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, St. Paul, in the last letter he wrote before his execution, told his young disciple, Timothy, that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

For me, that verse serves as a personal road map for today.

But comfort doesn’t have to come from a biblical source. For our atheist and agnostic fellow citizens, there is a nonreligious variation on this theme I’ll touch on later.

My wife and I recently joined Selma American Baptist Church south of Festus, a church notable for sitting squarely in the center of the Jefferson R-7 School District campus. I discussed the crisis with Pastor Leslie Limbaugh last week, and she cited the same verse from 2 Timothy that had come to my mind.

The verse starts with “God.” I saw an interview on CNN of a COVID-19 patient in Georgia. The man was utterly alone in a quarantined hospital room with an oxygen tube in his nose. Through the haze of his illness, medications and sheer loneliness, he repeatedly expressed his trust in God.

“I just want everybody to remember, God is in control,” he said.

He reminds us to embrace faith and reject a “spirit of fear.” The worst four-letter word in the English language is fear. President Franklin Roosevelt, in the depths of the Great Depression, called it “the only thing we have to fear.”

What displaces fear and starves it of oxygen? Three things: power, love and a sound mind.

Power is what keeps that man in Georgia going – the power of faith. It doesn’t have to be Christian, though. Most of the world’s faiths believe we are all made in God’s image, engineered to survive and thrive on the three great virtues of faith, hope and love.

And love, St. Paul said in another Scripture passage, is “the greatest of these” virtues (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Love, essentially, is putting others above yourself. In a pandemic, that means, first, “do no harm.” Practice the higher hygiene these times require. It’s not just your life that needs protection.

I reluctantly had to practice “social distancing” over the weekend in not attending a memorial service for a cousin in Carlyle, Ill. – and I was supposed to read her favorite poems as part of the service.

Love also means, look out for others, especially the elderly – your parents and grandparents and the other guy’s parents and grandparents.

Donald Trump, in the truest and most nonpolitical statement he has made since he became president, said last week, “We are all in this together.”

And what about our “sound mind?” Thank God for the experts, the professionals in medical science at the forefront of this crisis. They are developing the vaccines that one day will protect us. In the meantime, their determined expertise and real-time research will lead us through this.

Being Americans, we respect those of all religious faiths – and of no faith. I’ve long thought that all professing Christians should go out of their way to develop friendships with those who believe otherwise. A little empathy and humanity, with understanding, can go a long way. Times of stress remind us of this.

Thomas Paine, an agnostic and the least-appreciated of our Founding Fathers, wrote this two days before Christmas in 1776:

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

Gen. George Washington, during a low point of the Revolutionary War at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-1778, found those words so inspiring he had them read to the Continental Army. (Check it out online as Paine’s first “American Crisis” essay.)

Paine’s cause was the overthrow of British tyranny. Ours is protecting our homes and communities from a tyrannical pestilence we could scarcely have imagined a few months ago. It is no stretch to say that personal vigilance and seeking the best for others is now our challenge. We can meet it with power, love, a sound mind – and patriotism.

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