It was called Infantile Paralysis and though I don’t remember it, since I was only two years old, my sister and I actually had this virus—the virus we now know as polio. A few months after we had the virus, the vaccine became available and was distributed, subsequently eradicating the disease.
Even though my sister and I didn’t have any long-term effects from polio, I’m aware that this virus not only killed, but maimed millions of people before it was finally eliminated. I understand, too, that for many years before and after our illness, there was fear and panic and despair much like now with the present pandemic. Like COVID-19, this virus had a mind of its own. It could kill or not. It could make someone very ill or not. No one knew how a body would respond. But the epidemic hit our little southern town just as the vaccine was coming out.
I remember, later on, seeing pictures of people, children and adults, having to spend the rest of their lives in leg braces or a contraption called an “iron lung”—a casket-like device that moved paralyzed muscles that were required for breathing. Without it, the victim would suffocate. It was a horrible disease, and though I don’t remember much about my family’s bout with it, I know that the fear of it was very real. (And the idea that it only affected children, infantile paralysis was no longer regarded as true. After all, President Franklin Roosevelt had it as an adult.)
We are born with a certain amount of fear. It is natural. Doctors say that humans have two inborn fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud sounds. In so many cases, fear is good. It helps us run from danger. However, the kind of fear that we develop as we get older, is born out of a feeling that we are out of control of the future. And we are. But that’s where this emotion becomes a problem. We are afraid of what we cannot see, touch, or hear. We don’t know what will happen, so we often don’t venture into that great unknown.
As believers we add guilt to our fear. Fear is the absence of faith, right? And without faith, we cannot please God. Jesus spoke about fear to His disciples in the Upper Room. “Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” (John 14:1). However, right after this Jesus had a sense of fear Himself. “My Father, if it is possible, take this cup of suffering from me!” (Matthew 26:39, GNT) He knew what was ahead, and yet He still dreaded the pain of betrayal, of the whip, and of the nails that would be driven into His hands. He did not fear death, however. He knew that He would overcome that and, in doing so, overcome it for us, too.
Mr. Roosevelt said this in his first presidential inaugural address, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes…”
Fear can be paralyzing much like the poliomyelitis virus. It can keep us from walking, venturing out, and even breathing. The only way to banish this plague is to do what Jesus said in the garden just before His arrest and torture. “Yet not as I will, but as You will.” An old adage says, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future.”