Ebola hemorrhagic fever, first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola river in what is now called The Democratic Republic of Congo, has caused thousands of deaths in various outbreaks particularly in Africa. Third world countries and overwhelmed healthcare infrastructures are poorly equipped to curb the disease to stop an epidemic. The latest outbreak in West Africa has claimed the lives of over 3,800 and more than 8,000 suspected cases of the virus. Cases, both suspected and confirmed are occasionally popping up in places outside of West Africa. Mortality in the face of this virus is estimated to be greater than 90%.
The response to the outbreak has gone beyond medicine. Media outlets have fueled a panicky phobia that isn’t limited to a few “chicken littles”. Ann Coulter’s disdain is thick in her article . The apprehension over a very real and deadly disease has given way to irritation even in the church. It is much more than a debate over things such as national security, border control, and health care. Many in the church (and the world) are on the verge of hysteria.
As a pastor and leader of a missions organization, I have fielded the questions and felt the speculations of brothers and sisters in Christ–the ones who are the valued supporters of ministry to some of the most neglected places in the world. I am thankful for the pure-hearted and love-prompted concern for the well-being of those who live in such places. There is a certain joy that is triggered to know that friends really care. Often, however, the sincere concern gives way to a palpable contempt not only for the disease but for those who are afflicted, not to mention those who expose themselves for the sake of dispensing care. The rising anxiety over the possibility of disease and death betrays a heart that is anchored to a changing bed of sand in the midst of a ferocious storm. And that is more deadly and more dangerous than any disease or new virus that most certainly will come.
Someone needs to tell us what God says. You need to understand that the news media is in the news BUSINESS…their duty is to get as many eyes on the screen or paper as possible. Nothing rivets human attention as much as fear. It is that fear that scares me. Opinions are determined by exposure to perceived truth. Opinions drive emotions by which so many live their life, set their laws, terminate relationships, and establish their values. Our most pronounced vulnerability is buried in the depths of a heart that is out of whack with the Ultimate Answer. I won’t propose to prevent an epidemic any more than I am seeking to stick my head in the sand and deny the presence of a brewing storm. Let us regulate our opinions, emotions, and actions by the Word of the eternal God. Here are a few reminders to help us as we consider Ebola or any one of the 10,000 other diseases and threats that we face every day.
We Live in the Shadow of Sin and It’s Horrible Consequences
Neither suffering nor sickness is our greatest enemy, sin is. If Ebola scares you more than sin you need to recalibrate your heart. While I am not saying that every disease is the result of an individual sin, I am claiming that every disease grows in a sinful world. Were there no sin there would be no sickness.
Our truest refuge is the cross. “The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults and with my song I give thanks to Him” (Ps. 28:7). Christians get sick and die. The cross does not end sickness and suffering. In fact, sometimes it magnifies it. I might contract Ebola, cancer, or a cold. I probably will die. I don’t expect to be safe all of the time. I hope for it, but I don’t expect it. Sickness, like terrorism is a product of sin. So “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).
The remarkable thing about God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.
― Oswald Chambers
Government is not the Ultimate Answer
Government is appointed by God for a purpose (Romans 13), but the government is not able to withstand every storm. Wary of the healthcare system? What did you expect? Thank God for the thousands of little victories, trust Him in the midst of epic blunders.
We must Build on the Rock
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock (Matthew 7:24-25, ESV).
Disease is on a Leash
God is God and that means that He rules over disease. There is not one molecule in the universe (including every strain of virus) that is not under the control of the Supreme Sovereign. He could prevent every disease but He does not. I don’t know why. Read Luke 4:38-44 sometime. Jesus never healed every disease during His earthly ministry. He could have but He did not.
In John 11 we learn that things like this happen for the glory of God. I take that to mean that sickness and suffering, death and disease are superintended for the fame of God. Perhaps one small way this transpires in the case of Ebola is the very fact that such disease reminds us that “life is but a vapor” and thus leads us to look to God as the Great Redeemer and Savior of our soul. He doesn’t heal every disease, but one day He will.
A Final Plea
When you think about the people that are being ravaged, be moved with compassion. Surely take the necessary steps to prevent sickness. But know that you will likely one day get sick with something. It’s not disease that ultimately kills you.
And please don’t disparage or seek to discourage those who run to the battle. Demonstrate your care. Help to provide godly counsel. But don’t be irritated when someone answers the call of God to go to the least of these. Hold the line back home…pray…give…