The world is currently in a panic over a potential viral pandemic. The threat of death and prolonged illness has sent quite a few into something of a frenzy. In various locales around the globe, stores are running out of essentials, as worried consumers stock up in case they must quarantine themselves within their homes. In Italy, schools have been shut down for two weeks, nation-wide. In several countries the governments are passing laws regulating and controlling the buying and selling of face-masks, so that it is illegal to sell said items out of country, or even buy these items unless you are a doctor or other medical professional. The panic of the populace has convinced these authorities such measures are called for as people make it impossible for those who actually need the devices to obtain them.
What is making so many behave this way? It is a virus with a perceived death rate of somewhere between 1 and 3 percent. Flipping the statistics, this means that 97-99 out of those who are infected actually live (albeit with potential life-long scarring of the lungs). Yet the threat is enough to make the population of the world fearful for their lives.
We should acknowledge death rate of 2-3% can be pretty severe for a true pandemic. The 1918 flu epidemic infected about a third of the globe, with a death rate of about 2.5%. This translated into something like 50 million deaths world-wide. Even more alarming for many is that the virus in question has a long incubation rate and can pass undetected, spreading through the populace for up to two weeks before anyone even knows they are sick. If you don’t know you are sick, you are not going to get treated. Thus the growing fear on the part of many.
Now, with all that being said, try to imagine the global reaction to an affliction with a 100% fatality rate amongst the untreated. Would there be an outcry demanding a solution? Would individuals zealously pursue the cure? Or would the majority try to pretend there was nothing wrong, even as they pursued activities guaranteed to spread the afflictions to friends, family, neighbors and colleagues.
Consider then what God says, “The soul that sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4),” and “the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).” Further, the condition of sin affects much more than a third, or a half of the world population. God tells us, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).”
Our Creator tells us that there is no condition more serious, nor more widespread than that of sin. It is more insidious and deadly than any virus, and yet there is a clear lack of panic on the part of mankind. Men are not rushing out to obtain those things necessary for their spiritual welfare. Governments are not racing to enact soul-saving legislation. Most go about their day insisting nothing is wrong with them.
Yet, Jesus urged His disciples to value the soul more than the body. He taught them, “And 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. (Matthew 10:28)” Jesus spoke this warning concerning human persecution, but it seems just as applicable to an illness. If it is rational to worry about a disease that has a 2% chance of killing our bodies, is it not also rational to worry about the condition that has a 100% chance of destroying our immortal soul. It was worrisome enough to God that He sent His Son to provide salvation.
Jesus said in another place, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:31-32; ESV).” His point was that until one recognizes their condition, they will not seek help for that condition. Sin is truly an awful condition, bringing upon the sinner as it does the wrath of God (cf. Romans 1:18ff). But the condition is not without hope. Jesus has given mankind access to a cure through the Gospel of His death, burial and resurrection. He calls for men to come to Him and find forgiveness and righteousness, and thus be saved. He urges and pleads with men to repent of their sins and be saved from the judgment that is to come.
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Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.