Posts tagged ‘Pandemic’

Divorce Inquiries Climb as the Pandemic Lingers

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Among the casualties of the coronavirus are many Americans’ marriages. New released data indicates that sales of divorce agreements have soared by 34 percent during the pandemic. The pandemic seems to have had especially adverse effects on new marriages, with couples married five months or less pursuing divorce at double the rate of 2019. According to The Daily Mail, “the combination of quarantine life, wavering finances, mounting unemployment rates, illnesses, deaths of loved ones, mental illness and child care” has led to the spike in divorce inquiries.

As long as there has been marriage, there have been stressors and strains on marriages. History’s first marriage featured a husband who ill-advisedly blamed his wife for his bad behavior after he ate some forbidden fruit. When he was confronted by God over his sin, he claimed: “The woman You put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12). His was quick to blame his wife instead of taking responsibility for his own sin. And couples have been following in his footsteps ever since.

In Jesus’ day, countless numbers of marriages were crumbling. Many Jewish rabbis in the first century permitted husbands to divorce their wives for pretty much any reason. There was one school of thought that actually taught that a husband may divorce his wife “if she spoiled a dish for him,” or “even if he found another woman more beautiful than she.” Jesus, however, was having none of this. He pointedly declared: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9). Jesus wants couples to remain together, even during trying times.

COVID-19 has certainly brought its share of trials. Many marriages are struggling. Some are not surviving. But hope is not lost. Jesus, at the same time He confronts those who don’t take seriously a commitment to marriage, also comforts those who are struggling in marriage. He knows circumstances can become difficult, and He cares.

So, if you are struggling in your marriage, now is the time to ask for help. You can certainly reach out to the church where I serve, Concordia, and we would be happy to talk with you. COVID-19 has created enough casualties. Let’s not add our marriages to that sad list.

September 7, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Processing a Pandemic

“When the pandemic is over…”

I’ve heard these words spoken over and over again by many people. And, I agree with them. I do believe this pandemic will eventually pass. But in my darker moments, I must admit that I also wonder about these words. I want to ask: “You say, ‘When the pandemic is over.’ When, pray tell, might that be?”

I have a feeling I’m not alone in asking this question. Not only am I not alone in asking this question among those around me; I am also not alone in asking this question among those throughout history.

In a really interesting long form piece for New York Magazine, Andrew Sullivan takes his reader on a whirlwind tour of plagues throughout history. His descriptions of many historic plagues are gruesome. Take, for instance, the plague that swept through Rome in 536:

Black rats arrived in the Roman port of Alexandria. They carried with them their own parasite, a flea that lived on the rats’ blood and could survive up to six weeks without a host – making it capable of enduring long sea voyages. And as the bacteria spread among the rats, and their population began to collapse, the fleas, desperate for food, sought alternatives. Living very close to the rats, humans were an easy target … For several days after infection, you were asymptomatic, then grotesque black buboes appeared on your body – swollen lymph nodes near where the fleas had bitten. Death often came several days later.

John of Ephesus noted that as people “were looking at each other and talking, they began to totter and fell either in the streets or at home, in harbors, on ships, in churches, and everywhere.” As he traveled in what is now Turkey, he was surrounded by death: “Day by day, we too –  like everybody – knocked at the gate to the tomb … We saw desolate and groaning villages and corpses spread out on the earth, with no one to take up [and bury] them.”

This is not even the worst of Mr. Sullivan’s descriptions. His recounting of the 1918 flu pandemic here in the States is even more jarring:

In her book Pandemic 1918, Catharine Arnold notes that “victims collapsed in the streets, hemorrhaging from lungs and nose. Their skin turned dark blue with the characteristic ‘heliotrope cyanosis’ caused by oxygen failure as the lungs filled with pus, and they gasped for breath from ‘air-hunger’ like landed fish.” The nosebleeds were projectile, covering the surroundings with blood. “When their lungs collapsed,” one witness recounted, “air was trapped beneath their skin. As we rolled the dead in winding sheets, their bodies crackled – an awful crackling noise which sounded like Rice Crispies [sic] when you pour milk over them.”

But as the summer of 1918 began in the U.S., relief spread. Maybe it was over. And then, in the fall, confident that a vaccine was imminent, several cities, notably Philadelphia, hosted war-bond parades, with large crowds thronging the streets … In the coming weeks, the city morgue was piling bodies on top of bodies, stacked three deep in the corridors, with no ice and no embalming. The stench was rank. City authorities were reduced to asking people to put their dead loved ones out on the street for collection.

This is horrifying.

But Mr. Sullivan is not simply content to leave his reader with dreadful descriptions of plagues past. He also invites us to grapple with some hard truths that our being revealed by our present plague, like this one:

We are not in control.

This is most certainly true.

Christians, for millennia now, have known this and proclaimed this. But they have also trusted in and told of One who is in control – One who can, and even does, heal the sick and raise the dead.

Mr. Sullivan notes:

Reminding humans of our mortality, plagues throw up existential questions. 

They do. Whether we take the time to grapple with these existential questions, however, is up to us. Historically, people have answered threats to their existence in one of two ways:

Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die! (Isaiah 22:13)

Or:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)

Some are confronted by a time like this and simply resign themselves to revelry, for they believe that this is all there is. Others are confronted by a time like this and hope for a restoration, for they know this is not how things should be – but they also believe that there is One who will make things as they can be. And they believe that this One remains with us to comfort us, even during a pandemic.

Which way will you respond to this present moment? Choose wisely.

August 17, 2020 at 5:15 am 2 comments

All The Stuff We Don’t Know

COVID-19 continues to be stubbornly confusing. As researchers push to discover treatments and develop a vaccine, their efforts and preliminary conclusions concerning the virus and its treatments have been plagued by some embarrassing mistakes. Most recently, a study that appeared earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has come under fire. The New York Times reports:

The study claimed that mask-wearing “significantly reduces the number of infections” with the coronavirus and that “other mitigation measures, such as social distancing implemented in the United States, are insufficient by themselves in protecting the public.” It also said that airborne transmission was the primary way the virus spreads.

Experts said the paper’s conclusions were similar to those from others – masks do work – but they objected to the methodology as deeply flawed. The researchers assumed that behaviors changed immediately after policy changes, for example, and the study failed to take into account the seismic changes occurring across societies that may have affected the reported incidence of infection.

It turns out that even when it’s generally agreed that a particular study’s conclusion is broadly correct, the methodology researchers use to arrive at their conclusion can still be suspect, which is part of the reason so many of these types of studies raise more questions than they answer. The more we try to learn, the more our enduring ignorance about this virus becomes apparent.

An article in The Wall Street Journal summarizes the state of our ignorance sharply:

What is the true mortality rate? What is a safe social distance? How contagious is the virus? What percentage of carriers are asymptomatic? We still don’t know any of these facts with certainty.

There was a time when we had a certain bravado about what our scientific studies could solve. The 19th century patron of scientific positivism, Auguste Comte, once confidently proclaimed: “From science comes prediction; from prediction comes action.” But Comte’s aphorism now seems to be a summary of the struggles with our response to COVID-19 rather than a pattern for how to get our response to it right. Predictions are consistently changing. And our actions must be continually revised to keep up with these provisional predictions.

When the apostle Paul writes to the Christian church at Corinth, they, too, like we once were, are quite confident in their knowledge. He says about their confidence:

We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! (1 Corinthians 4:10)

The Corinthians, however, do not know as much as they think they do. The Corinthians are divided over their spiritual leaders, so Paul has to admonish them:

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? (1 Corinthians 3:16)

If the Corinthians are one spiritual temple, they should not be fighting over different spiritual leaders. The Corinthians should know this – but they don’t seem to.

But Paul isn’t done yet. The Corinthians are also ignorant of the proper boundaries for sexual morality as they celebrate a man among them who is sleeping with his mother-in-law. Paul must warn them again:

Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? (1 Corinthians 5:6)

Paul says that the sexual immorality of one man affects the spiritual vitality of the whole Corinthian congregation. The Corinthians should know this – but they don’t seem to.

But Paul still isn’t done. A couple of chapters later, Paul has to remind the Corinthians that they need to support their spiritual leaders so they, in turn, can support their families:

Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:13-14)

The Corinthians should not be stingy with their leaders, but generous. And again, the Corinthians should know this – but they don’t seem to.

It turns out that human ignorance is as old as the Scriptures and part and parcel of our finitude. There is so much that we should know – or would like to know – but simply do not. Thus, instead of living with arrogance, we are called to approach the mysteries of life – the spiritual as well as the scientific ones – with a healthy dose of humility. One of the most important things for us to know is that there is so much we don’t know.

None of this is to say that we should end our efforts to combat COVID-19, nor is it to say that we should abandon our search for effective treatments and a vaccine. Science’s value to discovery and progress is not in question. But its limits must still be admitted and respected. The positivism of a prior age simply cannot face all the facets of a pandemic like this one.

So, let’s show grace, patience, and pay appropriate respect to our scientific researchers as they continue to carry out their important work while also holding onto faith as, together, we continue to walk into the unknowns of COVID-19 with the One who knows all things – God Himself.

With Him, we can face what we don’t yet know.

June 29, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Sick in Spirit When We’re Scared for our Bodies

The COVID-19 outbreak is taking a toll not only on the physical health of millions, but on the emotional health of millions, too. A new survey out from the University of Phoenix shows 4 in 10 Americans are lonelier now than ever before. 71% are worried about the health of a loved one while 61% are concerned about their own health. You combine this with 33% of survey respondents being worried about paying their bills and 27% experiencing depression, and you have the makings of not only a contagious disease pandemic, but a mental health crisis. We may be trying to avoid becoming sick in body through masks, hand washing, and social distancing, but, in the process, we have become sick in spirit.

Early in Jesus’ public ministry, some men bring to Him a paralyzed man, hoping He can heal him. Jesus does. But before He heals his body, He says to this man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). Jesus knows that this man is not only invalid in his flesh, but struggling in his spirit. He needed his sins forgiven.

What Jesus does for this man, Jesus wants to do for every man – and woman. Jesus cares about those who are sick in spirit. This is why Jesus opens His ministry with not only miraculous healing, but profound teaching. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus says, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). It turns out that poverty in spirit is just as important to Jesus as infirmity in body. And so, to those who are lonely, Jesus becomes a friend. To those who are worried, Jesus brings peace. And to those who are depressed, Jesus shows empathy. After all, His soul, too, was once “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38).

Some 1,000 years before Jesus, King David praised the Lord as the One “who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:3). David knew the Lord cared about all of us and all that is us – both our spirits and our bodies. More than that, David had hope in One who, in his day, was still to come come – a God who is spirit, but would one day take on a body to walk among our bodies and heal them and to love us in our spirits and forgive them. God cares so much about spirit and body that He comes in Jesus, who is both spirit and body.

And so, whatever COVID-19 may be doing to you – whether in your spirit or in your body – you have One who is both spirit and body to see you through. And He will.

April 20, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Resurrection Hope

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Credit: Burne Jones, 1890 / Picture by Martin Beek / Flickr

Christ is risen! These words are needed now more than ever in our world. As the death toll continues to climb from COVID-19 and the virus continues to spread, although thankfully at a slower pace than it has, we need to be reminded that no affliction or adversity, no trial or torture can put Christ back in the grave. The grave is empty and, because it is, our hope is secure.

In one of the most famous chapters in the Bible, the apostle Paul speaks about the hope we have because of Easter:

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.  But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:17-20)

Paul refers to Christ’s resurrection as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” In other words, those who have died or will die in Christ have the assurance that they too will one day be raised to live with Christ forever. Christ’s resurrection on Easter is a preview of our easters when He returns.

Martin Luther, in a series of seventeen sermons he preached in 1533 on 1 Corinthians 15, offers these comments on Paul’s words:

Because Christ is risen and gives us His resurrection against our sin, death, and hell, we must advance to where we also learn to say: “O death, where is thy sting?” [1 Corinthians 15:55] although we at present see only the reverse, namely, that we have nothing but the perishable hanging about our neck, that we lead a wretched filthy life, that we are subject to all sorts of distress and danger, and that nothing but death awaits us in the end.

But the faith that clings to Christ is able to engender far different thoughts. It can envisage a new existence.  It can form an image and gain sight of a condition where this perishable, wretched form is erased entirely and replaced by a pure and celestial essence.  For since faith is certain of this doctrine that Christ’s resurrection is our resurrection, it must follow that this resurrection is just as effective in us as it was for Him – except that He is a different person, namely, true God.  And faith must bring it about that this body’s frail and mortal being is discarded and removed and a different, immortal being is put on, with a body that can no longer be touched by filth, sickness, mishap, misery, or death but is perfectly pure, healthy, strong, and beautiful …

God did not create man that he should sin and die, but that he should live.  But the devil inflicted so much shameful filth and so many blemishes on nature that man must bear so much sickness, stench, and misfortune about his neck because he sinned.  But now that sin is removed through Christ, we shall be rid of all of that too.  All will be pure, and nothing that is evil or loathsome will be felt any longer on earth. (AE 28 202-203)

Luther’s final words beautifully summarize the hope of Easter: “All will be pure, and nothing that is evil or loathsome will be felt any longer on the earth.” As we continue to struggle through these evil and loathsome days of pandemic, I’m looking forward to that day!

Christ is risen! Nothing can change that and no pandemic can outlast that.

April 13, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Sheltering-In-Place

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Credit: Tirachard Kumtanom from Pexels

As COVID-19 continues to sweep through our nation, infections are increasing, some hospitals are being overwhelmed, doctors and nurses are working exhaustingly extended shifts, and a good portion of our nation has been ordered to “shelter-in-place” to try to stymie the spread of the virus.

In 1 Samuel 22:1, a young man named David is being pursued by Saul, who is the king of Israel. Saul has become jealous of David who has proven himself a valiant warrior by killing a nemesis of the nation of Israel, a giant named Goliath. When King Saul realizes his own nation respects this young warrior more than they do him, he becomes inflamed with jealousy and makes repeated attempts to kill David, but to no avail. He escapes each time. David, fearing for his life, is eventually reduced to hiding out in a cave called Adullam. While in this cave, David pens the words of Psalm 57, which opens:

Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in You I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of Your wings until the disaster has passed.

David is sheltering-in-place in a cave, trying to avoid the disaster of Saul’s jealousy. It had to be hard. But David knows something. David knows that, ultimately, it is not a cave that is his shelter. It is the Lord. He is David’s refuge. And He will be with David through and beyond his disaster. His disaster will pass. The Lord’s presence, however, will never pass away.

During this disaster of COVID-19, remember that – even as you shelter-in-place and, perhaps, go a little stir crazy because you’re itching to get out – your shelter, ultimately, is not in where you’re sheltering. It is in who your shelter is. Your shelter and your refuge are in the Lord. And He will be with you through and beyond this disaster. This disaster will pass – hopefully, soon. The Lord’s presence, however, will never pass away.

And that’s great news.

March 30, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Coronavirus Comfort

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Credit: Pixabay

It’s been another tough week in our nation. I keep wondering where the peak of the coronavirus’s spread is on the one hand and where the bottom of our economy is on the other. The number of people becoming infected is increasing – exponentially. And the economy is collapsing. Goldman Sachs is forecasting a 24% decline in our GDP in the second quarter while J.P. Morgan predicts a more “modest” decline of 14%. Families are trying to stay healthy by sheltering-in-place while businesses are trying to figure out how to stay afloat. And no one seems to know quite how or when all this will end.

At times like these, the words of Martin Luther’s famed hymn seem especially poignant:

A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.

This moment in our history is certainly filled with “mortal ills.” And yet, God is stronger than any illness. God is bigger than our own mortality.

This is why Luther concludes his hymn:

Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Even if coronavirus can quarantine a society, it cannot quell God’s presence. And even if coronavirus kills a body, it cannot conquer God’s kingdom. His kingdom is forever. Coronavirus is not.

Let’s try to remember that during these long days.

March 23, 2020 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Coronavirus Concern Sweeps the Nation

Arlington National Cemetery is one of the many public spaces that has been closed in the wake of the spread of COVID-19.
Credit: National Guard

As I write about COVID-19 for the third time now on this blog, I must admit that I never expected to devote this much attention and concern to a virus that first emerged halfway across the world. But the state and spread of this virus is shifting so quickly, it’s nearly impossible not to be riveted by what is unfolding. So much has happened this week.

The World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

The NBA, the NHL, and MLB have all suspended their seasons.

The NCAA has cancelled March Madness.

Public spaces across the nation – including places like Disneyland – are closing.

The financial markets are suffering from whiplash.

Air travel to and from Europe has been suspended.

And we’re still having trouble slowing the virus’s spread.

Many of these actions above are the result of an abundance of caution, which is good. But along with much caution, there is also much fear. After all, there’s still so much we do not know about this virus. Its mortality rate continues to be elusive to us. The actual number of infections remains unclear. Testing for the virus remains limited. And, of course, treatment options are nearly non-existent.

Fear like this at a situation like this can lead to all sorts of panicked responses. Stories of stores selling out of staples like bottled water and toilet paper abound. But panic does not equal prevention. The continued calls to wash your hands, wipe down surfaces, and practice social distancing are the things that are necessary to stymie the spread of this virus.

In 1519, the city of Zurich, Switzerland was overrun by the Black Death. It claimed the lives of a third of the city’s population. There was a famous reformer of the Church who lived in Zurich at this time, Ulrich Zwingli. As he cared for those who were ill, he himself contracted the disease. In what seems like a near miracle, he did not die. But while he was in the throes of his sickness, he composed a poem:

My pains increase;
Haste to console;
For fear and woe
Seize body and soul.

Death is at hand.
My senses fail.
My tongue is dumb;
Now, Christ, prevail. 

Lo! Satan strains
To snatch his prey;
I feel his grasp;
Must I give way?

He harms me not,
I fear no loss,
For here I lie
Beneath Thy cross.

Whether in sickness or in health, whether in times of prosperity or pandemic, we lie beneath the cross. And because of this, even as we are cautious, we are not afraid. If a cross could not overcome Christ, a pandemic cannot conquer His promises to us.

March 16, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Coronavirus Continues to Spread

The coronavirus outbreak continues to spread – rapidly. Yesterday’s update from the Washington Post is worth citing:

A northwest Oregon resident has tested positive for coronavirus with no known history of travel to countries severely affected by the outbreak and no known contact with infected individuals, state health officials said Friday.

The case, in Washington County, marks the third case of unknown origin in the United States and indicates that the virus is spreading. It is also the first coronavirus case in Oregon …

Earlier Friday, health officials in Santa Clara County, Calif., said a 65-year-old resident also had a case of coronavirus with unknown origin – becoming the second U.S. case of community transmission. The nation’s first community-transmission patient was a woman in Solano County, about 90 miles away.

The World Health Organization on Friday raised its risk assessment of the coronavirus to “very high,” citing the risk of spread and impact. WHO officials said their assessment – the highest level short of declaring a global pandemic – doesn’t change the approach countries should take to combat the virus but should serve as a “wake up” and “reality check” for countries to hurry their preparations.

The U.S. stock market fell for the seventh straight day amid fears of global economic damage from the escalating outbreak, and the Federal Reserve took the unusual step of issuing a statement to reassure Americans.

“The fundamentals of the U.S. economy remain strong. However, the coronavirus poses evolving risks to economic activity,” Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell said. “The Fed is closely monitoring developments and their implications for the economic outlook. We will use our tools and act as appropriate to support the economy.”

It is sobering to realize that despite all our modern medical advances and all our yeoman’s efforts at containment, the world still stands relatively defenseless against a virus that carries with it a startling mortality rate of, at present, 2.3% – a rate that far outpaces the mortality rate of the seasonal flu, which sits at around .1%.

This past Wednesday, the Christian Church began its observance of the liturgical season of Lent, which kicked off with Ash Wednesday. In churches across the world, the words God once spoke to Adam after he fell into sin were repeated to the faithful: “Dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). These grim words are meant to call us to reflect on our own mortality. Death is inescapable. The mortality rate associated with the coronavirus may be at 2.3%. The mortality rate of humanity itself sits at 100%. As President Kennedy said in a famous speech at American University in 1963, “We are all mortal.” Our problem, it turns out, is bigger than any virus. Our problem is our very selves.

I am deeply grateful that scientists and medical professionals across the world are working tirelessly to quickly identify, contain, and develop a vaccine against the deadly coronavirus. I am thankful that governments are taking the needed – and often ambitious – steps to combat the virus’s spread. But the coronavirus epidemic should serve as yet another reminder of just how fragile life really is. The culmination of Lent into Easter, however, is a promise of just how powerful Jesus’ life really was. A deadly disease is just no match for an empty tomb. And in a world where the headlines smack of death, that’s the kind of life we need.

March 2, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Fight to Defeat Zika

Brazil Zika Birth Defects

Credit: AP Photo/Felipe Dana

When I searched for it, the first article that came up was from CNN and was titled, “What are the chances I’ll get it?”  The “it” is the Zika virus.  And right now, the virus constitutes a menacing epidemic.

On the one hand, societies have seen and battled viruses far more serious than Zika.  As CNN explains:

Only about one in five people infected with Zika virus will actually become ill, according to the [Centers for Disease Control]. “The most common symptoms of Zika are fever are rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other symptoms include muscle pain and headache,” the CDC says. For most people, the illness is mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. People don’t usually get sick enough to require a hospital visit, and the virus very rarely results in death.[1]

This is not good, but it is also not particularly devastating.  One needs only to remember the Ebola outbreak of 2014 to realize that Zika’s threat pales in comparison.  Indeed, the CDC also notes that once a person has contracted the virus, he is likely to be inoculated from future infections.

So why all the concern?

The concern lies primarily in Zika’s adverse effects during pregnancy.  The virus has been linked to birth defects that include microcephaly and Guillain-Barré.  Furthermore, the disease, it turns out, can be contracted not only from mosquitos, but also from sexual contact.  On February 2, Dallas County Health and Human Services confirmed via the CDC that a woman contracted the Zika virus after having unprotected sex with a man who had just returned from a country where Zika is prevalent.

How the Zika virus will run its course and how far it will spread across not only other countries, but across this country, is still to be determined.  But this much is already certain:  our nation is facing a serious public health threat.  As Christians, there are a few things we should keep in mind.

First, we should pray for those who have contracted the virus and we should pray that the spread of the virus would be quickly stymied.  Even if the virus does not affect many of the infected adversely, any kind of sickness is never a part of God’s plan for His creation (cf. Matthew 4:23).  It is always, therefore, appropriate to pray against disease.  Because the virus is spread primarily by mosquitos, we should also pray that the governments of the nations who are being most affected by this virus would quickly develop effective methods of controlling these varmints.

Second, we should continue to declare that every life is precious – even those lives in the womb.  Because Zika is widely associated with serious birth defects, many in Latin American countries, where Zika is most prevalent, are beginning to argue for looser abortion restrictions because of the large number of women who are pregnant and who are getting pregnant while being infected with the virus.  The Washington Post reports:

Across Latin America, calls to loosen some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world in the face of the Zika virus outbreak are gaining momentum but encountering strong and entrenched opposition.

In El Salvador, where abortions are banned under any circumstance, the health minister has argued for a revision of the law because of the dangers the virus poses to fetal development.

In Colombia, an organized movement to lift restrictions on abortion has gained allies in the government but has run into determined opposition from religious authorities. The same is happening in Brazil – and some doctors say that as a consequence, illegal, back-alley abortions are on the rise.

Nearly everywhere in Latin America, including in those countries hit hardest by Zika, women who wish to terminate their pregnancies have few legal options. But as U.N. health officials have projected as many as 4 million infections in the Americas this year, activists are pressing lawmakers to act as swiftly as possible to ease rigid restrictions …

“If I were a woman, had just got pregnant and discovered that I had been infected by the Zika virus, I would not hesitate an instant to abort the gestation,” columnist Hélio Schwartsman wrote in the daily newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo. Each mother should be able to follow her own instincts, he said.[2]

To use an epidemic to argue for American-style abortion legalization in countries that have traditionally looked at the practice with moral suspicion defies decency and smacks of the worst kind of political opportunism.  The effects that Zika can have on the unborn are devastating.  But a moral solution to this concern involves sexual self-control until this epidemic passes.  It does not and cannot involve the taking of innocent human life.  Indeed, Zika should remind us that sexual intimacy carries with it great power and responsibility.  This is true both for the couple enjoying sexual intimacy and for the progeny who can result from such intimacy.

Passing the Zika virus through sexual contact is a real possibility.  Thus, even for people who are married, sexual restraint may be in order.  Sexual restraint is also necessary in order to avoid dangerous pregnancies.  In a hyper-sexualized world, such self-control can appear to be impossible, regressive, and oppressive.  But at a time like this, what an act of love it would be for a person to deny himself the pleasures of sex in order to protect both the health of his spouse and the life of one who could come after him.  We must ask ourselves:  are we willing to love even when it involves self-denial?  Or have we become so selfish and base that to deny our desires is out of the question?

Finally, we should refuse to give into fear.  Every epidemic raises questions.  How will this epidemic be halted?  How many lives might it take?  How many birth defects might it result in?  How widespread may it become?  At this point, we do not have answers to these questions.  But a lack of answers does not need to lead to an abundance of fear.  This is not to say we should not be cautious.  But there is a difference between caution and fear.  Caution responds to a situation wisely.  Fear panics about a situation needlessly.

As Zika continues to spread, I lean on the words of the Psalmist:  “Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all His benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:2-3).  The benefits of God are greater than the denouements of disease.  Zika will not have the last word.

_____________________

[1] Ben Tinker, “Zika virus: What are the chances I’ll get it? (And other Q&As),” cnn.com (2.9.2016).

[2] Dom Phillips, Nick Miroff and Julia Symmes Cobb, “Zika prompts urgent debate about abortion in Latin America,” The Washington Post (2.8.2016).

February 15, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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