Ebola – the newest of the scariest words we have today. We regularly get new ones to add to the lexicon: Isis, recession, Obama, Republicans, drones, identity theft, and many more. These words mean different things to us in different times. Their power fluctuates from harmless to seemingly all-encompassing to “I hope it doesn’t affect me or those near me.”
It’s customary to blame the media. “They’re always trying to get the public riled up about something!” Despite the hype (and there will always be hype), there is often good reason for the concern.
The Ebola outbreak is real. The World Health Organization reports there have been 4,493 deaths while others estimate the number to be closer to 12,000. Today’s reports are filled with the two nurses’ travel and current care as they treated the Dallas man who died after his trip to West Africa. And like all disease, this is tragic and worth grieving.
It’s normal after every plane crash, terrorist attack, school shooting, even after hearing of a drunk driving accident to wonder if it could happen to me. We know that we are not exempt from tragedy. While we should never panic, it’s perfectly normal and fairly wise to consider how we might contract a deadly disease or how a potential threat can affect us. Earlier this week it was revealed that the second nurse from Dallas flew to Ohio and eventually that plane continued to Ft. Lauderdale. Incubation periods, a few hundred people constantly on the move, rumors of ebola evolving to becoming air-born (unfounded by the way), and a discouraging mortality rate, despite the low spread rate, all this and more populate our news feeds. So what do we do?
Well, I’m not convinced there’s an easy answer but the first step feels like resisting the apathy and choosing to care. It’s tempting in an effort to resist the hype and alarm to sit it out but I find that when I do that, callousness and insensitivity set in. So choosing to care is a start.
Caring generally leads to a willingness to be informed. Reading up and discussing such matters with others can lead to two things: greater panic or better understanding. It’s been my observation that there are some who simply enjoy a good panic. It’s why some like a good horror movie or thriller. Consuming panic can bring a bit of a rush and if you avoid catastrophe, well, you’re life is just a bit more exciting. I’m unconvinced this person makes the greatest of friends but try to encourage them more than they discourage you. It often helps to offer something objective like a statistic or a perspective that neutralizes the panic (earlier this week I read a helpful Boston Globe article that discussed the need for faster/better testing/diagnosing co-written by a geneticist who attends our church: Faster diagnosis leading to faster quarantine and treatment and reducing the spread – Yes). If in fact our friend does not want to panic, you may bring comfort. if they are a panic-addict, they’ll less likely bother you the next time around. Win-win ;)
But upon reading up and discussing with healthy-minded people, it is healthy to have appropriate concern and take prudence for the threats and challenges we have in life. There is no virtue in intentionally being unprepared. For instance, today on a popular news site it was reported that Isis has “three war planes.” Most likely, another news site will tell us they have received data that Isis is here planning a strike on U.S. soil and there will be vague speculation on how this relates to the safety of major cities, air travel, etc. Appropriate concern informs us, helps us to stay alert and …. keeps us humble.
Fewer things humble us more than the realization that we are not in control. We seek guarantees but we at best, we can only increase our probability of reducing risk. A world filled with evil and tragedy removes the possibility of guarantees. It’s here where we are reminded of our human frailty and for some of us, here we are reminded of the the question is there a God who exists or not?
I am among those who believes there is a God who exists, cares for all, is at work in redeeming all things until one day, all of creation is redeemed. Until then, many of us who choose to can take part in this redemption. This is the Christian narrative.
The interesting thing (to me) about the Christian narrative, and what I find distinctive from some of the messages found in pop-culture, is that it never promises a pain-free, guaranteed safe life; in fact, it promises a hard and difficult road, a cross to bear but also the Lord’s strength, rest, nearness and hope of deliverance. Like the story of Jesus, the greatest of evils cannot destroy you when God chooses to raise you up. And this is ultimately what I am reminded of when I think about ebola, Isis, those who are in power and the many people/evils that threaten and conspire against us: God is greater than all these things and these threats move us deeper to trust him and pray for others.
May the Lord keep us all safe, may He heal the sick, and may He raise all who put their trust in Him when that day comes. Grace and peace to all in the meantime.