The Ebola Virus – Apocaplypse Now?

The Danse Macabre

The Danse Macabre

The outbreak of the deadly  Ebola virus in West Africa summons up fear of an apocalyptic style plague.  For the first time the virus is showing up in urban areas where isolation and identification is much more difficult. The virus, for which there is no cure, has a mortality rate of about 50%-90%.

CBS reports that the outbreak is probably much more serious than has been reported. This article gathers the facts and rumors which are also spreading like a virus.

The worst outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in history could actually be much worse than the official death toll reflects. Already, the World Health Organization says 887 people have died, but a top doctor working at the heart of the outbreak in West Africa says many cases are going unreported.

The senior doctor, who works for a leading medical organization in Liberia, explained to CBS News’ Debora Patta that what has helped set this outbreak apart from previous ones is the virus’ spread in urban areas.

The Boston Globe takes calms fears, pointing out that while Ebola is infectious is it not highly contagious. The disease is contracted through a combination of poor hygiene, and direct contact with body fluids from an infected person or someone who has just died from the disease.

News about the widening Ebola outbreak seems to get more alarming by the day. So far, 1,600 people have been infected and nearly 900 have died. Last Friday, the World Health Organization said the spread of the virus was outpacing their response. And two American doctors who contracted the disease have been taken back to the US for treatment.

While the headlines are troublesome this article explains why it is the Ebola virus is unlikely to turn into a global pandemic.

Nevertheless, with so many troubling events in the world news one can’t help but think about the four horsemen of the apocalypse (Rev. 6:1-8) typically identified as Pestilence, War, Famine and Death.

What would we do if the human race were suddenly struck with an incurable, highly infectious and contagious disease?

The Black Death devastated European civilization in the mid 1300′s. The death toll was 75 – 200 million and some historians believe up to 50% of the European population perished within a four year period.

Contemporary authors chronicled the terrible plague, Agnelo di Tura described the devastation:

Father abandoned child, wife husband, one brother another; for this illness seemed to strike through the breath and sight. And so they died. And none could be found to bury the dead for money or friendship. Members of a household brought their dead to a ditch as best they could, without priest, without divine offices … great pits were dug and piled deep with the multitude of dead. And they died by the hundreds both day and night… And as soon as those ditches were filled more were dug … And I, Agnolo di Tura, called the Fat, buried my five children with my own hands. And there were also those who were so sparsely covered with earth that the dogs dragged them forth and devoured many bodies throughout the city. There was no one who wept for any death, for all awaited death. And so many died that all believed it was the end of the world.

Such a disease would immediately knock down our secure and confident highly controlled world.

We forget how fragile our control of our world is, and how it can be rocked with something as small and invisible as a bacteria or virus.

A friend of mine who died at an early age from cancer said from his deathbed, “The Christian should live each day as if it is his last, and each day as if he will live forever.”

A plague or the threat of a plague should be a grim yet cheerful momento mori – a reminder of death. In a slick and sick society where we stave off death as long as possible, where we are infatuated with a false eternal youth, where we spend millions to avoid death and the cosmetically enhance death as much as we can when it happens, we do well to contemplate the danse macabre, the horsemen of the apocalypse and the shadowy figure of the grim reaper. The object of the exercise is to prepare ourselves for the inevitable. For the believe life is a journey through the wilderness to the riverbank of Jordan. This object of the journey is to live so well here that we are prepared for the hereafter. Each one of us must use aright the time that is left to us here on earth, for an end will come, if not through a deadly disease, then in some other way. For the Christian this is a meditation of both grim reality and grateful hope. It is expressed in the reading from Romans this past Sunday:

Brothers and sisters: What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In Cranmer’s funeral service we recited, “In the midst of life we are in death” and the full prayer is one which we should always keep before us:

 In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased? Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.”