I vividly remember when AIDS was all the rage . . . and the fear, among Americans. It was first discovered in 1981, and to date, the disease has killed over 25 million people.
In 2009, over 33 million people were living with HIV including over 2 million children.
In the 80s and early 90s, AIDS was a pandemic. USA celebrities died from it. I remember some Christian leaders said AIDS was God’s judgment on homosexuals. Others prayed for a cure for AIDS.
My wife is a Pharmacist and I remember when she told me that we now have medicine in the USA that treats the HIV virus quite effectively, where people can live normal lives with it. So we don’t hear about it so much. (Albeit, the costs are high for many.)
However, it’s still a major epidemic throughout other parts of the world.
There’s a debate among researchers who have studied the disease in Uganda regarding sexual abstinence, marital faithfulness, and the use of condoms being the panacea to prevent AIDS. Some say this would make a huge difference; others say it wouldn’t.
The preventative method is commonly called A.B.C. [abstinence, fidelity, or condoms].
But people get AIDS through rape, through an unfaithful spouse, and through using needles. Some folks contract it through blood transfusions and many infants are born with it via their mothers. In addition, heterosexuals receive and spread AIDS just as do homosexuals.
Certainly, promiscuity increases one’s risk of AIDS. But it’s not the only reason why a person contract it.
So yes, being a virgin is a protection and a monogamous relationship (for both parties) is as well. Condoms — in many cases — can prevent it. And someone who doesn’t use needles is at less of a risk.
But these things aren’t a panacea. Again, rape, an unfaithful spouse, a failed condom, a defiled needle, an infected and unsanitary dentist, a blood transfusion are all ways people have received the virus.
I remember when I was in my 20s, my mother had a co-worker who was dying of AIDS. He happened to be a homosexual. She wanted me to visit him in the hospital, so I did.
It was a hard experience. I felt deep compassion for his suffering. I don’t recall the conversation I had with him, but I did pray and I was hurt by watching his suffering.
Hitting more close to home, author Tim Keller’s brother died of AIDS. He was a practicing homosexual for many years. Keller’s brother returned to Christ toward the end of his life, but Tim has stated that the experience taught him to address the issue of homosexuality with more sympathy than he had before.
So what does Jesus think about the AIDS epidemic? Here are my thoughts on that question:
* Death came as the result of humanity’s first sin. Sickness is incipient death. So all sickness is the consequence of the fall of humanity. Just as all death is. In the new heaven and the new earth, there will be no sickness and no death. Because the fall — and the sin that caused it — will be erased from creation.
Jesus came to destroy the effects of the fall, including cancer, AIDS, and all other insidious diseases. Yea, even death.
* If you agree with New Testament scholars like N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington, Howard Snyder, Scot McKnight, et al. and believe that homosexual behavior is a sin that’s condemned in the New Testament, you should also know that homosexual behavior is no worse than the other sins that Paul lists in his catalog of sins that bar one from the Kingdom of God. Some of those other sins that Paul lists are outbursts of rage, hatred, slander (smearing and lying about others), and causing division in a body of believers. Regrettably, the “sin metrics” game is still being played by many in the evangelical camp today.
Jesus hates all sin. But what makes Him the most angry are the sins that are rooted in self-righteousness. See What Makes Jesus Angry?
* To my mind, it’s the height of hubris and presumption to say that one form of sickness is a specific judgment for of one form of sin.
The fact is, all sin has consequences. Sometimes those consequences come in the form of sickness. Sometimes they even cause death. Paul of Tarsus talks about God’s judgment coming on those in the Corinthian church because of how some were not discerning the Lord’s body during the Lord’s supper (see 1 Cor. 11). See other examples in Rethinking Sickness.
That said, I’ve yet to see a compelling case for the blanket idea that [x form of sickness] is always judgment for [x type of sin]. (Note also that those who promote this concept never mention the sins that they are guilty of. Hmmm . . .)
* No matter how a disease was contracted, we Christians are called to be agents of grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness. We certainly should proclaim the hard truth and call people to repentance to follow God’s will. But such proclamations become no more than empty bluster if they do not spring from a heart full of the mercy, love, and compassion of Jesus Christ. See my post How (Not) to Correct Another Christian. That article applies to correcting non-Christians as well.
Jesus loves everyone and He died for the sins of humanity. So He suffers with those who suffer. He is moved with compassion in our suffering, even if we brought it upon ourselves. He also wishes that all would come to repentance and trust in Him.
Christians in general, especially those in certain segments of the evangelical camp, still have a lot to learn about how to treat the victims of AIDS.
So it seems to me anyway . . .
Update: N.T. Wright on Same-Sex Marriage