More than one person has expressed questions or concerns about Ebola and if it was safe for me to be at church on Sunday. I understand the fear. But I think that would be similar to being concerned that he or she might have Ebola because they are in the United States. In fact, there is no Ebola in Chad. Here is a graphic showing current Ebola issues in Africa.
There is something about distance that can warp our perspective. Ebola has entered the US, but it hasn’t entered Chad at this point. What is the correct response? Should anyone who travelled in Africa (or has been to Atlanta or New York City or Texas) be quarantined?
Here is a great article talking about Ebola, fear and the Christ follower. I hope you enjoy it:
Four Checks for Your Ebola Fears
Jesus says, “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do” (Luke 12:4). This is an important verse for Christians to hear in the time of Ebola, a disease which kills the body, but can do nothing more.
Though only one person in the United States has died, Ebola is still causing enormous fear and panic. Why is that, given that 20,000 people die annually of the flu, and we’re not all that afraid of the flu? It is partly due to the painful and ugly way Ebola kills. It’s partly because Ebola is a contagious disease, so we don’t know who has it and when and where we might get it. It’s partly because there’s not an available cure. It’s partly because the way Ebola spreads means that health workers, the very people needed to prevent its spread, are among the most likely to get it themselves. It’s partly the influence of constant, alarmist media coverage.
Having recently returned from a two-week ministry trip to Uganda, here’s the question I’ve been wrestling with: When does concern about Ebola become disobedience to Jesus’s command not to fear in Luke 12:4? Here are four questions I’ve given my congregation to help us self-assess whether our concern is healthy or has become disobedient fear.
1. Is my concern about Ebola irrational?
Irrationality is a sign of fear, because fear blinds us to facts. Recently a teacher in Maine was placed on three weeks’ administrative leave after she traveled to Dallas, where a man had died of Ebola, even though there was no evidence that she was anywhere close to that man. That is not a rational response on the part of the school. It is fear-driven. Recently four families in a Wisconsin public school kept their kids home when the school hosted visitors from Uganda. Fear causes us to overlook or confuse reality.
We hear “Ebola” and “Africa” and so we think if someone has been anywhere in Africa, they have a better chance of contracting Ebola. But in fact, Uganda is eight countries away from the west African countries affected by Ebola. When I was in Uganda, I was about 4,000 miles and 89 hours of driving away from Ebola. When I returned to Massachusetts, I was 30 hours of driving and less than 2,000 miles away from Ebola in Texas (and now much closer to Ebola in New York). But irrational fear doesn’t consider facts like the huge size of Africa and the difficulty of travel within it. Fear simply connects “Africa” with “Ebola.” So, we should ask ourselves, is our present concern rational or irrational?
2. Is my concern about Ebola focused mainly on my own safety?
Healthy concern allows us to consider our own safety while also praying for and considering the needs of others. But fear tends to blind us to the needs of others while we focus only on ourselves. Here’s a good question to ask ourselves: Since Ebola got big, how much time have we spent thinking about our own safety, and how much have we prayed for those who have already contracted Ebola or are at much greater risk than we are of doing so?
If there’s a large imbalance here in our thought life and prayer life, God may be showing us that we’re disobeying Jesus’s command not to fear. We’re focusing too much on ourselves. Instead, Ebola should be helping us to see more clearly the needs of others. It is shining a spotlight on needs that we in the West rarely consider. One article by an expert in the London Review of Books concluded that the reason for the rapid spread of Ebola in west Africa is not the virulence of the virus, but rather weak health systems.
We should be concerned about the plight of people and countries that don’t have the basic health systems we enjoy. We should also be concerned about the massive economic impact Ebola will have on countries that cannot afford it (estimates of economic damage are grim). And of course the personal impact of Ebola is staggering. UNICEF estimates that “At least 3,700 children in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have lost one or both parents to Ebola since the start of the outbreak in West Africa . . . and many are being rejected by their surviving relatives for fear of infection.” It’s hard to imagine the anguish and fear of these orphaned, unwanted children.
But fear makes us think of ourselves instead of others. When I was in Uganda, I heard a report of a local man with a possible case of Ebola-related disease (the report eventually proved to be untrue). I could feel the creeping fear. But God moved me to pray not just for myself and our team, but also for that man and his family and for the whole city. That prayer was a way of fighting back against fear and trusting in God.
3. Is my concern about Ebola blinding me to other, more important realities?
Fear gets so big in our vision that it blinds us to more important things, like a nickel held up so close to our eyes that it obscures an entire house or town or landscape. One way to find out if our healthy concern has become disobedient fear is to ask whether our concern is creating big blind spots. Christians love gospel gains. We love eternal realities. So, Ebola will not fill our entire vision. We’ll be alert to and passionately praying for the church and the spread of the gospel in the Ebola-affected countries.
Ebola matters for this life. Gospel gains matter forever. Christians don’t ignore health concerns, but we place those concerns within the context of eternity. We’re alive to the joy of the gospel work God is doing even when we’re serious about the potential costs of doing it. What do we care more about, the worldwide advance of the gospel, or our personal safety? Ebola gives us the opportunity to answer that question honestly.
4. Is my concern about Ebola properly balanced with other things I should fear more?
What do we fear more, Ebola or our sin? Which occupies more of our time, thought, concern, and prayers? Which produces more fear in our hearts? Ebola can kill the body, but not the soul. But unrepentant sin will drag us down into hell and separate us from God forever. I’m concerned that some Christians are panicking about Ebola while remaining lax and unconcerned about sin in our lives. Ebola looks very big to us, and our sin looks very small. But sin is an infinitely greater danger to us than Ebola. Sin is also a bigger danger to all those around us. Which is worse, my dying of Ebola or my neighbor’s dying in sin, apart from Jesus? There’s no comparison. But which danger do we feel more strongly?
God is using Ebola to teach us about us — about what is really important to us. Our non-Christian friends don’t know that this life is just the beginning of life forever. But we do. Is our knowledge of heaven and hell actually affecting the way we live? Is it shaping our response to Ebola?