The news—and fear--spread like an Australian bush-fire. In April 2009 some late season flu cropped up in Mexico and the United States. A link was made. Then it spread quickly to other parts with 100s of cases suspected. More and more drama unfolded:
Mexico City shut down its schools, leaving six million students at home.
Healthy adults in Mexico began to die from the disease.
A Korean nun who had just returned home from Mexico was diagnosed with the disease.
Thermal cameras were being used in airports to see if incoming passengers had a temperature.
US Vice-President Joe Biden made a public statement urging Americans to avoid confined places like airplanes and subways. The travel industry brands his comments ‘inflammatory.’
‘Pandemic’—the word evokes images of white masks, mass deaths, and much dread. But what is it? A pandemic is defined as an infectious disease that quickly spreads over a wide region, even a continent or the globe. It is often a new strain of a disease that is easily transmittable from human-to-human and travels quickly. Cancer and heart disease, though they cause many deaths, are not pandemics because they are not infectious.
Health authorities have been warning us for years that a global pandemic was overdue. Many have been watching anxiously as ‘bird flu’ cases have cropped up in various places…with deaths reported. Then there was the SARS outbreak in 2003, which came by surprise, killed hundreds of people in various places, and then receded.
This 2009 epidemic is a new strain of the ‘Influenza A’ virus, also known as H1N1, called ‘Swine Flu.’ Swine flu is not new in itself and there have been outbreaks in 1976, 1988, and 1998, but without many deaths. H1N1’s common version affects millions of people every year during the ‘flu season.’
Apparently, pigs can catch the H1N1 but proper cooking can eliminate the risk of infection. This has not stopped certain countries from banning pork imports or, as in the case of Egypt, where 300,000 pigs were slaughtered under the pretext of ‘swine flu prevention,’ to the consternation of the Coptic Christian pig farmers.
As of this writing, Mexico has 2,500 suspected cases of swine flu, 590 confirmed, and 101 deaths (revised down from 170). The USA has 226 confirmed cases and one death from a 22 month Mexican toddler who died in Houston. New Zealand has had 81 suspected cases and 5 confirmed while Australia has had 35 suspected and no confirmations. All in all, 21 countries have been affected with a tally of 1,124 cases, according to WHO.
Epidemics & Pandemics: How Do They Stack Up?
The greatest of all pandemics so far was the Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919, which came on the heels of the First World War. Imagine what an apocalyptic decade it was: The Titanic sunk on its native voyage in April 1912; the Great War breaks out and flares from 1914-1918; this was followed by the great pandemic. While precise statistics may be impossible to obtain, a conservative estimate is that 16 million died in the war and 30 million died during the ‘peacetime’ pandemic, though some argue as high as 50 million. It has been rightly called ‘The Mother of All Pandemics.’
The Asian flu pandemic of 1957 infected 45 million people with 70,000 deaths; the Hong Kong flu of 1968-1969 infected 50 million with 33,000 deaths; the Avian Bird flu, which was first recorded in 1990 and still continues until now, infected 421 people and killed 257. SARS in 2003 infected 8,096 and killed 774. According to CNN, annual flu in the USA, which is not a pandemic, affects 50 million and kills 36,000.
The 1,124 cases and 100 plus deaths seem much less than previous epidemics. It also appears that this is a milder type of flu, with people recovering within days with little or no medication. So why all the angst? Because it has only started, is still in progress, and is spreading quickly…too quickly. In Spain, someone contracted the flu, though they had not recently been to Mexico.
On 29 April 2009, the WHO raised the pandemic alert level to 5 (just short of the top number ‘6’) because people were being infected in various countries. The word is out: a pandemic is at the door. On that same day, Margaret Chan, the WHO's director-general, said: ‘It is really all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic…We learn from previous pandemics. Pandemic virus is precarious, unpredictable, and will take us by surprise. ’
First, there is no risk of catching swine flu when eating fully cooked pork. From a practical level, it is important to take the same precautions as you would during the normal flu season. That means frequent and thorough washing of hands with soap and water, especially when you have been out in public. Or you can use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, which require neither water, soap, nor even a towel. The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) urges the public not to touch eyes, mouth, or nose, since the virus can enter through one or more of these. If you cough, do so into a tissue, toss the tissue and clean your hands thoroughly. Face masks are not being recommended at this time.
More important than the practical advice is the spiritual. Bible-believing Christians have a strong eschatological sense. Jesus’ prophecy on the Mount of Olives in Matthew 24 is very relevant in this case:
Matthew 24:4-14 (KJV)
4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. 5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. 6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows. 9 Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. 11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. 12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. 13 But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: (emphasis mine)
What can we learn from Jesus’ Olivet discourse? Much! But for our purposes, bear the following points in mind:
1. Guard against deception at all costs (24:4). It is a terrible waste of a life and a destiny when living under deception. Truth comes with a price but it is worth every bit. Truth can be found, not through sincerely-seeking philosophy, but through the Person named Jesus Christ (John 14:6).
Two witnesses to the truth of Christ are:
1. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth (John 16:13) and
2. the Word of God (John 17:17).
When these three line up, you will solidly stand on the truth. Deception cannot touch you.
2. Do not be troubled by what you see and hear (24:6). During the lead up to the ‘end of the age,’ there will be much turmoil and cataclysm. Nevertheless, the people of God are on a sure foundation and shall not be shaken. Your precious faith is a life-line from the sinking sand to the solid rock. In John 14:27 Jesus says ‘Let not your heart be troubled; neither let it be afraid.’
3. Wars and pestilence are part of the signs of the times (24:7). The phrase ‘nation shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom’ could actually be a Hebrew idiom for world war. If so, the world has never faced a global war until the twentieth century. Nor has it experienced global pandemics until now. All of these distressing things are ‘signs of the times.’
4. A heavenly shaking will precede the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (24:29). This is predicted in Haggai 2:6 and Hebrews 12:25-29. This shaking is so that the temporal, imperfect, and corrupt kingdoms of this world can be removed to make room for the eternal, perfect, and incorruptible kingdom of Christ.
We should be aware, forewarned, forearmed, proactive, compassionate, vigilant and alert. But we are not to fear. For those who are called according to His purpose, He will work all of these things for their good (Romans 8:28).
Believe it or not, God is in control