By: Jim Virkler
Health officials are confident the COVID-19 pandemic will soon be controlled. Given the modern array of effective weapons and practices for the control of infectious agents, the likelihood exists that the coronavirus threat will diminish as have other serious viral outbreaks of the recent and distant past. It is unlikely that the worldwide death toll from this plague will come even close to the human toll of other notable pandemics in the last 2000 years. However, in terms of the ravaged worldwide economy, it is doubtful any past pandemic comes remotely close. Our dense urban population centers, interconnected economies, technologically advanced civilizations, and opportunities for rapid worldwide travel makes us more vulnerable to pandemics, notwithstanding startling medical advances of the past one or two centuries.
The unpredictable coronavirus continually instructs medical scientists about the degree of contagion of this novel pathogen. We are discovering whether or not it is capable of reinfecting the same victim, the possibility it may return in waves before an effective vaccine is developed, and how the impact of asymptomatic infections causes unanticipated problems in medical responses. Because the virus mutates into various strains as it infects its victims, our medical responses may be “learn as you go’rather than solidly predictable. Our society prefers instant answers. Government authorities are vulnerable to an impatient public as they respond.
COVID-19 has already mutated into several dozen strains. Currently, optimistic medical scientists speculate that some mutations may produce less harmful symptoms, but there is always a chance that the newer mutations could result in more serious outcomes. Past coronavirus diseases such as SARS quickly diminished in their virulence. We pray that the current mutations would also have less harmful results.
Immunization technology has been a divine gift for the past 200 years, especially in the last century. The prime hope for current containment is development of a vaccine. World residents must not become overly confident in a single preventative measure. Quarantine and distancing measures have become effective in the recent pandemic. In many areas the world must become more vigilant.
In crowded urban population centers, future municipal and architectural planning could encourage healthier air circulation, improved plumbing, and more spacious transportation systems. Practices related to food supply animal markets and meat supply preparation sources should be approached with the welfare of both animals and human consumers to avoid continued animal to human crossovers—called “spillover” events. In the US alone domestic and foreign airlines transported an unprecedented one billion passengers in 2019. Such measures must become reality, not merely an ideal. We are experiencing the consequences of a sevenfold human population explosion in the last two centuries. Many dangers have developed in our population-exploded society which have exacerbated the possibility of pandemics resulting from an infection. The human population explosion has been matched by explosions of medical and health knowledge, advances in human nutrition, and multifaceted innovations in technological innovations.
Since the time of Christ there have been horrific recurring pandemics. World populations have fluctuated as these events have impacted humanity. In the past 2000 years, diseases have harvested the lives of up to 500 million people. The incredible 1918-19 Spanish flu tragedy was responsible for 10% of that number. More recently HIV-AIDS was responsible for 25-35 million deaths since 1981. Our search of human history reveals plagues and pandemics have harvested between one and 200 million souls occurring on an average of once per century in the past two millennia. Causes ranged from bacterial Plague (Black Death) to viral diseases such as smallpox and influenza. For perspective on these tragedies, world population at the time of Christ was only 170 to 330 million.
Many Christian commentators have wondered, as did Focus on the Family’s Jim Daly in his Daily Citizen Morning Headlines, “Why doesn’t God end the coronavirus plague?” Many have offered rational responses from a scriptural perspective. We stress that theologians have posed the same question concerning the numerous horrific pandemics of the last 2000 years. Ultimately, God’s ways are not man’s ways. Jim Daly continued, “Let’s continue praying for those who grieve and those who are in the thick of this ongoing battle to defeat COVID-19. I believe God is up to something well beyond our sight or understanding.”
We ponder the ultimate impact of COVID-19. At this writing, 267,233 souls have perished from the virus. We thank God that medical professionals have been gifted with knowledge and skill in our day to limit the worldwide death toll.
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Jim Virkler, a retired New Jersey public school science educator, now devotes his time investigating the harmony of scientific discoveries and Christian faith. He and his wife, Eleanor, now reside in the mid-west near their children and grandchildren.