Viruses, Wars and Threats of Extinction
"Men fainting (expiring) for fear, and for expectation of the things which are coming on the world. (the inhabited earth)" (Luke 21:26 RVIC)
According to the Johns Hopkins Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response the virus known as COVID‑19 first appeared in Wuhan, a city in China, in December 2019. Although health officials are still tracing (as of the beginning of April) the exact source of this new coronavirus, early hypotheses thought it may be linked to a seafood market in Wuhan, China. However, a study conducted in late January noted that the first reported case on December 1 2019, appeared in an individual who had no link to the seafood market. Investigations are ongoing as to how this virus originated and spread.
While coronaviruses are common in different animals, it is rare that an animal coronavirus can infect humans. These types of viruses can cause colds or other mild respiratory (nose, throat, lung) illnesses. They also can cause serious diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). COVID‑19 is thought to be more like SARS. In 2003, an outbreak of SARS started in China and spread to more than two dozen countries before ending in 2004. The World Health Organization (WHO) listed 8,096 people worldwide who became sick with SARS during the 2003 outbreak. Of these.774 (9.6%) died.
SARS and COVID‑19 illustrate how a disease within a country (mostly in Africa or Asia) can easily spread and grow into a pandemic—an epidemic of infectious disease that spreads through human populations across multiple continents or even worldwide.
Pandemics in History
The archaeological site now called "Hamin Mangha" is one of the best‑preserved prehistoric (approximately 5,000 years ago) sites in northeastern China. Archaeological and anthropological study indicates that an epidemic happened so quickly that there was no time for proper burials, and the site was not inhabited again. The bodies of the dead were stuffed inside a house that was later burned down. No age group was spared, as the skeletons of juveniles, young adults and middle‑age people were found inside the house.
The first recorded pandemic, the Justinian Plague, came in the sixth century AD. Eight centuries later came the Black Death pandemic. Both plagues were likely spread by fleas living on infected rats coming into human contact (Bubonic plague). Fifty to seventy million people died of the three‑century long Black Death. Multiple pogroms and massacres against minority groups, especially Jews, were launched by those ignorant of the true source of the plagues.
Smallpox, cholera, and bubonic plague became worldwide diseases in the 19th century until English physician John Snow mapped houses in London that were affected by a cholera outbreak. His work showed that the disease developed in, and was spread by, contaminated water.
Some historians cite the so‑called Spanish Flu pandemic in the early 20th century as the most significant contribution to ending World War I. According to the American Center for Disease Control, the influenza pandemic infected one‑third of the world population of 1.6 billion and killed over 100 million.
By the middle of the 20th century, many diseases which had caused these pandemics were no longer a threat due to significant advances in knowledge: Edward Jenner developed a vaccine against smallpox; rats and mosquitoes were controlled; and public sanitation was improved. No single discovery was as significant in fighting infectious diseases as penicillin.
Unfortunately, this ease of prevention led to complacency in world preparation against such things as coronaviruses, claims Professor Susan Craddock from the Institute for Global Studies at the University of Minnesota in Networked Disease: Emerging Infections in the Global City. With 80 percent of one‑year olds in the world now vaccinated, most parents have never seen their child struggling to breathe through whooping cough or unable to walk when polio struck. As an example, when the Soviet Union dissolved, Russia's healthcare systems deteriorated, including the national immunization program. The country soon experienced a serious epidemic of diphtheria that lasted for years.
Post‑Coronavirus World Trends
The International Crisis Group (www.crisisgroup.org) works independently to prevent wars and shape policies that "will build a more peaceful world." The group’s website cautions: "While the COVID‑19 pandemic presents a potentially era‑defining challenge to public health and the global economy, its long‑ and short‑term consequences for deadly conflict are less well understood".
Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State and former National Security Adviser recently wrote, "The founding legend of modern government is a walled city protected by powerful rulers, sometimes despotic, other times benevolent, yet always strong enough to protect the people from an external enemy… As the world emerges from the current crisis, the effort to overcome the effects of COVID‑19 plague will require restraint on all sides—in both domestic politics and international diplomacy… Failure could set the world on fire."
Since the last ISIS strongholds in Syria fell in early 2019, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish‑led militia that partnered with the U.S.‑led coalition, has largely been left to deal with tens of thousands of ISIS detainees and affiliated family members. Many of the detainees’ home countries refuse to take them back. Humanitarian workers describe these sites as ridden with tuberculosis and perilously overcrowded, with one speaking of "dramatic mortality rates". This example shows how the global outbreak has the potential to wreak world havoc, trigger widespread unrest and severely test international relations:
According to the Crisis Group, five dangerous trends could arise as the pandemic wanes:
This pandemic has the potential to be long and especially draining on world resources. At this writing we are just beginning to see the impact on unemployment, health care and other key parts of society. How long and how costly will it be? And when will the next such crisis come?
No More Pain
The Bible pictures Jehovah as a Great Physician who cures from disease: "Who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases." (Psalm 103:3 RSV) The prophet Isaiah foretold a time when "…no inhabitant will say, ‘I am sick’; the people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity." (Isa.33:24 RSV) "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert." (Isa.35:5,6 NKJV)
Pestilences are the natural consequences of sin and the death sentence passed upon Adam and his progeny. Those who received the benefits of Jesus’ miracles and were healed of their afflictions eventually died. It was not yet time for these miracles to bring eternal blessings. They did, however, offer insight into the miraculous power that will be used on behalf of all people in Jehovah’s kingdom.
Jehovah justly pronounced the curse of death upon mankind. But He intends to remove the curse eventually: "There shall be no more curse." (Revelation 22:3) This is guaranteed through the ransom price provided by Jesus. During this age, the benefits of Jesus’ death accrue only to those invited to share in his sufferings as an offering for sin. When this group, his bride (Rev.19:7‑9) is complete, there will be no need to sustain this present evil world (Gal.1:4) and attendant sickness, pain, and death. God will reverse these conditions in his kingdom, as described in Rev.21:4: "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." (NKJV) The apostle Paul says that the reign of Christ and his Church will continue until it has destroyed not only sickness, but death itself. "For he must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death." (1 Cor.15:25,26 RSV) The destruction of death must include the demise of disease as well.
The signs we see on earth today indicate that it, the promised time of deliverance of the world from sin and death, is near. The prophet Malachi foretells that the Great Physician, "the Sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings," and he connects it in time to the day of the Lord, or the day of Jehovah. He says, "‘Behold, the day (of Jehovah) is coming, burning like an oven; and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings.’" (Mal.4:1,2 NKJV)
Jesus said that this day of the Lord (Jehovah), known also as a "time of trouble, such as never was" (Daniel 12:1) marks the end of the age, but not the end of the world. (Matthew 24:3 Diaglott) The current experience with the Coronavirus is one more sign that we are now in this foretold time of trouble and of the end of the age. Soon, the healing kingdom of Christ will be established in the earth. All who are in their graves will be raised and given an opportunity for life without disease, without death. (John 5:28,29) All mankind will be granted free access to the one and only true fountain of youth: "And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely." (Rev.22:17 NKJV) To this unmatchable promise the great and gracious God of the universe has set his personal seal. "And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful." (Rev.21:5)
No matter how much we see the world’s lack of progress in fixing itself, we can know the outcome. Others tremble, we should not. The phrase "do not fear" or some form of it appears over 400 times in the Bible. It is a daily reminder to us to live without fear. As long as Jehovah permits things to continue, let us be ambassadors for Christ in every aspect of our lives (2 Cor.5:20):
"Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life!" (Rev.2:10 NKJV)