Swine Flu, The Gospel, and Paquin Towers

The Swine Flu has dominated the headlines for the past few days with news of at least 150 dead in Mexico and now one death reported in the United States. Although approximately 35,000 Americans die of influenza each year, new flu viruses pose a different kind of danger because there isn’t a vaccine available and they can attack and kill people of all ages. The great fear among national health professionals is that there is a chance that there will eventually be a pandemic such as the one that occurred in 1918 when 100 million people died worldwide.

Rodney Stark writes in his book, The Rise of Christianity, about how early Christians responded to severe health crisis. It seems that some sort of epidemic hit Rome in the year 189. The most prominent health professional at the time was a man named Galen. It’s interesting to look back and observe the different responses of the Roman pagans and the early Christians.

It is believed that Galen, along with most of the affluent people in Rome, left the city. The Christians had the opposite response. Instead of looking out only for themselves, they risked their lives to help others. This is one of the events that later led to the Roman emperor Julian to say:

“The impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.”

Stark attributes the different reactions (fleeing to protect oneself and staying to help the sick at great personal risk) to doctrinal beliefs. Essentially he says that the pagans lacked the religious motivation to love others at personal cost nor did they believe in eternal life. Meanwhile, Christians uniquely believed in a Savior who had sacrificed himself for their sins and promised eternal life to all who believed. Because they believed these two specific doctrines, Christians felt compelled to stay and serve the sick and they didn’t fear death.

While it is highly improbable that swine flu will cause a great crisis in our country, there are plenty of other ways for us as Christians to live out the gospel to the poor, sick, and hurting in our community. One small way is to come help work at Paquin Towers on May 9. This will give us a chance to love people in our community in the name of Christ. You might consider rallying your small group to come together to the work day or you might invite a friend to join you.

Stark quotes Tertullian, another church father, as saying:

“It is our care for the helpless, our practice of lovingkindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. ‘Only look,’ they say, ‘Look at how they love one another.'”

Wouldn’t it be great if that were Christians’ reputation in Columbia–that we known for loving other people. I guess that’s what Jesus had in mind when he said, “By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:35).”

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