Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Christian in the Age of Ebola

It will only be a matter of time before some TV evangelist publishes a book about how Ebola is a sign of Jesus second coming.  On the surface this may seem innocent to many Christians, but to the eyes of some of us, it is the most hideous form opportunism. If you take it at face value it is someone trying make money off the suffering of the many, mostly poor, in western Africa. This very behavior is anti-Christ (meaning here as against the nature of Christ) who gave himself for the suffering.

If you do a search for "Ebola + Christian" or "Ebola + End Times" you will see the discussion has already started.  For a direct link you can go here or listen to the video below.

I wish that I had time to do a scholarly article here but I do not. I'm confident that in the midst of each human tragedy in history there have been those wonderful Christian saints who exhibited the Christ-like selfless care for the suffering. I think of the priest and nuns who sacrificed their own lives during the black death of the Middle Ages by being the only ones willing to care for the sick and dying. I think of those saints who gave themselves to care for AIDS patients in the 1980s when they were shunned by many, including many evangelicals who saw their plight as God's judgment for a "homosexual lifestyle."

While I'm often critical, I do recognize that there are many wonderful saints out there who get it right. Even now, we hear of many brave volunteers going to help in west Africa, many are going from a humanist standpoint (MSF) and not a Christian conviction. Yet, I'm sure that many Christian groups are going or are missionaries who are there now. They give selflessly of their gifts and time.

I had a call from the relief organization that I've served with before. It is not a Christian group but somewhat like MSF.  They wanted volunteers for the Ebola outbreak.  I felt deeply torn.  I do see it as my "job" as a Christian to fight to help the suffering and to fight against the brokenness of this world and I'm very willing to risk my life to do it. The problem was that this time, they need at least a six week commitment in country, plus another four weeks of quarantine once back in the states.  I own a medical practice an am basically the sole medical provider.  Since our opening day four years ago we have struggled to avoid going bankrupt despite an overflowing schedule of patients. So, being gone from the practice for even two weeks would be a death sentence to the practice. It would be bankrupt by the time I returned. Not only would the practice be bankrupted, but I would personally be bankrupt by the time I got back. The reason is, our bills average $1,000 / day. This is for rent, malpractice insurance, software licenses (only about $2500/month), plus there are many other expenses.  If I were gone for 10 weeks, this would mean that I would personally owe $70,000 upon my return. 

But I ask myself daily, am I just making excuses?  In my old evangelical days, I might say that God is mysteriously "calling me to go" or maybe he was "calling me not to go." But if I believed the emotional voice that he was calling me, then I would assume that he would provide the income to keep the practice alive. But I don't believe in that kind of magic anymore. The priests and nuns of the Middle Ages trusted God, but they also knew that they had buried many other faithful brothers and sisters and it was more likely they would die from their service and they served anyway.

So, I do pray that it would be clear what I should do personally. But the bigger picture is how will the Church view the Ebola outbreak?  I'm afraid that the pop-Christian culture will see it only as proof that we are on the fast track to Jesus' return and their eyes completely miss the eyes of those suffering.

Christians often get it wrong when mass hysteria hits our general culture.  I remember like it was yesterday when Y-2K was approaching.  A group in my old church in Minnesota formed to prepare for the event. They became convinced that it would be the beginning of the end. So, their response was to hoard up food, generators, guns, ammo and water.  It made me sick to my stomach, because at the same time there was a terrible famine in Darfur. Bono got it right about Darfur. I lost a lot of good friends over that issue when I vented my disgust towards what they were doing.  There is something narcissistic about only thinking of yourself when others are suffering. Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing the same.


Headless Unicorn Guy said...

It will only be a matter of time before some TV evangelist publishes a book about how Ebola is a sign of Jesus second coming.

Dude, one of these guys gets a hangnail, they publish a book about how that hangnail fulfills some End Time Prophecy.

Hope T. said...

The priests and nuns didn't have dependents, though, like you do. You have a wife, children and grandchildren and their well-being so largely depends upon yours. In addition you are already sacrificing yourself by continuing to operate your clinic in the bureaucratic and economic disaster that is the American medical system.