The COVID-19 virus has been too lethal to ignore. This pandemic makes us realize that there are many viruses out there, and the current one is just the tip of the iceberg of what is possible. As early as AD 165 to 180, pandemics killed massive numbers of people. Smallpox killed 5 million, and bubonic plague killed 25 million on four different occasions starting in 541. Researchers today are attempting to catalog links between animal viruses and human illness. They estimate that there are probably 1.6 million animal viruses yet to be discovered in mammal and bird populations and that 827,000 of them could cause disease in humans.
Viruses are part of the natural world in which we live. They serve useful purposes in aiding animal digestion, reproduction, and elimination of wastes. The problem is that each animal has its own set of viruses suited for that animal’s diet and living conditions. If an animal’s virus jumps into another species with a different diet and living conditions, the results can be destructive. That is the connection between animal viruses and human illness. Most of the viruses we know about came into the human population from rodents, including rats, bats, birds, chimps, and mosquitos. Some have jumped through several animals such as bats giving the virus to cattle and camels, which gave it to humans.
The Old Testament laws had health restrictions, which made virus transmission less of a problem. People were also not in such proximity to one another or to animals that had destructive viruses. Living in very arid conditions reduced disease transmission, and the dietary laws worked against most virus transmission. When you read through Deuteronomy and Leviticus, you see elaborate precautions that we now understand had hygienic benefits to minimize viral transmission.
In the New Testament, many of these rules were continued. There was a prohibition against drinking blood, and the increased use of baking and boiling foods contributed to a low virus transmission rate. Moral rules that reduced the spread of disease included the elimination of polygamy and polyandry and the strong condemnation of prostitution. In time, the keeping of exotic pets and the acceptance of foods previously forbidden to Israel tended to thwart human attempts to fight disease.
God has given us the capacity to understand viruses and the connection between animal viruses and human illness. God has also given us the tools to control these virus issues. He has also given us hope for something better. Will we use the tools and techniques God gave us to stop the pandemics, or will we open our culture to more viral events in the future? Time will tell.
For the 51 years of this ministry, we have confronted religious anti-science rhetoric. Our critics are those who feel that science is an enemy and that you can’t be a good Christian and embrace science. We are now in a period when the issue of whether people can meet together for worship services has become an issue of science and politics. Some politicians oppose churches resuming worship services saying there is strong scientific evidence that it will expose participants to the COVID-19 virus. Many religious leaders insist that this is an attempt by the government to restrict religion. They say that this scientifically-based objection is destroying the right of people to worship together.
In previous articles, we have pointed out that a great deal of ignorance is involved in rejecting science. According to the dictionary, science is knowledge. Knowledge is always neutral. The critical thing is how we use it. When new scientific knowledge gave us lasers, the question was how we would use lasers. Would they be weapons that cause massive destruction, or would they be medical tools to heal eyes?
We now understand how the COVID-19 virus spreads from one person to another. Will we use this knowledge to stop the progression of the illness, or will we use this virus to destroy whole masses of people? The bubonic plague from 1347-1351 killed 200 million people, which was nearly half of Europe’s population. Religious anti-science rhetoric today has the potential to create a catastrophe.
It isn’t our knowledge about the COVID-19 virus that is a threat to freedom or to worship. The reality is that science will eventually develop a vaccine that will allow everyone to worship together. Smallpox was killing 400,000 people a year in Europe, and it only stopped when scientists developed a vaccine. It is hypocritical for religious people to vilify science while they: 1) enjoy modern technology in their entertainment 2) go to medical facilities for treatment of disease, 3) use scientific advancements to grow and prepare their food, 4) use new scientific discoveries in their businesses, and 5) use science in their homes to improve their standard of living.
Proverbs 8 makes it clear that God has used science (wisdom) in all He has done. Psalms 19 and 139 refer to God’s creation, and Romans 1:19-20 points out that science reveals God’s existence through the things He has made. The following verses, Romans 1:21-32, point out that human moral and political choices cause the pain and destruction we see in our world.
Christianity doesn’t need to violate social distancing to worship and to practice our faith. James 1:27 defines true religion, and Jesus made it clear that He is there when just two people come together in His name (Matthew 18:20). First Timothy 6:20 tells Christians to avoid scams and religious claims called science. Ignore the religious anti-science rhetoric and know that God and science are friends. Don’t listen to politicians and religious hucksters and rely on evidence and the message of proven researchers. Join together in prayer and worship in our homes on Zoom, YouTube, Facebook, or whatever method you choose. Rejoice that, through science, God has given us new ways to come together, encourage each other, and glorify Him even in the middle of a pandemic.
In 1347, history’s worst disease outbreak began when the bubonic plague, or “black death,” spread across Europe. In the following years, one-third of the human race died from that disease. Five-hundred years later in 1847, a cholera outbreak threatened London. In one year, 72,000 people died. These events bring up some questions. Can we blame God for these tragedies? Does God cause disease outbreaks? Do these plagues prove that God does not exist, because a loving God would not have allowed them to happen?
An Italian doctor first presented the concept of germs in 1546, but the idea was not proven and accepted until the late nineteenth century. During those hundreds of years, there were more outbreaks of the plague, cholera, and other diseases. Very slowly, people began to realize how to prevent these deadly outbreaks. The answer was in proper disposal of sewage, prompt and proper burial of the dead, cleanliness and washing, and quarantine.
It seems obvious to us today, but it took centuries for humans to discover those secrets. Actually, they were not secrets at all. Thousands of years earlier they had been revealed in a book. Dispose of sewage properly—Deuteronomy 23:12,13. Bury the dead promptly; avoid touching dead bodies; clean and wash with water, ashes, and hyssop (which contains the antiseptic carvacrol); and quarantine—Deuteronomy 21:23; Numbers 5:2, 3; Numbers 19:1-22; Leviticus 13:45, 46. Those instructions were written in the first books of the Bible by Moses, a man trained in the customs of Egypt for 40 years.
So did Moses learn this from the Egyptians? Absolutely not! Ancient Egyptians mummified dead bodies with their bare hands and then spread the germs around to others. Even Moses admitted that there were “horrible diseases” in Egypt. (See Deuteronomy 7:15.) How did Moses have this life-saving information 3500 years ahead of his time? We think that God revealed it to him.