Monday, June 22, 2009

Pandemic

If you've been keeping in touch with the news lately, you probably heard a couple of weeks ago that the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that the spread of the H1N1 virus (commonly called "swine flu") is now considered a "pandemic." This is the first time this kind of declaration has been made of an influenza virus since 1968. That is to say, the first time in my lifetime, and probably the same for most of you reading this blog.

Now, I don't know about you, but for me the word "pandemic," conjures up some pretty scary thoughts. I think of stories of the bubonic plague, with unstoppable suffering and death happening to people at every turn. Health officials are quick to remind us that an illness is considered "pandemic" not on the basis of how deadly it is, but on the basis of how readily it is transmitted. And although deaths certainly have already been observed due to H1N1, most reports indicate that it is no more serious for most people than most cases of the flu. WHO also suggests that "[n]o previous pandemic has been detected so early or watched so closely, in real-time, right at the very beginning," which has to be a good thing. I'm a big fan of getting clear and honest information, and definitely do find that the information on H1N1 is mostly reassuring.

Obviously, such reassurance is not an excuse to not be careful. Upon the advice of my co-workers, I've picked up some of that alcohol-based hand sanitizer which I keep on hand at my desk all the time (although I'm still not clear on how effective such is against viruses. I understand how it's effective against bacteria far better). I'm fortunate enough to work right across the hall from the men's bathroom, which makes washing up convenient and easy. And I was coughing into my sleeve (instead of my hands) before it was popular.

I definitely consider it a cliché to mention that God can use times like this, when there are things running outside of our control, to remind us to depend on God rather than on our own abilities. It's a cliché not because I don't believe it (I actually do), but because it gets said so often, indeed to the point of annoyance. Also, when people say stuff like that, it often sounds like God is punishing people who depend too heavily on themselves. I know that almost no one would actually come out and say so (and those that would, I try to avoid, anyway), but the reasoning often seems to run like this:
  1. Person depended too much on self
  2. Something bad happened to that person, therefore
  3. God punished that person for depending too much on self
I reject that kind of reasoning categorically. Still, for those who have faith, being reminded that God is in control of the things we just can't can be a comfort, and that remains true even if (and, indeed, when) bad things happen to us. As it says in the beginning of the final confession in the PC(USA) Book of Confessions (A Brief Statement of Faith), "In life and in death we belong to God." Nothing, certainly not "swine flu," can change that!

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