I’m sure, like me, you’ve been watching with concern as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa worsens week on week. Just today, a man in New York has been tested positive for the disease. But from some corners, there’s been criticism that the media coverage has been so focused on European and American victims.
It should come as no surprise to us that the instinct for (self-interested) fear runs deeper than humanitarian empathy for people living far away. But what is it that scares us so much about Ebola? Not, I don’t think, the thought of the symptoms themselves (horrific though they are). It’s the perceived lack of control that terrifies us: the thought that this invisible threat could sneak undetected onto our little island and pass unseen from person to person; the idea that one day soon the coughing colleague at the desk to my right could be carrying something significantly more sinister than a common cold. However small that likelihood is, fear is certainly a powerful emotion.
That’s why it’s interesting that quite a lot of media attention has been focused on the role of the military in responding to the outbreak: this week it was announced that 100s more British army personnel are going to fight the epidemic. For the British public, there’s something reassuring about seeing that khaki presence in West Africa. It helps us to imagine that Ebola is an enemy that can be seen and controlled—or “contained and ultimately defeated”, as the International Development Secretary said on Monday.
And we should be earnestly praying that it would be! Let's beware cynicism. The right response, as Christians, is to allow our hearts to be broken by the suffering Ebola has caused. Those people who are using their God-given gifts and knowledge to tackle Ebola—and are willing to risk their own safety in the process—should be commended.
But we also know this truth: when we feel out of control, it points us to the one who is in control. He’s the one who is able to stop any enemy — be they guerrilla fighters in the desert or tiny microbes — in their tracks.
Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. - Deuteronomy 4 v 39