Ebola, Christians, and the Plague of St. Cyprian

1280px-Ebola_virus_virionIn the year 250 AD, something terrible happened. A previously unknown disease was unleashed on the Roman world. For the next sixteen years cities were decimated with up to 5,000 deaths a day at its worst. Wars were halted due to the crippling effects of the plague.

No samples of the disease remain, so we are left to guess what it was. It is possible that it was the original smallpox outbreak which hit an unprepared world with deadly force. Everywhere the disease went, death reigned. Commoners and royalty were both ravaged with even Roman Emperor Claudius II Goithicus dying from it.

We know of the plague because the Bishop of Carthage, Cyprian, recorded his messages to his followers as they dealt with the death surrounding them. He described the plague like this:

This trial, that now the bowels, relaxed into a constant flux, discharge the bodily strength; that a fire originated in the marrow ferments into wounds of the fauces; that the intestines are shaken with a continual vomiting; that the eyes are on fire with the injected blood; that in some cases the feet or some parts of the limbs are taken off by the contagion of diseased putrefaction; that from the weakness arising by the maiming and loss of the body, either the gait is enfeebled, or the hearing is obstructed, or the sight darkened;—is profitable as a proof of faith.

Cyprian had the unenviable job of shepherding his people through one of the worst catastrophes to ever happen in the Western World. He counseled that Christians should live as though we have a hope. He felt that because Heaven awaits us, we can risk our lives to care for others. He describe the courage a Christian should have like this:

What a grandeur of spirit it is to struggle with all the powers of an unshaken mind against so many onsets of devastation and death! What sublimity, to stand erect amid the desolation of the human race, and not to lie prostrate with those who have no hope in God; but rather to rejoice, and to embrace the benefit of the occasion; that in thus bravely showing forth our faith, and by suffering endured, going forward to Christ by the narrow way that Christ trod, we may receive the reward of His life and faith according to His own judgment

This is not the words of a man who is simply thinking out loud, he watched as people died all around of him of this terrible illness. Not very long after writing these words, he had to live them out. He was killed by the Roman authorities in the year 258 AD.

He faced his death with courage.

In light of Cyprian’s example, we too have a dangerous plague to face. I want to challenge you, Christian, to be willing to die. Not to be cavalier and stupid, but to be courageous and wise. Cyprian’s hope and ours is that the moment we die, we go home. We stand with Jesus forever, never to suffer again.

The legacy of Cyprian is closer to you than you realize. His work was instrumental in the spread of Christianity. The Christians were the ones who ran toward the sick and helped them when no one else would. The growth of Christianity after that can be traced ot their response to the Plague of Cyprian.

Let us, too, be the sorts of people who run to the need and risk our lives to do it. Let us “stand erect amid the desolation of the human race.” The only risk we take is that we might die and be with Jesus. The benefit is showing a world how precious Jesus is to us.

-Chip

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When You See a Tornado

4099585916_053b450ffa_bWith Easter just ahead of us, I have been asking myself why I don’t think much about storm shelters. A very natural question you must agree. These valuable, lifesaving devices spend whole years of my existence without serious thought. Part of the reason is that storm shelters are mostly underground and don’t draw the eye very much. They usually aren’t specifically made for aesthetic appeal.

It is the nature of purely function items to draw our attention much less often than flashier ones. Compare your favorite TV show (with no practical value) to the plumbing in your house (with immense practical value). Which one draws more of your attention? Which are you more thankful for?

The answer to that question will likely depend mostly on whether you have been without indoor plumbing before.

So this raises the difficult question of why I am not particularly thankful for storm shelters. Surely I should give a fleeting thought of gratitude for the men and women who thought of ways to protect me from dangerous storms. Why am I so prone to forget that they even exist?

Part of the problem is certainly that I am not often reminded of the need for them. If a tornado came tearing through my neighborhood once a week I would hold them in high regard. Not only that, I would invest heavily in one to make it secure and comfortable for my family when a twister comes barreling through. I would feel strongly about others having one as well and would consider anyone who doesn’t have one a fool.

Sitting in that shelter with the wind blowing in the ground above me, I would thank God that he had this kind of protection for us. I would hug my kids close and be so grateful this protection existed for all of us. I would send out Facebook messages talking of the wonders of my storm shelter. One of my greatest possessions would be my storm shelter.

But the fact is tornadoes do not weekly pummel my home. I don’t even own a storm shelter.

I think this is the fallacy I believe when I see Jesus on a cross and I don’t feel anything. I see the shelter but not the storm. I see the rescue but not the danger. If there really is a Hell and a Heaven, then Jesus’ rescue of my soul becomes sweeter than anything else. I go from apathetic about Jesus to a wonder-filled love of him.

The reason I am sometimes apathetic is that I don’t really believe there is a storm coming. If Heaven and Hell aren’t real, then Jesus’ cross is useless. Does it feel useless to you?

You obviously don’t think the storm is coming.

-Chip

As I Lay Dying

car accidentI never saw the ice.

Awakened by a tapping on the window, I look around. My head is bloody and resting on the door of the car, which is resting on the ground. The steering column is pressed against my chest. Each breath is very painful as I feel several broken ribs grinding on each other. My legs are pinned to the floorboard while a pool of blood begins to fill the broken glass to my left as the driver’s side window rested on the snowy ground.

Tap Tap Tap…

I look up across the width of the car too see a face looking down to me.

“I’ve called 911, there help coming for you man. Hang in there.”

I recognized the face of the trucker who had done his best to avoid hitting me. His face now showed grave concern. He had no way to get to me and I imagine I looked terrible.

Another agonizing breath.

I know I’m in trouble. I have a lot of blood coming out of my arm, my head is swimming. It will take them some time to get me out, probably too much time. My thoughts drift to Sam and the kids, what they will do without me. How will they be financially, emotionally, spiritually? Who will walk Rosie down the aisle at her wedding? Who will shovel the driveway? Who will support my boys through the disappointments of life?

I begin to panic. I need to survive. They need me. They need me to survive this. Yet a quick look at the blood I am losing reaffirms my belief that I am certainly dying.

“Sir,” I said weakly.

“Yeah man, I’m here.”

“I need you to tell my wife something.”

“Now don’t go talking like that. You’re gonna make it. You’re gonna tell her it yourself.”

“Shut up! I need you to remember this.” I yelled weakly. “I need you to tell her that I love her and that I am so sorry I can’t walk through life with her.” I inhaled with a harsh gurgling sound. “I need you to tell my boys that I love them and that I am proud of them.” Another painful breath. “I need you to tell Rosie that I have loved being her Daddy and that she is so beautiful.” Another breath, this one came a little easier. “Promise me you’ll tell them.”

“Dude, I don’t need to tell them. You’re gonna tell them. You’re gonna come out of this.”

“Promise me you’ll tell them.”

“OK, I promise. Now you tell me that you’re gonna make it.”

I was going to make no such promise. The reason for my pessimism was the same reason for the urgency in his voice. In our hearts, we both knew I was, in fact, not going to make it.

I saw some blue and red flashes on the man’s face and he quickly left to direct them to me. I passed into unconsciousness…

It is a strange sensation to die. The pain begins to fade as my grip on this world loosens. It is more pleasant that I would have anticipated before. The grinding of my ribs fades to obscurity. As my physical eyes close, I begin to have another sense. An awareness of things that must have always been there, but indiscernable.

It is like sight, but not like it. There is awareness of direction of things, of a beauty to the worlds that I missed before. It is like seeing the significance of something directly. Before I would use a poem or a painting to show me what I could not see, now I see it.

This is most acute with persons. I can feel the paramedics coming toward the car and I can see them. Not their bodies, their spirits. I see the man whose exhausted from a long shift and wishes he was home. There is another younger man who is excited to be on a real accident site for the first time. I can see the apprehension and guilt of the truck driver who is questioning whether this was his fault.

What is striking though, is the crowd of people there I hadn’t seen before. Thousands of them, tens of thousands. They stood in a wide half-circle looking at me. Sweet expressions of anticipation. They had been waiting for me. Waiting with excitement.

I recognized a young and beautiful woman toward the front. “Grandma Brushaber,” I said.

She smiled and nodded. I had never seen a soul smile along with a face before.

Looking over the crowd, I saw them. So many faces I recognized. Souls I recognized. Nanny, Jean Viar, Miss Quincy, Grandpa Gruver, and a vibrant and healthy Joshua Gruver.

It was strange to see Joshua’s childlike delight in the whole affair. While much of the crowd was somber and serious, he was honestly thinking of jokes about how I had found such a dramatic way to die. It was strange because the jokes were actually hilarious.

The other striking feature was the brilliance of the lights. So many lights. They were so crisp and bright.

“Grandma Hanson, I know what you meant when you talked about the lights!” I said. She smiled sweetly back at me.

But I knew there was someone missing.

“Jesus?” I said.

“We’ve come to bring you to him,” said a genial Danish relative who had prayed for me before I was even born.

It was then that I realized my body was still speaking even as I struggled to leave it. A paramedic had climbed down into the car with me and was doing his best to stop the bleeding. I couldn’t hear his words, but his urgent heart screamed, “Don’t you die on me. It’s not time to go to Jesus yet.”

But he was wrong. It was time.

Joshua and Grandma Brushaber helped me out of my body. I was a bit unsteady, but they are magnificently strong, not wavering a bit even though I am taller than both of them. We walked together as the crowd parted to allow me to pass.

Then he arrived. A small man, not taller than five and a half feet, came running through the crowd. He was obviously middle eastern, but even more obviously the God of all things.

He jumped to me and hugged me with an intensity I could never have imagined. Even though I could not see his eyes in our embrace, I could feel his heart. He loved me like I love my little baby children. It is a sweet and intoxicating love. It shouted off my soul and echoed back to his.

We may have embraced for a second or a thousand years, I couldn’t tell. But I had something I had to ask.

“Jesus, what about Sam and the kids. They need me.”

He answered with some words that I don’t remember, because what mattered was how concerned he was for them as well. He was worried for them too. It was not the desperate worry of the powerless but the delighted concern of one who can act. He was concerned for them and would make sure they were cared for. That was good enough for me.

“Let’s go meet our Father,” he said, “He has been looking forward to having you home.”

We walked through a bright doorway into a place that words don’t describe. It’s not because words haven’t been made to describe it, it is because words cannot be made to describe it. The place was like an explosion of joy filled an enormous room and kept bouncing from soul to soul and back to the God who started it all.

We walked together with Jesus occasionally stopping to tell me how happy he was that I was with him. I was struggling to understand why he kept saying that. Why would he be so happy to see me? I am the one who got to be happy to be with him.

As unimaginable as the place is, it is a pale gray shadow compared to the Spirit in the center.

He is magnificent of all magnificence. Even with my new eyes, I needed to shade them from his intensity. As Jesus approached him, I could feel the vibrating energy between them. It was just on the edge of being seen. It moved in an eternal and endless dance between them.

Of course that energy was not a thing, but a part of God himself. No one will ever see that mysterious Spirit, but his quiet presence is everywhere.

“Daddy, I want to bring you one of your boys. This is Chip.”

It was like watching a seemingly endless sea of joy breaking into a storm. The delight that Daddy felt at me being there was so…wrong. Why would he be so happy to have me? I am the one who is lucky to have him. I am the prodigal and he is the Father and Older brother who are delighted to have me back.

Questions like that do not last long in this place. There is simply too much to experience to think overly long about myself. Even as I bathed in those opening moments of Heaven, I knew I had an eternity left to explore this place and this God.

And that is how long it will take.

-Chip