What is the most frightening word in America right now?
Depending on your level of media coverage, it might just be a word that rhymes with Coca-Cola.
Not Ayatollah. That’s so 1980’s.
The word we’re looking for is Ebola, and I’m joking about it because it frightens me.
This is a new fear for the lexicon. For years, Ebola was just a device in a movie or a novel. Like the fictional virus in the film starring Dustin Hoffman, the film that had something to do with monkeys and people dying horribly and Donald Sutherland wanting to drop a nuke on a small town in California.
Or maybe Steven Soderbergh’s film where Gwynth Paltrow cheats on Matt Damon and winds up spreading a hybrid bat/pig virus that wipes out a bunch of people.
It’s really odd, how fascinated we are with fictional doomsday movies and books, but when one is teased as actually being on the horizon, we freak out as if we are the hysterical characters in a fictional doomsday movie or book – the panicked crowd running from the monster, or being crushed under the falling building as the superheroes duke it out in the sky.
Could it be that we’re afraid with good reason? What scares us about something like this current outbreak of Ebola?
That’s easy enough to answer – the possibility of a potential nightmare scenario becoming a living nightmare reality – as it is doing in three countries in West Africa – with devastating effects.
But for those of us not in those countries – why are we afraid?
It’s because of the fear of what might be. It’s terrifying to imagine that one of those nurses from Dallas may have passed Ebola on – somehow – to someone who is carrying the disease and doesn’t know it. Yet. And that those ignorant carriers might somehow pass it on to someone else until the growth becomes exponential and we have a 21st Century global plague that decimates the world population.
It could happen. Right?
Nevermind the odds. Nevermind statistics. Nevermind healthcare professionals and precautions and the CDC and the WHO and the government.
It might happen, and the possibility is terrifying.
That’s how fear works. It’s based on things that could happen in the future. It’s based on the unknown.
And fear misused can be one of the most dangerous and paralyzing things on the planet.
Fear itself isn’t bad, of course. God gave us fear to keep us from harm, and that makes it a wonderful thing. A gift. For example, fear of falling keeps us from approaching the edge of a cliff, and this saves us from falling. Fear of getting bitten keeps us from approaching a strange dog, and that keeps us from getting bitten.
God also gave us the ability to reason, to help us understand what we should fear and what we needn’t fear, and when we have the two in balance, we’re fine, operating the way we’re supposed to operate. We can decide what is deserving of our fear, what isn’t deserving, and what things we need to keep our eyes on – just in case.
Where we get in trouble is when we let fear get the upper hand.
It could be that our fear of Ebola needs to be balanced with a bit of reason.
So, if you are fearful about the potential for an Ebola disaster of summer blockbuster proportions, I’d suggest you ask yourself the following important question:
As of October 17, 2014, what does reason tells us?
1. Ebola has mostly affected Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea in West Africa.
2. It has not spread substantially to neighboring countries, largely because of the active intervention of those other countries.
3. There has been one death caused by Ebola in the United States: a man who travelled to West Africa and had direct contact with an infected person.
4. Two healthcare professionals in the United States have been identified as having contracted Ebola as a result of caring for that man, and they are currently being cared for by teams of medical personnel.
5. The people who had contact with the three individuals above are being tracked down and closely monitored – a situation where our Big Brother world is actually coming in handy.
6. The virus is not airborne, so being in the same room (or airplane) as an infected person does not mean you will become infected.
7. Ebola is transmitted by having direct contact with the bodily fluids of a person who has been infected, or possibly by having contact with things that have been infected by having contact with fluids from an the infected person – such as soiled clothing or linens.
8. Ebola isn’t passed on during the 21 day incubation period, only after the person has become symptomatic.
9. The virus cannot go through skin. It is transmitted when a person touches someone or something infected and then touches their own eye, nose, or mouth – or through an open cut in the skin.
10. There is no known cure for Ebola, so when a person contracts the disease, he or she will fight it off on their own. The things that seem to have an impact on the person successfully fighting the disease include the following: age, access to modern medical support, nutrition, and prior health.
What will happen tomorrow? I have no idea. None of us do.
But tomorrow isn’t my concern, because right now I can’t do anything about it.
In Matthew 6:34, Jesus said:
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
I’m an elementary school teacher, a want-to-be writer, a dad, a husband, and ultimately, I’m just riding the same wave you’re riding, hopeful that we’ll all make it to shore.
And here’s the big thing: I can’t control the wave. None of us can.
I can only control my response to the wave.
Using reason, I will ask myself what I can do to prepare. I will educate myself on the disease and how to recognize it. I will be careful to wash my hands as often as possible, especially after being in public. I will be vigilant to do what I can, but I will not be afraid.
Using reason, I will ask myself just who stands to make the most out of an increased amount of fear in the population as a whole.
I wonder who? Who stands to profit off increased newspaper and magazine sales? Who gets more ad revenue when we desperately click on their links to find out the latest bit of news? Who thrives off sensationalism and agitation and unrest? Who – like a Dementor in a Harry Potter book – loves to suck out all our joy and peace and replace it with fear and panic so that we keep coming back for more?
I will make the choice to not permit fear to outweigh reason.
I will make the choice to be wary and careful today, but to let tomorrow worry about itself.
And finally, I will make the choice to continue trusting God, regardless of what happens tomorrow.
An outbreak of Ebola in West Africa or the United States or anywhere doesn’t make God any less God, and doesn’t make Him in any less good, or any less trustworthy – just like cancer doesn’t change who God is, or a job promotion, or meeting the love of your life, or losing a baby in a miscarriage, or any number of the other good and bad things that happen in our lives.
God is still God, even in the face of everything that life throws our way. And He’s still good.
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10
Fear balanced with reason, held up by faith.
I can live with that.