The United States government is working on a vaccination rationing schedule in the case of influenza pandemic. The Department of Health and Human Services announced the plan earlier this week. The opening sentence of the report says this:
Effective allocation of vaccines will play a critical role in preventing influenza and reducing its effects on health and society when a pandemic arrives.
“When” not “if.” The emphasis is mine. Followers of Christ should think about how the Gospel works when a killing disease is spreading across their nation.
Once a pandemic hits, production will not be able to keep up with need so the population has been divided into 4 tiers and descending priority levels to receive the limited supplies of vaccine. The highest priority category includes military and homeland security personnel, health-care and emergency medical workers, police, firemen, pregnant women and young children.
I am in the lowest priority category (healthy adults, 19-64 years old) as I imagine most evangelical pastors are. I have no complaints about it.
How will American Christians respond to a deadly pandemic? Will we clamour for the vaccine without regard for our neighbors? Will we be terrorized like those who have no hope? Those of us who know the Gospel should minister out of the grace that we receive in Christ, and should prefer others above ourselves and teach our people to do the same.
Our brothers and sisters have faced this kind of situation before. We can learn from their example.
In the 3rd century Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, preached to his people to minister to those affected by a great plague that laste from 252 to 254. Unbelievers were so terrified of the disease that they left infected loved ones on the streets to die. Christians, who had been severely persecuted a few years before under Decian, ministered to such persons and took care even of their enemies, having been admonished by their pastor to remember the way of Christ to do good to those who hate us.
Cyprian, who a few years later was beheaded for his faith, wrote a small treatise entitled, On the Mortality, to encourage the church to stand firm in the face of the devastating plague. In it are found these triumphant lines:
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!
The people of Carthage were amazed at the response of the followers of Christ to the plague. While others were fleeing the infected, Christians were humbly putting their own lives at risk by nursing the sick. As a result the Gospel was put on display and its proclamation was given a loud voice. Many former enemies became believers.
The time to prepare for tragedy is before it strikes. The way to prepare is to drink deeply from the wells of God’s grace in the Gospel. Knowing and delighting in Jesus sets us free from the tyranny of death and dying. And it empowers us to show the way of liberty to those who are held captive to such fears