It is hard to believe that bubonic plague could be a problem in any country in the 21st Century, but that is exactly the case in the African nation of Madagascar. Helped mainly by extreme unsanitary conditions in that nation’s prisons, 20 people died from the plague there just in the first week of December. There were 256 cases and 60 deaths in 2012, and while that is nothing to compare to the 25 million deaths in Europe during the Middle Ages it is alarming. Since inmates’ relatives visit those detained, the disease can leap the walls of confinement and become an epidemic throughout the impoverished country bereft of a good, organized public health system. Though 90% of the world’s plague cases have occurred in Madagascar and the D.R.C., there have been outbreaks in India, Indonesia and Algeria in the last decade or so and this summer Kyrgyzstan had its first plague case (and death) in 30 years. While it seems like ancient history, the last global pandemic occurred just over 100 years ago ( (BBC Scotland, BBC Africa; Quartz).
Read any medieval chronicles of the black death and they seem like horror stories, compounded in those days by the people’s ignorance concerning how the disease spread. But what was obvious was how swift, painful, and fatal it was. The resilience of the disease is demonstrated in the fact that it can still be a story today, despite the development of antibiotics and sophisticated means of detecting and preventing it.
Sin is a spiritual disease that cannot be contained by geographical boundaries, technology, medicine, education, or any such potential preventative. While its effects impact the unseen part of a person, its threat is eternally more great. People who die with it untreated are lost forever. There are ways to cope with the symptoms, but there is only one cure. It is universally accessible and no one who seeks treatment will fail to have the cure. If we can fathom ourselves, as Christians, and relay to the lost how terrible the sickness of sin really is, we will reach more people and lives will be saved! Of all the Bible passages that speak of the matter, perhaps none is more impassioned than Paul’s words to Rome as he says, “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God–through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 7:22-8:1).