Historically, Christians Have Responded to Disasters Because of Bethlehem
December 26, 2022
Genuine Christians are known for their love for people, all people; however, love is not revealed by songs, statements, and slogans but by acts of kindness, help, sacrifice, etc. The Bible often refers to love, and that love was finally put on display to the world when God became man in Bethlehem, lived and preached for about 33 years then willingly died on the cross for each person’s sin. His love and deity were demonstrated with a victorious resurrection.
The world was never the same after that.
Following Christ’s ascension, Christians were visual examples of God’s love demonstrated by how they lived, gave, served, and preached during good and difficult times. The world has experienced one disaster after another and each time, Christians have been there to help as is obvious today in African nations ravaged by famine, war, and natural disasters. And now we see Ukraine where civilians are hungry, cold, and hurting. We have seen many Christian groups active in Florida and other southern states following catastrophic storms.
Weather-related and other natural disasters in recent years have supported the fact that Christians are very giving, loving people willing to serve, sacrifice, and suffer to help those in need, whatever the religious, political, or racial factors of the sufferers. Not having a bureaucracy to slow their responses, Christian groups are usually the first on the scene and the last to leave.
That’s the way it should be even though the main message of the groups is personal salvation, they also have a passion to help others. Disasters in far-flung cities and nations have seen numerous acts of kindness to help people get through disasters and improve their political, social, religious, and day-to-day lives.
The first world pandemic (thought to be smallpox) was the “Antonine Plague” of 165-180 which killed about five million people. Soon after, in 249, the so-called “Plague of Cyprian” broke out during a very troubled time that lasted until well into 271. It killed 5,000 people per day in Rome.
Rodney Stark wrote in The Rise of Christianity, “Christians stayed in the afflicted cities when pagan leaders, including physicians, fled.” As the first symptom appeared, victims often were thrown into the streets, where the dead and dying lay in piles.
St. Dionysius of Alexandria witnessed the pagan reaction to the plague: “At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treating unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease; but do what they might, they found it difficult to escape.”
The early Christian leader continued, “Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead.”
Dionysius added, “But with the heathen everything was quite otherwise. They deserted those who began to be sick, and fled from their dearest friends.”
The last pagan emperor, Julian the Apostate, scolded the pagan priests for not being the example as the Christians were during another plague in 362. He attributed the growth of Christianity to their compassion and sacrificial service during dangerous and deadly times.
In A.D. 540, the Plague of Justinian smacked the Roman Empire with 10,000 deaths per day! When the pestilence had passed, there was so much depravity and general licentiousness that it seemed, said Procopius, that “only the most wicked were left alive.”
There is no doubt that the plague of Justinian nudged Europe into the Dark Ages, so informed people are aware of the present danger posed by repeated terrorist attacks against our nation. Those attacks would affect our constitution, community, commerce, churches, and culture; they could affect your character as well. Christians with character will be a major ameliorating force in helping civic officials clean up the mess.
The incredible chaos from the COVID scandal with all the lockdowns, school closings, business bankruptcies, medical confusion like never before, unnecessary deaths, terminated workers, political controversy, etc., is a perfect example of an impact upon every person.
Along with other disasters, the plague of Justinian reduced the population of the Mediterranean world by 40% before 600. Repeated subsequent waves of the plague continued to smash the area throughout the 6th, 7th, and 8th centuries. Constantinople (now named Istanbul) was the most important political and cultural center of the Western world and the hub of Christian civilization. Constantinople came to a standstill as food started to run out, and law and order broke down turning into anarchy.
Millions of Europeans died of the plague, receiving little help from the medical establishment or the Roman Catholic Church. Consequently, the people lost respect for them and began to examine the old “truths” with an inquiring mind. They discovered that many of the old “truths” were without foundation, so the people decided to think for themselves. At this time, the Pope gave permission for the bodies of plague victims to be dissected in an attempt to garner knowledge about the plague. This inquiring and commendable spirit and challenge to past authorities was the beginning of modern science. I salute the pope for his salutary and courageous decision.
Others think the plague helped spark the Protestant Reformation. However, John Wycliffe had ignited a flame in England in the late 1300s when he exposed the nonbiblical doctrines of the Roman Church. He demanded that the Bible, not the church, was to guide all Christians. He supported his position with his new translation of the Bible. Yes, the plague impacted the nation, but it was only a minor impetus for the Reformation. John Wycliffe (and his Bible) was the “Morning Star of the Reformation.”
In light of the foregoing horror stories, should we expect to see similar results from the crises we would face when terrorists strike again and again and again? As we face the possibilities of biological, chemical, or nuclear warfare, what impact would it have on your life, if you live through the events?
Major epidemics, famines, and natural disasters, not only have a profound effect on the political, business, and agricultural life of a nation, but they also change people. My purpose is to consider the possibility of horrific, adverse reactions to epidemics and disasters that face us. Human reactions in the past have wrought havoc upon society and if the next terrorist attack is biological or chemical, we could face the same experiences of people in the past when the pestilence was natural, not man-made.
The continuing atmosphere of death and constant terror drove men to look honestly at their lives and at their religious experience. This resulted in thousands becoming more sincere and placing more emphasis on their personal relationship with Christ. It also led them away from the established churches in various countries. Printing had been invented in 1450, and people were now reading the Bible and doing their own thinking for the first time in over a thousand years. They realized that church membership and church attendance did not produce personal satisfaction or personal salvation as they had been taught. Following personal conversion, those new converts (but old church members) lived and died as Christians.
Christians believed they had a responsibility to help others as a Christian duty, so during times of famine they shared their food; in times of sorrow, they wept with the bereaved; and in times of pestilence, they nursed the sick and dying. The non-Christians and the pagans took notice of such kindness, and at a time when other institutions were damaged, discredited, and often dissolved, the Christian churches were deployed and developed. William McNeill wrote: “Pagans fled from the sick and heartlessly abandoned them.” Christians stayed and served - and died.
That’s what real Christians have always done and are doing as I write. Love is always shown in the daily activities of selflessness, service, and sacrifice, thanks to Bethlehem, Calvary, and an empty tomb.
Dr. Don Boys is a former member of the Indiana House of Representatives; ran a large Christian school in Indianapolis, wrote columns for USA Today for eight years; authored 15 books, which can be purchased below, and hundreds of columns and articles for Internet and print media publications; defended his beliefs on hundreds of talk shows. www.cstnews.com, www.Muslimfact.com, www.thegodhaters.com.
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