Usually when there’s an outbreak like the one happening now with the Zika virus, I don’t fret much. Why? Because it doesn’t usually hit home with me.
Normally the outbreak is happening somewhere far away to people I may have little in common with. If I’m honest, this says some things about me that make me ashamed.
First, I typically lack empathy for the suffering of my fellow human beings around the world.
Second, I only really care about things that have that “x factor” that makes me pat attention, and this isn’t a good thing. There are any number of significant issues that deserve my attention happening all over the world. But if they don’t rise to a certain level of interest and visibility with me, then I don’t care.
And third, this lack of interest on my part likely illustrates something about my perception of God as well. At a subconscious level, perhaps I think God is similar to me. Maybe only certain things reach his perception. Maybe he only cares and responds to human pain based on a very particular set of criteria.
Thankfully, I’m wrong about all of this! All human pain and suffering is worthy of attention and God certainly cares about each person who is hurting.
But in the case of the Zika virus, I have paid a bit more attention than usual. Why? Because babies are the ones bearing the brunt of this disaster and I’m the father of a one-year old! Sadly, my attention to human suffering is contingent on said suffering’s connection to me and my situation.
But as I was reflecting on this Zika virus outbreak, a particular part of a famous story from the Old Testament, the Exodus from Egypt, came to mind.
Zika Virus and the Exodus
But there’s a more important moment in the story of the Exodus that is easy to overlook. I’ll show it to you in the Bible from the Book of Exodus chapter 2:
23 During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.
The Israelites were suffering as slaves in Egypt, so they cried out to God. God heard them, remembered his covenant with them, looked on them, and had compassion.
This easy-to-skip-over paragraph has huge implications for our understandings of God, especially when facing something scary like the Zika virus.
How Does God Respond When His People Cry Out?
- God Hears — We often wonder if our cries for help just hit the ceiling and reverberate back down at us. But this passage from Exodus 2, like so many other passages from the Bible, reminds us that God does in fact hear us. When we are in pain, when we are scared, and when we don’t know what to do, God hears us. When the realities of the Zika virus and its explosive growth cause us great trepidation, God hears us. And when any other things happen in our lives or in our world, no matter how big or small, God hears us.
- God Remembers — The idea of God remembering feels weird to our ears, especially those of us who typically think of God knowing everything. If God knows everything, then how could he ever need to remember anything? But the statement that God remembers is there for us, the readers. It’s to remind us that no matter how bad things get, God has not forgotten his promises. Even when there’s pain, death, and disease, God remembers his promises. And even when the Zika virus put that most vulnerable among us at risk, God wants us to know that he remembers his promise to be with us to the end of the age (Matthew 28.20).
- God Sees — The ancient Israelites must have wondered if God was still looking after them. In fact, I bet for some of them they were wondering if God even could see them. But God’s eyes are always open. He always looks in the direction of his creation. There’s nothing that could turn his gaze away from us, not our sin, not our pain or humiliation, not slavery, and not even diseases like the Zika virus. God sees.
- God is Concerned — God doesn’t just hear, remember, and see in some unfeeling, robot-like way. He’s not just “up there” coldly keeping his end of bargains that he’s made. No! Instead God has deep concern for his people, especially as they are in pain. When humans suffer, God feels great concern for them. And he often goes into action on their behalf. How? Well, in most cases God sends some of his people to help. In the case of the Exodus he sent Moses, Aaron, Miriam, and others. Who is God sending to help with those who are suffering because of the Zika virus?
Friends, here’s my conviction: The victims of the Zika virus are crying out to God. He hears, remembers, sees, and is concerned. And he’s sending us! Now he may be literally sending some of us to help! But he is calling all of us to help as we can.
How can we help? Here are a few ideas: 1) Ask your local church how they are going to respond and help out; 2) Keep your ears and eyes open to hear about opportunities to help humanitarian aid groups that will be helping with the Zika virus response, groups such as World Relief, The Red Cross, or The United Nations; and 3) Pray for the families and children impacted by the Zika virus. Pray that God will heal, that the Church will rise up, and the peace and wholeness will be restored. Pray for the governments of the countries most impacted, that they will be wise and lead well in a time of crisis.
What do you think? How does God respond to situations like the Zika virus outbreak?