I don’t know Kent Brantly, but judging from my social media feeds most of my friends do. And from what they’re saying about him, I wish I did.
Kent and I are the same age, we both went to ACU, a Christian University in town, where he started working toward becoming a doctor.
A few months ago, Kent was working in a private medical practice in Texas, but he left that to be a medical missionary working with Samaritan’s Purse. Just last week he was pictured in the New York times story on the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Liberia. When the outbreak occurred, his wife and two kids came back to Texas, but Kent didn’t. He stayed because he couldn’t abandon these people who needed him, in the moments that they needed him most.
All over my little world, I’m reading status’ shared and prayers offered for the Brantly family and specifically for Kent’s healing. It’s a heartbreaking story of a young father who gets the very disease he’s sacrificed so much to stop.
As a father, with children the same age, I’ve had a dull ache in the pit of stomach since I heard this story. I hope, along with lots of other people, for nothing less than a full recovery for them. I noticed last night, as I was reading through all the different prayer requests on Facebook for their family, it seems like most of us are reaching for the same language to pray for them.
We are asking for a miracle.
Miracle is an interesting word, because it’s actually not in the Bible that much…just a couple of dozen times, mostly in the New Testament. And it’s almost always referring to signs that point to the Kingdom of God, sometimes they were signs that involved things like impossible healings.
But when most of us American Christians think about a miracle what we are thinking about is really another word: “Super-natural”
We are wanting something that is outside of the natural realm of experience.
Survival of the Fittest
Charles Darwin’s great contribution to the world was his revelation about the way the world, and the species in it, have developed. His research helped to explain how death and survival were tied together, and helped us understand a little better how the universe worked.
This is a crude shorthand sketch of what Darwin taught us, but it basically was that the weakest, most vulnerable species, were the ones who death would eventually sort out of the gene pool.
You’ve heard of this as the survival of the fittest. It just means that death and disease force adaptation and change, sickness is something to be avoided or overcome, but ultimately (and hopefully later rather than sooner) each of us will die and our little experience of life will be a part of the grand thing that everything and everyone is progressing toward.
Some people like Nietzche saw the outworking of this theory very clearly. This is why Nietzche hailed the upcoming Uber-man that would develop because all the sick, weak, and poor people would be weeded out by natural selection.
But throughout Christian history Jesus followers have chosen the most un-Darwinian like subjects to love. All because of the bizarre things that Jesus’ said 2000 years ago, Things like “Whatever you do for the sick, poor and needy, you’ve actually done for Me” To those of us in the Bible Belt, they are little phrases sound like they belong stitched and framed in a calligraphy font or on a porcelain commemorative plate.
But this is exactly what the earliest Christians were famous for.
In the mid 3rd century a plague broke out in the city of Rome that was so severe it killed 5,000 people in just one day. It wasn’t Ebola this time, but in it’s day it was just as deadly.
People responded, just like you’d imagine, with great panic. Everyone fled as quickly as possible, they abandoned the city in such a hurry that they actually left people dying in the streets and dead bodies unburied throughout the city. They had learned through thousands of years of experience that to touch these bodies would be risking the transfer of the disease.
In that city, there was a small community who followed a man who would touch lepers while they were unclean; and who expected his disciples to take care of the sick.
One early church father, a guy named Dionysius wrote about what these early Christians did during moments like the great plagues:
“Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need, and ministering to them in Christ. And with them departed this life seemingly happy, for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors, and cheerfully accepting their pains.”
Last night when I was praying over this little family and the turmoil they must be going through I wondered if they knew just what they were doing when they went over there, I wonder if we know what we’re doing when we’re praying for them.
I see all my friends asking for a miracle, and I want what we all want too, for this family to be restored and whole.
But don’t get so caught up asking for a miracle that you fail to see the one that’s right in front of you. Someone who didn’t have to, left a life of privilege to bear in the suffering of the world. Someone who’s very education depended on learning about natural selection, said something wildly unnatural like “I’m not going to leave these dying people when they need me the most.”
Our wounded world needs some good Samaritans, and it turns out she’s still got a few.
That a family who didn’t have to, would have a heart so un-naturally attuned to bearing in the suffering of the world, and even daring to draw some of it to themselves…That’s more than just humanitarian aid.
It’s a miracle.