It always seems to come back to a failure to care.
From an epidemiological point of view, the Zika virus is a complete nightmare. The epidemic spread silently for nine months before any evidence began to appear. Months went by until enough dots were connected to notice a pattern. By the time the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global emergency, the Zika virus had already spread to 20 countries and appears to have caused severe birth defects in thousands of babies.
The Zika virus has no vaccine and almost no treatment. In most cases, victims are bitten by a particular species of mosquito and infected with the virus, which then reproduces inside of them without causing any symptoms. Those who do get sick normally have mild symptoms like a rash. But for pregnant women, the virus is terrifying. The exact mechanism hasn’t been worked out yet, but Zika infections in pregnant women seem to lead to microcephaly, a severe and deadly brain defect.
One could suggest that this virus is an example of Natural Evil. Alvin Plantinga argues that any evil we encounter that has no obvious human source could be caused by the free will of powerful non-human agents at work in the world. A virus that deforms babies certainly sounds like the work of a demon. But we humans are not completely without fault when it comes to the rapid spread of this disease.
It turns out the species of mosquito that spreads Zika reproduces exceptionally well in our garbage. One of the reasons the virus is spreading so successfully throughout South and Central America is the improper disposal of garbage in developing nations. These countries have begun to adopt the throwaway culture we have in more developed nations without the institutional structures in place that are needed to make trash “disappear.” As we choose to buy and toss more possessions we have made the epidemic worse. We have failed to care for our world.
We humans are not completely without fault when it comes to the rapid spread of this disease.
The Zika virus has also been known for decades as a pathogen in the tropics of Africa. There has been some research on how it is transmitted and how the disease progresses in a victim, but the virus was not a major concern for epidemiological organizations like WHO or the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Western society has acted like the virus would stay “over there.” But evil has no regard for borders. In the globalized era, it is only a matter of time until a virus spreads to every corner of the world in which it can thrive. And there were signs the virus was spreading. In 2013 there was a Zika outbreak with birth defects in French Polynesia, but it was a small outbreak, in a small country, among small babies. The world did not pay much attention. We make things worse because of a failure to care for our neighbors.
New reports indicate that the Zika virus can also be spread sexually. Now the closest relationships that a human can engage in, being sexually intimate and carrying a child, have been corrupted by this virus. The beautiful connections our God built into this world are a twisted version of what they should be. Surely God’s creation is broken by sin and we reinforce its fallenness with choices that lead to the spread of this disease.
Romans 8 is particularly poignant when considering the Zika virus: “[T]he creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Creation groans for the culmination of its redemption. Our world needs caretakers who will tend the garden, love the last and the least and in so doing share the redeeming love of the Savior of all. In order to combat evil, waste and viruses that know no borders, we must show love, thoughtfulness and care that has no bounds.