- 1. A Virus
A tiny, tiny piece (500 million viruses fit on a pinhead) of lifeless information (yes, that is what a virus is; a dead piece of information), that can go nowhere unless carried passively to a living cell ( e.g. Covid-19 to a live human respiratory cell). A virus that has had to be specifically designed and will only become alive when it enters a human respiratory cell that has to have the specific structure to accept the virus and must have the ability to read the viral information to manufacture more viruses from the respiratory cells’ own components and cause destruction of the host cell and spread further.
This piece of lifeless information is what turned the world of the 21st century man (meaning humankind) upside down. Shaking his economy, his personal life, the basis of his stability, goading him to a place where he might just realize his vulnerability, his fragility, the brevity of life.
Where does this take us? How do we think about this? A virus that had to be specifically designed to damage human respiratory cells, or, if not designed exactly, would have been totally harmless? Really?
- 2. A God
Where is God in this? Perhaps in the gift of suffering?
We have to understand what a virus is to try and understand what God is up to. Evil can never be a creator of anything created. So how do we think about Covid-19? Why Covid-19?
“For this reason, I will fence you in with thorn bushes. I will block your path with a wall to make you lose your way…. you have been looking for your lovers but forgot all about Me,” says the Lord… “But I will lead you into the desert and speak tenderly to you there.” from Hosea 2: 6, 13, 14 (italic her=you)
- 3. Viruses
Viruses are everywhere – they are present in every living being, from tiniest of bacteria, they are present in all plant material, in all insects, animals and humans. They are present in all living creatures.
Viruses were most probably present before life was present on this planet – Vincent Racaniello. Professor of Virology, Columbia University, New York
They outnumber all other cellular life on this planet by 10:1. Viruses represent the greatest biodiversity on earth.
Over time viral genomes (viral genetic material) have also become part of our own genetic material – our own DNA, though non-functional.
There are 1030 viruses in bacteria in the oceans of this planet alone (called bacteriophages). The biomass of these viruses exceeds the biomass of all the elephants on this planet a 1000 fold!
There are more viruses in one liter of seawater that people on this planet!
And the size a virus? The average virus is about 15 micron; 500 million viruses can fit on a pinhead of 2×2 mm.
Viruses play an essential role in nature as ‘good’ viruses. E.g. in the oceans viruses break up bacteria that will then sink to the bottom of the ocean and then be recycled.
We, as humans, breath, eat in our food, billions of viral particles daily. Most will just pass through our system harmlessly; will not replicate in us and be excreted. Some will have to be dealt with with our immune system and be neutralised – and the replication stopped. A relatively tiny number will cause disease in humans before the immune system can respond effectively and stop the replication, or the virus might win the race and cause death by extensive damage caused by the virus or by the patient’s immune reaction to the virus – the body’s response, rather than the virus, that ultimately causes the harm – i.e. cytokine storm as seen in some Covid-19 patients.
There are millions of types of viruses. Only a very small number of certain types of viruses will cause disease in man;
- Measles and rubella viruses – under ideal circumstances the immune system should be strong enough, will overcome the virus and destroy it before too much harm is caused. Though these viruses still causes more than a hundred thousand deaths annually where vaccinations are not done.
- The influenza viruses with its annual global outbreaks causes hundreds of thousands of deaths every year.
- Some viruses, eg HIV and HSV 1 &2 (human papilloma virus – e.g. herpes), will stay present in the body and never be eradicated, just kept at bay by the immune system but can flare up when the immune system is suppressed eg cold sores, herpes zoster. Or can cause death in the HIV patients.
How many deaths are actually caused by viruses per year?
2017; Viruses play a major role in respiratory deaths, (not all caused by viruses): 5.5 million deaths per year = approximately 15 000 people every day – eg influenza virus
Diarrheal disease, many caused by viruses, 1.5 million deaths per year = approximately 4000 people every day
Hepatitis 126 000 deaths per year, HIV 954 000 deaths per year = approximately 3000 people every day
Source: IHME Global Burden of Disease www.OurWorldInData.org/causes-of-death
The ‘Spanish Flu’ virus, H1N1 viral infection, (a orthomyxovirus, thus not a corona virus) pandemic lasted from January 1918 to December 1920, caused an unusually deadly influenza pandemic, infected 500 million people – about a quarter of the world’s population at the time and caused 40-50 million deaths in 1918/9.
Why is it so difficult to treat viruses? Because they are so basic, have such a relatively simple structure. Just a tiny piece of genetic material (DNA or RNA) with a capsule or membrane around it and they mutate (change their genetic material with each transfer to the next person.) The master in mutations is the HIV virus – therefore no immunization possible at this stage. There are 1016 HIV RNA mutations on the planet today! And the genetic material, the RNA or DNA of the virus is not unlike our own … so if we develop drugs to destroy the viral DNA or RNA we damage/destroy our own. (Bacteria are much more complex with complex biological systems unique to the bacteria and these structures or biological functions of the bacteria can be targeted without damaging the human cell i.e antibiotics)
A virus is an intracellular parasite comprising of genetic material (DNA or RNA) often surrounded by a protein coat (capsid) or membrane (lipid) [Covid-19 is a corona virus – round structure like a crown – with RNA genetic material and a lipid membrane surrounding it]
A virus can only replicate within a living cell. If it does not find a host within a specific time-span, it will disintegrate and disappear.
RNA and DNA, like our genes, are literally a genetic codes, like the letters in a book, a book that contains information but is not the information itself.
If we talk about a child that inherited or are made up of the genes/DNA of his father and mother, it is only the genetic information that was transferred to the child – nothing physically is in that child from the parent … information only. It is as if you have given your child a book with all your information about yourself written in it and he has taken it with that from the other parent and has written over into his own book … just the information has been transferred from the two parents to the child. Nothing physically that will last. Once the information has been written over the original book disintegrates. A rather complex book: 3.2 billion nucleotides (letters – known as the human genome – the carrier of the genetic information) grouped in 23 500 genes organised into 22 paired chromosomes and one pair of sex chromosomes (XX – female or XY – male).
A virus is not a living organism – it is a passive agent, like a book or leaflet, and needs to be carried to a host, to host cells to become alive. Viruses replicate by assembly of preformed components of the host cell, the victim’s cells, into viral particles. Outside a cell a virus has no life, it is a piece of genetic material within an envelope (protein capsule or lipid membrane). It has no ability to do anything. Where it falls it lies. But viruses carries information – their genetic material contains a message and sometimes deadly information like the Covid-19 virus… information that will tell your cells to use your own cell material to make more of the virus until so many viruses are produced by your own cell that your cell will die. Numerous new viruses are produced that will be released with, anew, the ability to invade new cells or be excreted by the patient to reach the next human.
Thus, a virus has the capacity to become alive when it enters a cell (infects a cell). This cell now becomes the slave of the viral genetic material and becomes devoted to produce viral particles to produce new viruses.
- For a cell to be infected by a specific virus, it has to have a receptor on its surface for the virus to attach to (if this specific receptor is absent, the virus cannot infect the cell and will be harmless).
But if the cell has the specific receptor for the virus, (for the virus that causes COVID-19, the vulnerable receptor on human respiratory cells is one known as ACE2 receptors), the virus will bind to it and release its RNA (genetic material with the information it contains) into the cell. The virus RNA is now ‘alive’ because it found A susceptible cell.
- But this cell must also have the specific capacity to read this virus’s RNA, (approximately 30 000 nucleotides – letters – known as the viral genome), the information, and replicate the viral particles to build new viruses using the human cell’s own components. This is A permissive cell.
Nothing of the original virus will be used in the new virus, only the information to build the new virus including new RNA that contains the viral blueprint, the information. The new viruses built from the cells own components will then leave the cell, be released, with often the destruction of the host cell and original virus, to infect many other cells.
Thus, a Covid-19 virus has to be carried (by an agent eg , droplets from a cough or a sneeze, or hands from surface to mouth or nose) to, specifically, human airway mucosal cells. These cells are both susceptible and permissive for the Covid-19 virus.
The Covid-19 virus is one of the Coronaviruses, a group of related viruses, that cause diseases in mammals and birds. In humans, coronaviruses cause respiratory tract infections that can range from mild to lethal. Mild illnesses include some cases of the common cold (which has other possible causes, predominantly rhinoviruses), while more lethal varieties can cause SARS, MERS, and COVID-19.
There is wide consensus that the Covid-19 virus was transferred to humans from a wild mammal, possibly a bat. This jump from animal to human is called zoonotic transfer. This virus has probably been present as a non-pathogenic virus in bats/mammals for possibly millions of years.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus and the clinical disease it causes, COVID-19, is the seventh corona virus known to infect humans, and the third zoonotic virus after SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV.
Thus, for humans to be affected by the Covid-19 virus you need
- A virus that previously existed and has been present, albeit with mutations, in bats or another mammal for millions, possibly billions of years.
- The disturbance of the natural habitat of the animal, i.e. wet market like in Wuhan, China, for the virus to jump to humans i.e. zoonotic transfer
- This virus, consisting of RNA (ribonucleic acid), the genetic material carrying the exact information that a human cell can read to reproduce new viruses, has to be transferred, carried to human respiratory/airway cells. The virus at this point is totally passive and lifeless.
- The properties of the viral membrane have to be exact to bind with the receptor on a human airway cell with a vulnerable receptor ACE2 on the human cell where it can bind and release the information (RNA) into the cell – be a susceptible cell. Why would an animal virus have the properties to bind specific to human cells, and then specifically to human respiratory cells?
- The human respiratory cell must have the means to specifically read the viral RNA information and have the ability to make new viral components from its own cell components – A permissive cell. Why?
- The cell will keep on manufacturing new viral components until the respiratory cell releases all the new viruses and disintegrate with the original virus. This great number of new viruses will then find new susceptible and permissive cells and repeat the process of replication. The body’s own immune system will recognize these foreign bodies (viruses) and fight it and destroy the viral invasion, though sometimes the immune reaction is incapable of overcoming an overwhelming infection or the immune response can cause more harm than good and serious sickness or death follows. Or the viruses will be coughed out, sneezed out and be suspended in droplets in the air to be inhaled by the next victim or float to a surface where it will lie passively as non-living material until carried, again passively, to a new host.
- The original viruses will disintegrate with each cell they invaded and the completely new viruses (with only the original information) will go forth infecting new cells to their own destruction but the information will be carried forward infecting new cells till it has nowhere to find new host cells and only then will it come to an end.
One can rightfully ask;
- Why are there viruses in the first place and so many? Why only a small percentage that are pathogenic in living organisms, including animals, birds and humans? What controls this balance?
- Why are there millions of types of viruses and only a relative few cause disease in man? And very few cause major pandemics – the last one a hundred years ago and only now again? The Spanish flu with 50 million deaths? Why not more often, why at all? Is there a control, a balance being kept, like the balance that exists between good and evil, in this world? Evil is not being overwhelmed good and good is not overwhelmed by evil.
- Why is the mode of transfer of the most lethal viral infections like Ebola so specific, only with very close fluid contact? Imagine if Ebola could have spread as easy and effective as Covid-19? Why not? Or why the incurable and lifelong HIV only through body fluids; sexual contact or blood? Imagine HIV spreading as easy as Covid-19.
- How is it possible that a virus like Covid-19 (and others) has to be, and is, so very very specific in its target and cause specifically the disease it does, and that in a totally different species being transferred from an animal virus to man? And the morbidity and mortality that is so constant within relatively narrow margins throughout the world – in different people, nations, different cultures, different continents? Yet so much the same that patterns can be studied?
- Why does these viruses, that seems to be specifically designed to cause specific diseases with specific morbidities and mortalities, seemed to be exactly designed, have to cause so much pain and endless suffering?
Can it be a stroke of bad luck, a cosmos that doesn’t care, has no feelings? Do we just have to accept it and live with it in a pitiless, cold, impersonal, indifferent universe that caused us to be here without reason or meaning, on our way to a meaningless death with the eventual death of the entire universe? With just a cold dark graveyard left of black holes and burned out stars and nothing and nobody that will ever remember the former existence of humans, of anything that seemed ‘worthwhile’? Does that seem reasonable? But unavoidable if one believes that there is no God. Science without God points to exactly this as the end scenario of the world, of the universe.
Or might there be sense in, what seems to be, a senseless world? A constant fight to survive, to find meaning?
Perhaps there is sense in pain and suffering?
“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” C.S Lewis, atheist turned Christian.
- 4. God
Never underestimate the love of God. And never try to make God to what you think He should be, or should be doing. He is God, and we are not. But we can ask questions and we can investigate to try to understand Him better knowing that He is righteous and that He is good:
He created us in His image1 and we therefore have a free will to choose2 to love Him. If we miss this, He will go to unbelievable great lengths to get us to His heart. Nowhere else can we find peace, love, contentment, inner joy, than when we have found Him in an intimate relationship – the reason why we have been born, and God will keep on pursuing us, chasing us down and present us with opportunities to seek and find Him.
(1 ‘God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.’ Genesis 1:27
2 God has a free will. He chose to bring the universe into being. ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ Genesis 1:1)
If God would give Evil (Satan) free reign in this world so he can do to humans as he likes, Satan would have given them prosperity, good health and a comfortable life. That will be the most effective way to drive people away from God – to miss the reason why they were created. To be happy today, living a carefree life and have a financially secure future. They will soon enough live as if they do not need God. And Satan will be satisfied in his purpose for humankind.
Is that not exactly what happened to the two most Christian continents since WWII? As prosperity grew, Christianity declined proportionately in Europe and North America. (While growing in Africa, South America, many Eastern countries at rates unheard of.)
‘“So obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in His ways and fearing Him. (the safest way to live not unlike driving your car and carefully obey each traffic rule) For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills. It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful, and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills. When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land He has given you.
“But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey His commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. (and start destroying your own lives by living outside of the law, like you would obey the laws of your country, to everyone’s benefit) For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, … Do not forget that He led you through the great and terrifying wilderness … (like WWII, or wherever God has taken you personally and/or your forefathers through). He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’ (you have been born into circumstances you had no control over, with opportunities you had very little or no control over) Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant (a covenant of love) He confirmed to your ancestors with an oath. (your Christian forefathers, and back to New Testament times, back to Abraham)
“But I assure you of this: If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods, worshiping and bowing down to them (money, fame, self, anything you choose above the LORD your God), you will certainly be destroyed. (your soul will be destroyed; spiritual death. Physical death: the day when your body and soul is separated. Spiritual death is when your spirit is separated from God, that is, before physical death and continuous after death).
From Deuteronomy 8
We must know, and deep inside we all know, there is not one that is without sin. (would you be happy if everyone can read your thoughts all the time? Or are there thoughts you would rather not want other people to know about because you know it is not right. Have you ever told a lie, ever had a lustful thought, ever used the name of God inappropriately – in vain, ever had negative feeling about a colleague?)
‘Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin”? Proverbs 20:9 ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ 1 John 1:8 “No one is righteous— not even one.’ Romans 3:10
‘Your eyes, God, are too holy to look at evil, and you cannot stand the sight of people doing wrong.’ Habakkuk 1:13
‘Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’’ Matthew 22:37
When we do not love the LORD our God, He sees it as spiritual adultery and will do anything to get us back to His heart.
“How can I give you up, …? How can I abandon you? Could I ever destroy you? My heart will not let me do it. My love for you is too strong.” Hosea 11:8
“if a country sins and is unfaithful to Me, l will stretch out my hand and destroy its supply of food. I will send a famine and kill people and animals alike. This is what the Sovereign LORD is saying: “I will send my four worst punishments – war, famine, wild animals and disease” Ezekiel 14:12
“I was the one who brought famine to all your cities, yet you did not come back to Me.” Amos 4:6
“I sent a scorching wind to dry up your crops.” Still you did not come back to Me. “Amos 4:9
Disaster will turn our hearts inward and we cry out ‘Why!?’ – on a personal level, in communities, in nations and now global. When our lives are forced to a standstill and we are confined to isolation. When we are drawn out of our daily routine, the race that allow us little time to think, only destined to rush us through life towards a chasm of eternal hopelessness, separated from the One that created us for a love relationship with Him. This is when He demonstrates:
The Lord’s Love for the Unfaithful. “But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there.” Hosea 2:14
It is in our suffering that we most often experience the deepest meaning in life, drawn the closest to God. If we would only seek Him.
It is in suffering that some of the best books are written, poems versified, and music composed.
The cellist Gaspar Cassado: “I feel so sorry for you; your lives have been so easy. You can’t play great music unless your heart’s been broken”.
Rūmī a 13th century Persian poet and one of his famous quotes is;
‘The wound is the place where the Light enters you’
‘Because God is light’ 1 John 1:5
Suffering, is what draws us closer to Truth. And He will not hesitate to cause suffering in our lives to make us think. Some might just be scared of Covid-19, be isolated, alone, or get the disease albeit with no symptoms, or mildly symptomatic, or need hospitalization, maybe ICU, a ventilator, perhaps death. But each of us has the time and opportunity in this time to think and turn to God.
It was ultimately through the suffering of Christ on the cross that new life became the gift that brings us back to God, to life.
It is about the Love of God in the pain of suffering.
The gift of suffering. And a free will to choose.
The God of contrasts;
God’s infinite greatness is demonstrated in His infinite meekness, in His infinite weakness.
What is the God of the universe, the Creator of the universe, doing on a cursed Roman cross?
- He, Christ, existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through Him, and nothing was created except through Him, Christ. John 1:2,3 … There is one God, the Father, by whom all things were created, and for whom we live. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created, and through whom we live. 1 Corinthians 8:6 God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. John 3: 17
- Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of Himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of Himself that He had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, He set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, He stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, He lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. Philippians 2:8 (MSG)
In this time, Covid-19, the time we are confined to our homes, let us celebrate the resurrection of Christ, yield to our Creator and take on the gift of life, a free gift of eternal life to enjoy the love of the One who is love, the only source of love, forever. It is a choice.
So, if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. John 8:36