Journal of the Plague Year

virus in skull eye

Something Very Strange Has Been Going On.

In 1722 Daniel Defoe published a classic novel entitled A Journal of the Plague Year.  It purported to be an eye-witness account of what happened in London in 1665 when the Black Death struck.  Though it was fiction, Defoe’s skill was so great that most of his readers thought the novel was an actual journal written by the central character. Over half a century had passed since the terrors of the plague, but the memories still burned deep.  The novel is a harrowing account of what happens when the world turns upside down – when what seems like endless death strikes a city and no one knows where it comes from or how to stop it.

Over the years I’ve read a number of books about the scourge of disease and how pandemics have shaped history.  In the mid-90s, I created a short-lived television series entitled, The Burning Zone that dealt with an unusual pandemic.   A virologist was on our consulting staff and I learned a great deal.

As a novelist and screenwriter, I am fascinated by what happens when the thin veneer of socialization disintegrates and the truth about the human race bubbles up out of the darkness of our souls.  In particular, plagues generate unreasoning terror that strips away every sophisticated façade.  In its most virulent form, this terror can utterly destroy the very core of what it means to be human.  In a blind rage of self-preservation, people do hideous things that would be unthinkable at any other time. Mobs attack innocent people, loving husbands and wives abandon each other, parents abandon their children and children their parents. Fear of disease can turn people into beasts.

At this moment, a virus named Covid-19 is destroying China and has spread to other countries.  Warnings from the WHO and CDC tell us that very likely a pandemic is coming upon us and we should be prepared. At this time, it is unknown how lethal this virus really is.  We hope and pray that measures being taken will stop the spread of this disease.  Scientists working on a vaccine warn us that the earliest it could be available is sometime in 2021. So how should we prepare for what may be coming and I don’t mean stockpiling food and other essentials?  Yes, those preparations may be necessary, but I mean preparing our souls. Witnesses speak to us from the past and we should listen to them.

During a plague, the response of brutal self-preservation is so consistent that when you find anyone acting against it for the good of others it seems almost a miracle.  Right now brave medical teams are risking their lives to help sufferers.  But that is expected of them and most of them, with great courage, expect it of themselves.  What about others?

Let me tell you a story about one village.

In the year 1665, the Black Death was ravaging London.  But in the little village of Eyam nestled in the fields of Derbyshire, the big city and its horrors seemed far away.  350 people lived quietly there and the church was the center of their lives.  They had a new young pastor, William Mompesson, and their old pastor, Thomas Stanley, had remained to help in the transition.

Exactly how the Black Death was spread was not known, but everyone was certain that person to person contact must have much to do with it.  No one in Eyam had contact with any Londoners so they felt relatively safe.  George Viccars was the tailor of Eyam.  In late August, he received one of his regular shipments of cloth from London.  The material was damp so he spread it out to dry.  In doing so he released fleas.   Flea bites were a common nuisance, so when George was bitten he thought little of it.  Within a week he was dead.

When the village realized that the plague had come there was panic.  The first tendency of everyone was to escape from the town, to save their lives and the lives of their families.  But very quickly there came a second realization.  There was no plague in any of the surrounding villages.  If they escaped into them very likely they would be taking death along.

As the dying continued in Eyam, the pastors called for a town meeting.  Everyone gathered at the church.  Together these brave men and women made an amazing decision.  They would not run.  For the good of the neighboring villages, they would stay, quarantining themselves until the plague ran its course.  And this they did.  Nearby villages left food and other necessities at the edge of the town on a stone called the Coolstone.  Money that had been soaked in vinegar was left in payment.

For the next fourteen months the bubonic plague decimated the little village of Eyam.  Church services were held outside in an attempt to mitigate infection.  And no longer were there communal burials.   Families became responsible for their own burials and these were not in the churchyard.  Victims were interred next to their homes.

How the plague struck was without logic.  For instance, in eight days Elizabeth Hancock buried her six children and her husband, but she herself was never infected.  The young pastor lost his wife, but he lived.  The stories of loss during those fourteen months are heartrending.  Emmott Sydall and Rowland Torre were lovers.  Rowland was from a nearby village.  During the plague, they would meet at the edge of town and call to each other across the rocks.  Then one day Rowland waited for her, but Emmott did not appear.  She never came again.

Finally, the plague ended.  Out of 350 people, only 83 were left alive, but the surrounding villages remained plague free.  For 14 months these brave people faced both fear and death to save the lives of others.  With broken hearts, they buried their loved ones outside their houses as they cried out to God. You can visit Eyam today.  It’s known as the Plague Village.  There’s a little museum and a walking tour that meanders past the old graves.  On those fading tombstones, you can barely read the names of babies and little children, young people, old people, and lovers.

Eyam is a monument to selfless courage. Where did it come from?  We need to find out.

Whether Covid-19 creates a worldwide pandemic or not, there is strong evidence that we are living in uniquely strange and horrifying times.  What is the proof? Let’s look at four cataclysmic areas, war, pandemics, famines, and earthquakes.  For the purpose of this study, we’ll establish a line of demarcation with the year 1900, what we could call the start of the truly modern era.  I propose to you that everything that has happened since then has been moving us very quickly in a specific direction.

War

In the history of the world, from 1900 to the present day the wars that have been fought have been devastating on a different level than in the past. While war has been a constant in human history and millions have died over thousands of years, the modern experience in just over a century has taken us to a new level of horror.  Needless to say, it is very difficult to accurately measure the number of deaths from war that have happened during the past 120 years. Historians estimate that the median number of people killed during 79 wars around the world from 1900 to the present time is 163,340,990. This counts only wars with more than 25,000 deaths. Dozens of smaller wars have taken place during this period.

How does it compare with the past? We need to do some calculations. Let’s start at 549 BC with the wars of Cyrus the Great and end in 1899. That is a period of 2448 years. Over that time, historians list 84 major wars that took place around the world each with over 25,000 people killed.  In some of those wars, millions died. Historians estimate that in all of them the total median number of people killed directly or indirectly due to all the conflicts is 289,081,220.   This gives us an average of 188,088 people killed in each of those 2448 years.

Horrible, but how does it compare with 79 wars over 120 years?  The average estimated number of deaths due to wars during each of those 120 years is 1,331,174.  (My source is the Wikipedia entry, List of Wars by Death Toll.) Of course, the world population was much smaller before 1900 at approximately 1 billion in 1804 and 1.6 billion by 1900.  Prior to 1804, the world population was in the hundreds of millions. Right now in 2020, the world population is 7,749,798,739. Exponential growth in population has brought exponential growth in deaths from war over a vastly shorter period.

Famines

Like wars, famines have killed millions. It is estimated that since 1900 there have been 35 devastating famines causing the deaths of between 70 and 100 million people.  Over half of those deaths were in China.  In 1958-1961 it is estimated that 36 million died during Mao’s famine. In Stalin’s famine of 1932 to 1933 alone it is estimated over 5 million died in Ukraine and Kazakhstan. From 1970 to 1979 two million Cambodians starved to death.  During 1984 and 1985 up to one million Ethiopians died for lack of food.  In Somalia during 2011, 260,000 people starved to death. At this writing, 20 million people in Africa are in danger of starvation during the next six months as unprecedented swarms of desert locusts are completely devouring crops in dozens of African nations including Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, and Kenya. These swarms threaten to decimate the Mideast.  Also, they have entered south Asia. They are as large as major cities and are expected to increase 500 times by June.

Pandemics

Based on the number of deaths, the most lethal pandemic in history was the Spanish flu of 1918 which infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide—about one-third of the planet’s population—and killed an estimated 50 million victims, including some 675,000 Americans. This was even greater than the Black Death of the 14th and 15th centuries that killed 25 million people in Europe. Once again the exponential growth in population caused exponential growth in deaths.  During the 1956-58 Asian flu epidemic, the World Health Organization estimates that 2 million people died worldwide with almost 70,000 of those in the U.S.  The CDC estimates that in the U.S. approximately .1 percent equating to 61,000 people have died of the flu annually since 2010.  At this moment we face Covid-19. It is clear that the death rate is significantly greater than the yearly flu. How much greater has yet to be determined but estimates put in the range of 2.5 percent which equates to almost 2.5 million deaths.  In addition to Covid-19, versions of bird flu and swine flu are moving through parts of the world.

Earthquakes

Since 1900, around the world there have been more than 10,000 “strong” earthquakes with magnitudes of 6 or greater, this is according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The record suggests that earthquakes are becoming more frequent. In a 2015 story, it is reported that a study by USGS researchers found that there were more than twice as many “large” earthquakes, defined as magnitudes of 7 or above, in the first quarter of 2014 than there were in 1979. During 2014 alone the planet saw a record number of earthquakes. 13 had magnitudes of 6.5 or greater. “We have recently experienced a period that has had one of the highest rates of great earthquakes ever recorded,’ according to Tom Parsons, a research geophysicist at USGS. In December of 2014, NBC News reported that “great earthquakes” nearly tripled over the previous decade. And the devastation continues. In the past year, a 7.7 quake struck off the coast of Jamaica. Not long before that, a 6.4 hit Puerto Rico. A few years before that Haiti was devastated. In addition to quakes, there is an increase in volcanic eruptions around the world.

Clearly, something new and very disturbing has been happening around the world for over 100 years.  Where is it leading? Let me propose a disturbing idea that many will think is insane.  All of this was predicted by Jesus Christ almost 2000 years ago. How could I say such a thing?  Read on.  Let’s start with Jesus’ words found in Matthew chapter 24 of the New Testament:

Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”    Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”

And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many and you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.  And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.  But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”

Over the 2000 years since Jesus spoke those words, there have been endless wars and rumors of wars. There have been famines, pestilences and earthquakes. Also, there have been many false teachers who claimed to be the “Christ” and such spiritual wolves continue to deceive millions.   The center of the Covid-19 outbreak in South Korea is a cult in the city of Daegu called the Shincheonji. The Shincheonji Church of Jesus, formally known as the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, was founded by a false prophet named Lee Man-hee in 1984. Members believe that Lee, now 88 years old, is the second coming of Christ. The cult has 12 branches in South Korea and 150,000 followers. The 61-year-old woman who brought the disease into the church refused to be tested.  Her reason?  In this cult getting sick is viewed as a sin because it prevents members from doing “God’s work”.

Jesus said that though all these terrible things will happen the end hasn’t come yet.

 However, there is a unique period that immediately precedes the End of Days.  He calls it “the beginning of sorrows”. During that time, the scourges that have destroyed millions throughout history will dramatically increase.  War will become even more hellish with nations and kingdoms rising against each other in new and terrible ways.  I believe it is implied that in all the history of warfare these wars will be unique. Jesus doesn’t set a time period for the “beginning of sorrows”. He implies that the things that will be happening during that time will make it clear.  I propose to you that the past 120 years fit the description that Jesus gave. And the sorrows are increasing.

The parallel passage to Matthew 24 is Luke 21. Here Jesus adds these words. Along with wars, pestilences, famines and earthquakes “…there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven…There will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring, men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

If this is the “beginning of sorrows”, we can expect to see terrifying things happening in the cosmos, in the sun, and in the moon, that will have devastating effects on earth’s environment vastly increasing the “distress of nations”.  I believe that the strange unidentified phenomena that are increasing in the skies around the world are part of the signs that are building toward terror.

As part of these warnings, Jesus says that His followers will be delivered to tribulation and death and ultimately all nations would hate them. In 2017 it was estimated that 900,000 Christians had been murdered for their faith during the previous ten years and the murders continue around the world.  In many places such as North Korea it is impossible to know how many have died for their faith but according to those who have escaped there have been many thousands. Open Doors, an organization that tracks such numbers, estimates that EVERY MONTH 345 Christians are killed – often in public and without regard to gender or age; 219 Christians are abducted and imprisoned indefinitely without trial; 180 women and girls are raped, sexually assaulted or forced into marriage; and 106 churches are demolished.

Jesus warns, And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.  Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.”   The hate between groups around the world is growing with frightening speed. The United States is being torn to pieces by hate. False prophets and evil leaders are rising up speaking in every area from politics to religion. Lawlessness means the exponential growth of anarchy as people lose all faith in established governments and become laws unto themselves. Out of such hate grows violence.

But there is yet another vital prediction that Jesus made:

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”  Over these 2000 years, the Good News of God’s Love through His Son, Jesus Christ, has been preached in all nations. The 20th century saw great movement toward the completion of that mission. His words do not mean that every single person will have heard the message, but that at some point every nation and ethnic group will have received the Good News.

There is one more prophecy that I would call to your attention.  Strong words that predict the restoration of Israel as a nation are found throughout the Old Testament. Read this stunning prediction:

“Who has ever heard of such things? Who has ever seen things like this? Can a country be born in a day, or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children. Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?” says the LORD. “Do I close up the womb when I bring to delivery?” says your God. “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice greatly with her, all you who mourn over her.” (Isaiah 66:8-10)

In 1948, the Jewish nation of Israel was born in a day.

Never in history has anything ever happened like this before, a people dispersed across the world maintain their unique character and come together to re-establish a nation that hasn’t existed for almost 2000 years. And it occurred after a time of unprecedented agony, horror, and death. Truly fitting that it would happen during the “beginning of sorrows” that sweeps the whole world.  According to the Bible, in the days ahead, terrible persecution will fall again on the Jewish people in Israel.  It will precede the coming of their Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus), the One who was rejected but who is the Chief Cornerstone of a new age.

So where does this leave us? History had a beginning, it will have an end. If you are controlled by the Normalcy Bias like the vast majority, you will disregard all that I’ve written as nothing more than fantasy. You will commit yourself to believing in the Steady State theory of global life.  That is your choice, but you are disregarding Jesus’ words that the End is coming. What will happen when it arrives?  He will return in power to this world and ultimately every person who has ever lived will stand before Him to be judged. Those who heard the truth about who He is and rejected Him will answer for it. For those who have placed their faith in Jesus, His return represents the ultimate hope and joy that far transcend all the horrors and heartbreaks that are coming upon us.

At this critical moment in history, the Good News is there for you.

As it says in the New Testament book of John chapter 3 verse 16, God so loved the world, He so loved you, that He gave His only begotten Son so that if you believe in Him you can have Eternal Life.  What does believe mean? It means believe that Jesus is who the Bible says He is, the Son of God who came to take your sins and mine and pay the price for them by shedding His blood and dying for you and me on the Cross.  All it takes is a simple prayer telling Him that you believe in Him, that you repent of your sins and want Him to be your Savior. It means giving your life to Him and making Him your Lord and King.  My friend, whatever we face in the days ahead, the future can be yours.

How were the people in the little village of Eyam able to show such sacrificial courage even to death?   In the middle of great suffering and sorrow, they had placed all their faith in the One who gave them Eternal Life.

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.”  Jesus – John 11:25

One comment

  1. Bob Craton · February 26

    Great analysis and presentation of the gospel.

    Like

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