The year 2020 has been a doozy and most of us won’t be sad to see it go. Some have said they’re going to stay up on Dec. 31 not to see the New Year in, but to make sure the old one leaves!
This past year has surely had its share of trials, most of which sprung from COVID-19 in one way or another. When it burst on the scene, it immediately took charge of schools, businesses, churches, families, and finances. It even reshaped a presidential election.
Throughout the last nine months, broadcasters and columnists have used the word “unprecedented” to describe this pandemic. Unprecedented literally means it never happened before. And while it’s true that we never previously experienced this exact same virus, pandemics are nothing new and could certainly be considered unusual, but not unique.
According to an article in the Fall 2020 Biblical Archaeology Review, there have been numerous plagues throughout world history, many of which have been much worse. Our Bibles describe various famines that took many lives as well as 10 pestilences that God sent on Egypt to force Pharaoh to free the Israelite slaves. One of those resulted in skin boils and the last one took the life of the oldest son in each Egyptian family.
Later, from 430-426 B.C., the Greek historian Thucydides painted a very grim picture of the Plague of Athens. This unknown illness killed up to one in four people and although it occurred prior to modern treatments or vaccines, such an outbreak is very chilling. Some researchers believe it was typhus, which still kills many in the Third World today.
In 164-165 A.D., another devastating epidemic took the lives of up to one of every 10 Romans. While we can’t positively identify the specific culprit, many believe it was smallpox. This virus brought death to one in three of all who contracted it. Praise God COVID isn’t nearly that fatal. Smallpox also devastated American Indians before being virtually eradicated through vaccines.
What is now known as the Plague of Cyprian swept across southern Europe from 249-270 A.D., killing untold millions. One writer claimed that it was killing 5,000 Athenians per day.
Perhaps the most famous pandemic of all was the bubonic plague or Black Death. While most are familiar with its outbreak in the Middle Ages, it earlier ravished Europeans during the Plague of Justinian in 541-546 A.D. Mortality rates from this rodent-spread bacteria were between 50-60%. Thankfully, this malady is now very treatable with modern antibiotics.
Of course, there have been others throughout history, including localized outbreaks of Ebola, Lassa fever, and more. Thankfully, most of these were successfully contained until vaccines or treatments could be developed. What is very unusual about this pandemic, and could be called unprecedented, is the speed with which a vaccine has been developed and will be administered. Praise God for this! And yes, I do plan to get it!
Nearly 5,000 years ago, King Solomon declared that there was nothing new under the sun and he was spot on. Although names and details of various global problems may vary, ultimately, most of what we see has happened before somewhere at some time to someone. While I’m not discounting the personal pain when a loved one dies, our challenge is to not be intimidated nor overwhelmed by all that is happening.
There will be events and situations in 2021 that we didn’t anticipate. Some will be wonderful, others just the opposite. Nevertheless, when we recall that God’s mercies are new every morning and that He has promised to always be with us, we can handle whatever may come our way.
Remembering that God empowered our global ancestors to survive floods, wars, pandemics, droughts, hurricanes, blizzards, and every other problem we will encounter in 2021 gives us courage to face whatever may come. Let’s be careful about using that word “unprecedented” and remember that God has already conquered every challenge. Happy New Year! George