Three stories making headlines this morning offer a case study into human nature, including the spread of the H5N1 bird flu.
First, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked southeastern Turkey and northern Syria this morning, toppling hundreds of buildings and killing more than 1,300 people. The death toll is expected to rise as rescue workers comb through mounds of wreckage for people still trapped under rubble.
Second, Navy divers are searching for debris from the Chinese spy balloon a US fighter jet shot down Saturday off the coast of South Carolina. According to the New York Times, the shooting down of the balloon “introduced a new phase in the increasingly tempestuous relationship between the United States and China.”
Third, the New York Times is reporting that “an even deadlier pandemic could soon be here.” The article explains that bird flu, known formally as avian influenza, “has long hovered on the horizon of scientists’ fears.” This pathogen, especially the H5N1 strain, has not often infected humans. However, when it has, 56 percent of those known to have contracted it have died. This contrasts with a mortality rate of 1 to 2 percent for COVID-19 prior to vaccines.
Here’s why bird flu is now so frightening: a mutant H5N1 bird flu strain has been infecting minks at a fur farm in Spain and is most likely spreading among them, which is unprecedented for mammals. “This is incredibly concerning,” says Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London. “This is a clear mechanism for an H5 pandemic to start.”
This is because the mink’s upper respiratory tract is especially well suited to act as a conduit to humans. If different strains of flu infect the same person at the same time, they can swap gene segments to give rise to new, more transmissible ones.
As a result, according to the Times, “If a mink farmworker with the flu also gets infected by H5N1, that may be all it takes to ignite a pandemic.”
The “fight or flight” response
If you’re like me, you’ll want to know more today about the earthquake in Turkey and Syria and the Chinese spy balloon story. However, you’d like to think about anything but another pandemic. This is not just because we’re still dealing with the worst public health crisis in a century. Nor is it simply that we are not (speaking for myself) scientists who can do anything practical to prevent such a crisis.
There’s a third factor also at work here: the “fight or flight” response that is part of our innate human nature. In response to acute stress, psychologists tell us, “the body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated by the sudden release of hormones,” resulting in “an increased heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.” This response better enables us to fight the threat we face or flee from it. In the case of “an even deadlier pandemic,” since we cannot fight it, we instinctively turn our attention to something else.
The “fight or flight” response has enormous spiritual implications. Not every problem we face requires divine assistance, of course. But some do. When we face temptation, choosing between “fight” and “flight” is vital for our souls.
Take Job as an example.
“Does Job fear God for no reason?”
In one of the most remarkable compliments paid to anyone in Scripture, God asked Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (Job 1:8).
Satan responded, “Does Job fear God for no reason?” (v. 9).
The Enemy proceeded to describe God’s many blessings in Job’s life and predicted that if Job faces severe suffering, “he will curse you to your face” (v. 11). Satan said this because it is usually true. Crisis does not produce character—it reveals it.
Job turned out to prove God right and Satan wrong: after losing his children and all his possessions, he “fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return. The Lᴏʀᴅ gave, and the Lᴏʀᴅ has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lᴏʀᴅ” (vv. 20–21).
The narrator adds, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (v. 22).
Don’t become Patient Zero
The devil cannot attack God, so he attacks God’s people. At issue is whether God’s character will be defamed by God’s servants.
My character reflected on my father just as my sons’ character reflects on me. Consequently, one of Satan’s most effective ways to turn people from considering the love of Christ is to focus them instead on the failings of Christians.
Here’s my point: when you and I face temptation, we should remember that far more is at stake than our own integrity. Our response honors or dishonors our Savior. It draws those we know closer to him or pushes them further away from him.
The solution is to choose “flight” over “fight.” Do not try to defeat your spiritual enemy in your strength since he is far better at tempting than we are at resisting. Instead, go immediately to Jesus. Name your temptation and ask him for the strength, wisdom, and resolve to refuse it. If you have fallen to temptation, come immediately to him in repentance, asking him to forgive you and restore you before your spiritual virus spreads.
If H5N1 becomes a global pandemic, the first person who contracts the virus and transmits it to others will be known as Patient Zero.
With the next temptation you face, you can choose flight or fight. You can turn to the power of the Lord, or you can become a spiritual Patient Zero.
The reputation of your Savior and the spiritual condition of those you influence are at stake.
NOTE: I wrote Empowered to provide biblical, practical steps to the abundant life of Christ. We are meant to be “more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37), but I also know that the business and busyness of life can thwart our best intentions. All too often, we leave too little room—if any at all—for the Holy Spirit to direct our days. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Request your copy of Empowered: A Guide to Experiencing the Power of the Holy Spirit today.