AIDS: How a Killer
Plague Can Be Stopped
by Melvin Rhodes
epidemic, increasingly compared to the dreaded black death of the 1300s,
has taken millions of lives and promises to take millions more. Yet,
tragically, we ignore the only real solution to this deadly plague.
The facts about AIDS are overwhelming. The disease is spreading rapidly
from country to country. Morgues are working round the clock to keep up
with the demand. Millions of orphans are left behind by their dead
parents. Cemeteries are filled and overflowing. Coffin makers are
running out of wood. Ignorance, superstition and fear abound.
Governments are paralyzed by the sheer enormity of the death toll.
Medical services are swamped and unable to cope.
And the problem is growing worse. Much worse.
We've seen the images on
television and heard the news reports from countries devastated by AIDS.
But they don't begin to do justice to the magnitude of the problem.
How bad is it? The
president of one country in southern Africa told the recent
international AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa, that in 10 years
his country will not exist. With a third of its citizens infected
with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), it's only a matter of time
before virtually his entire country is wiped out by this modern plague.
This is not the first
plague the world has experienced. Although the opening paragraph of this
article describes the situation in Africa, it is also a vivid
description of the black death, the plague that devastated many European
countries in the
middle of the 14th century.
England's population was
six million when the plague arrived in 1348. By 1500 it had plummeted to
1.6 million. Because that decline occurred over seven generations, it
involved far more than 4.4 million deaths. Depression, pessimism, a loss
of faith in religious institutions, change in land tenure and major
alterations in trade and commerce ensued as a result of the massive
Now we see a similar
pattern threaten-ing not just one but at least several nations. History
has a way of repeating itself.
Remarkably, both the
black death and AIDS easily could have been prevented. Measures
that would have prevented the widespread suffering and death from both
plagues were written down thousands of years ago-in the pages of the
world's best-selling book, the Bible.
The black death strikes
In 1346 the Mongol army
besieged the Genoese trading center at Caffa, now Feodosia, on the
Crimean peninsula. The Mongols were forced to withdraw because of heavy
losses. Their losses, surprisingly, were not attributable to fighting
but to a mysterious and devastating malady that became known as the
plague. The disease was spread by fleas that lived on the backs of the
Asiatic black rat. When the rats died of plague, the fleas would find a
new home-often the closest human being.
At the time no one knew
how the deadly disease was transmitted. They were in the dark as to its
cause or how to prevent its spread.
The Mongols fled, but
not before the disease had spread into the city of Caffa. From there it
rode aboard ships through the Black Sea out into the Eastern
Mediterranean and to Sicily, then on to the Italian mainland and the
Within two years it had
reached England. Horrible, inexplicable deaths ensued within a year for
about a fourth of the population. Commerce and travel slowed, then
ground to a halt.
In the ignorance and
superstition of the late Middle Ages, many people thought the disease
was spread through the air. There was some logic in this assumption. The
plague would arrive in a community suddenly and without warning, then
depart a few days later as mysteriously as it had come, leaving death
and a few stunned, shaken survivors in its wake.
To protect themselves
from what they supposed was contaminated air, people would lock
themselves in latrines and breathe the foul-smelling air into their
lungs to keep from breathing the air outside.
Some people looked for
scapegoats, blaming others for their misfortune and killing them by the
thousands even as they sought to be spared from the deadly invader. Many
grew suspicious of Jews, who to a large extent had gone unscathed by the
plague. Made scapegoats for the horrendous suffering, many Jews who had
escaped the plague died at the hands of their neighbors. Ironically,
plague victims could have learned much from the Jews that could have
spared many of them from the disease. (Later we will consider in greater
depth why Jews didn't contract this disease in the same numbers as
A preventable plague
Perhaps this background
helps us better understand the ignorance and superstition that
contributes to the spread of AIDS in less-developed parts of the world.
The black death was a
disease of filth. If people had followed simple biblical laws of
hygiene, many could have avoided infection and death. But people didn't
make the connection. The plague finally came to an end only when the
more-aggressive European brown
rat drove out the plague-infested black rat.
Today's plague, AIDS, is
also a disease of filth-the filth of the mind that dominates
contemporary culture and leads to rampant sexual immorality. Like the
black death before it, the solution to the modern plague is revealed in
AIDS: A plague begins
No one knows for sure
how or when AIDS started. The many theories come down to the fact that
the African green monkey carries the HIV naturally in its bloodstream.
Somehow, several decades ago, the virus in the blood of the green monkey
was transmitted to people, probably when hunters killed and butchered
HIV-carrying monkeys or consumed meat from infected monkeys. Once in the
human bloodstream, the virus proved to be a deadly killer.
It could have ended
there, in the jungles of tropical Africa. But it didn't. Once the virus
made the jump to man, it spread quickly around the world. Whereas trade
in the Middle Ages was slow, modern transportation is fast. The result
was that people all over
the world were dying from AIDS before the disease even had a name.
In fact, the name
reflects the mystery and sudden urgency of the disease. AIDS is an
acronym for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, reflecting the
reality of a disease that came from nowhere and resulted in the deaths
of thousands of people whose immune systems suddenly failed to work.
Death itself for AIDS victims is attributed to various causes, but they
all come back to the fact that the immune system has failed to act
In the United States the
problem was first seen among homosexuals. It was soon established that
certain homosexual practices were particularly effective means of
spreading the disease.
However, it would be
wrong to describe the disease as only a "gay plague." Well more than
half the people with AIDS are in Africa, where it is a heterosexually
For many years it was
thought that education would help stop the spread of AIDS. The experts
advised people not to practice "unprotected sex" and that if they used
condoms they would reduce the risk of contamination. In the last few
years, however, people have been increasingly inclined not to bother
protecting themselves because new drugs have become available that help
those infected with HIV live longer.
However, it is important
to understand that these drugs are not a cure. They can only
delay and alleviate the symptoms, and some have severe side effects. The
sad fact remains that there is no cure; there are only steps we
can take to prevent the disease from spreading in the hope that science
can find a cure or that it may eventually die out.
God's definition of high risk
Some reports on the
recent AIDS conference in Africa noted that people in "high-risk groups"
were engaging in unprotected sex again. Of itself that is not
surprising. Shocking is how "high-risk" was defined-as having sex
with six or more partners per year.
Six or more partners per
year? The Bible defines "high risk" as having any partners, even
one, outside of marriage-either before or after committing to a partner
Statements like this
show us just how far man has drifted from God. They also illustrate that
man cannot find a solution to the AIDS problem without God.
Three thousand years ago
King Solomon wrote: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge"
(Proverbs 1:7). His inspired proverbs were intended "to give prudence to
the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion" (verse 4).
Solomon, like millions
today, was not inexperienced in sexual matters. He had "seven hundred
wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines" (1 Kings 11:3). Toward
the end of his life his mistakes led him to conclude: "Let us hear the
conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for
this is man's all. For God will bring every work into judgment,
including every secret thing, whether good or evil" (Ecclesiastes
12:13-14). We would do well to heed Solomon's words.
A plague of broken laws
When we get to the root
of the problem, we find that AIDS is the natural consequence of breaking
God's laws. When HIV infections first jumped from monkeys to man, they
could not have spread like they did, and taken millions of lives,
without the gross immorality that brought the worldwide plague we see
At the beginning, when
God created the first man and woman, He knew they needed instruction.
They did not know right from wrong. They could not learn everything
themselves. In Genesis 2:16-17 we find God instructing Adam on what he
could eat and what he should avoid eating.
Later in the same
chapter we read that God created Eve as a companion for Adam. We then
find words that were intended for future generations. They talked of the
cycle of life as it was to be: "Therefore a man shall leave his father
and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh"
Here God instituted
marriage. The marriage covenant between a husband and wife is not a
humanly devised arrangement. It goes back to God in the Garden of Eden.
Succeeding generations were to follow this instruction. The institution
of marriage did not pertain only to Adam and Eve.
A man and woman were to
"become one flesh" permanently. Only death was to have ended the
Sexual laws revealed in the Bible
In the next chapter we
find that Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Men and women have been rejecting
God's instructions and paying a high price for it ever since. Part of
the price includes both AIDS and the black death-along with many other
plagues throughout history that have devastated mankind.
Thousands of years
later, when He brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, God
revealed to them the foundation of His laws, the Ten Commandments
(Exodus 20). Given time, they might have come up with some of them on
their own, since almost everyone recognizes that such acts as murder and
stealing are wrong.
But some of the laws He
revealed they would not have realized on their own. They are divine
laws given by a loving God to His people, laws that were intended to
govern their nation for all time. God's revelation, above and beyond
mere human intuition and understanding, was needed for the Israelites to
learn to live happy and healthy lives.
Why did God give His laws?
In the book of Leviticus
we see God instructing the Israelites concerning which animals were
suitable to eat. Without this instruction they could have eaten
creatures that would have endangered their health.
As noted earlier, HIV
apparently spread from animals to humans when African hunters killed
monkeys for food and came in contact with their infected blood. Eating
the flesh of monkeys and apes is forbidden in Leviticus 11, where God
says: "Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not
touch. They are unclean to you" (verse 8).
Leviticus gives many
other laws that relate to health. Chapter 20 lists a series of laws
governing sexual activity. These relate to adultery, incest, homosexual
practices and other acts. Without instruction the people could have
committed such acts in ignorance of the consequences until it was too
late and the damage had been done.
On the surface some of
these acts may seem harmless. But God repeatedly told Israel the laws He
had given them were for their good (Deuteronomy 6:17-25;
10:12-13; 12:28; 28:1-15; 30:15-16). Many centuries would pass before
medical researchers would demonstrate the benefits of these laws-that
promiscuous relationships are the prime conduit for dozens of
debilitating and fatal venereal diseases and that the offspring of
sexual unions between close relatives are much more prone to have
genetic defects and other physical and mental handicaps.
As with the forbidden
fruit in Genesis 3:6, such acts might feel good. God had to clearly tell
His people that sex-any sex-outside of the union between husband
and wife was wrong. And it still is. God and His eternal law do not
change (Malachi 3:6). Read the strong warning against immorality He gave
to Israel in Leviticus 18:24-30. His laws still apply whether we choose
to heed them or not.
Obeying the laws God
gave regarding marriage and sex would mean AIDS would die out with our
present generation. There would be no danger of repeating the experience
of the black death, which affected Europe in wave after wave of
indescribable suffering and countless fatalities for more than 300
years. In England it wasn't until the Great Fire of London in 1666 that
the plague ended-more than 300 years after it began.
Laws governing hygiene and health
The Bible shows how that
plague, too, could have been avoided. Then, as now, most people were not
familiar with the Word of God and did not live by it.
"Dirt and malnutrition
were the two great allies of the plague," wrote Philip Ziegler in The
Black Death (1971, p. 57). "... The state of public hygiene
was deplorable. Constantly reiterated laws against rearing pigs and
goats in the street, tanning skins in mid-city and throwing refuse out
of windows" proved ineffective (ibid.).
"Woe to those who join
house to house ... till there is no place where they may dwell alone in
the midst of the land," warned the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 5:8).
Houses in medieval towns
were so close together that they were a major health hazard, allowing
rapid spread of disease. The practice of not burying waste matter was
another contributing factor. Rats thrived in such conditions.
In Deuteronomy 23:12-13
God had instructed the Israelites to deposit human waste outside their
living areas, being careful to bury it. Not until recent centuries did
scientists learn that many diseases are spread through contact with
human waste-yet God had revealed this preventive measure some 3,500
years ago. Jews who obeyed these godly instructions during the time of
the black plague were not affected in the same way as others. Their
obedience to God gave them a degree of immunity in a way no one at the
Malnutrition was yet
another problem in the Middle Ages, caused in part by the inequitable
distribution of land. But this problem, too, could have been resolved by
the introduction of the biblical Jubilee, the year of liberation in
ancient Israel (Leviticus 25:10), which would have ended the oppressive
feudal system and returned land to its original owners for the benefit
Biblical laws: Arbitrary or for all time?
Does this all sound too
simple? That's only because man has had to devise convoluted responses
to deal with the effects of his actions rather than dealing with the
original cause. God's ancient answers to our modern, seemingly
complex problems are straightforward-with the added benefit that they do
not require massive budgets, bureaucracies and government intervention.
God's solutions deal with underlying behaviors that create the
problems in the first place.
The AIDS crisis
threatens to virtually wipe out several African nations within the next
two decades. Other countries will likely follow.
In the prosperous
Western world the problem will require increasing amounts of money,
raised by higher taxes and ever-increasing insurance premiums, as more
and more people grow sick and succumb to the disease. A medical cure
remains elusive, made difficult by constant mutations of the virus. No
matter how much money is spent on research, no one can guarantee that
science can find a cure or develop a successful vaccine. AIDS remains an
The only solution that will work for
certain is prescribed in the Bible. It's time for people to hear that
the solution is already known and that the only way forward is for
people to obey the moral laws of God He revealed thousands of years ago.