(If you know what movie the title is referring to, we will be good friends).
I’ve had plague on the brain lately. The primary reason is my upcoming historical fiction epic that takes place in medieval Germany during the Black Death (shameless self-promotion: Nikolai the Penitent releases in July and I am super stoked. I don’t believe there has ever been a Christian fiction book this brutal and grim). Anyway, I immersed myself in the plague-ridden world of the Middle Ages while I was writing the story and it was almost too much for me to handle (and coming from me, that’s saying a lot). The apocalyptic horror that the Black Death unleashed upon the world is incomprehensible in our super-sanitized modern times, even though our entertainment is rife with zombies and bioterrorism and innocuous viruses that end up wiping out most of the population.
Of the usual lineup of extinction-level events, a devastating pandemic seems to be the most possible in our current global circumstances. Did you ever see the movie Contagion? Remember how and where Gwyneth Paltrow contracted her fatal illness (the final shot of the movie)? I’ve been to places like that and it is not hard to imagine a vicious viral killer being spawned from those conditions. With today’s ease of travel, a superbug could hop from hemisphere to hemisphere in a matter of hours. That is one reason why the authorities clamped down so hard on the recent Ebola outbreak in Africa (and why the media was so eager to play out every doomsday scenario in a never-ending news feed). Nuclear war and seismic cataclysms are always looming possibilities but a global outbreak is a more likely threat.
I am fortunate to live in the beautiful city of Atlanta (where the players play and we ride on them things like every…never mind). Atlanta is the setting for a new TV show called Containment. Like Contagion, it is a fairly realistic, non-sensationalized look at how the authorities and the public would handle a deadly outbreak. Of course, the big and small screens serve up a variety of plague-infested entertainment, with most featuring zombies of some sort but some going into full-blown monster mode (the Resident Evil games and movies) and others taking more unexpected routes (12 Monkeys, Children of Men). We all know what it’s like to be sick, and our imaginations don’t have to leap very far to conjure up nightmarish scenarios.
Unlike nuclear war or a 2012-style upheaval, plagues have actually ravaged the world. The Black Death wasn’t a single occurrence; in medieval times, plagues came in waves every fifty years or so. The Black Death reared its ugly head over several decades, decimating Europe and paving the way for the Renaissance. Asia has been hit numerous times, and who can forget the Biblical plagues that God brought down upon Egypt in the Old Testament?
The titan of all plagues can be found in Revelation 16. Seven bowls of wrath are poured out upon the earth, and they are utterly terrifying. Here they are in order:
- Ugly, festering sores break out on the skin of those who worship the Beast.
- The sea turns to blood and every living thing in it dies.
- The rivers and springs become blood.
- The sun scorches those unlucky enough to still be alive.
- The kingdom of the Beast plunges into darkness and people gnaw on their tongues in agony.
- The Euphrates river dries up.
- A massive earthquake causes the cities of the nations to collapse.
If that’s not the stuff of nightmares, I don’t know what is. Suddenly the bird flu doesn’t sound so bad…