In 1854, in the city of London, hundreds of people were dying of cholera. The doctors back then thought the cholera epidemic was caused by miasma. Miasma was believed to be the cause of many diseases. The air was causing disease.
Miasma is an old word that means "bad air." It was common to blame all manner of ailments on dank, stale, smelly air. "Open the windows" was the cure. In olden times, there was a lot of smelly air due to the lack of sanitary sewage systems. Showers were not common. Toilets that flushed were not invented. Raw sewage flowed in the streets. Have you ever had to visit an outhouse?
Modern septic systems or sewage treatment plants were unknown. Today we take these sanitary conveniences for granted. We barely appreciate the science that developed them. I'm old enough to remember when federal laws required states to develop secondary, then tertiary treatment facilities. Today wastewater is safely returned to our rivers and streams free of pollution.
At the time of the London cholera epidemic, the science about germs was in its infancy. Venders sold incense to ward off contagion much like cloves of garlic were used to banish vampires. Cholera was a terrifying disease. No one knew how it spread. It seemed like anyone could be the next victim. Before long, hundreds of victims had died of cholera in London. The city was in a panic. Today we know how to prevent this fatal disease with proper hygiene and clean water.
Someone had the bright idea of mapping the location of the victims. Epidemiologists do this routinely now but, back then, it was not practiced. Soon they made a surprising discovery -- most of the deaths were clustered around just one of the city's water pumps.
The next step was brilliant. They removed the pump handle. The cholera epidemic soon ended.
If something is pumping out poison, shouldn't it be stopped? The same strange word miasma appears in the Greek text of the Holy Bible. It is translated by the modern word "defile." "See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble and by it many be defiled..." (Hebrews 12:15 NAS). The Bible's "root of bitterness" refers specifically to unforgiveness. We fall short of God's grace by hating; not forgiving others.
This verse shows us another modern source of pollution. What is it? Not untreated sewage, although that's filthy. Not tainted wastewater, but it does spread illness. Not a water pump, but it does dispense wickedness. Do you know what it is? It is the media! It broadcasts biased views. Every day it spews poison -- contaminated ideas. It plants seeds of hatred, bitterness, envy, resentment and racial discord. It sows roots of bitterness into people's minds. If you are white, you must be racist. If you are male, you must abuse women. If you are a Christian, you must hate gays. If you are a conservative, you must be a violent extremist. If you love America, you must be a xenophobe. On and on it goes.
Regardless of its source, we need to clear the air of all sources of pollution. I want a heart void of offense, able to feel joy, free to love everyone -- even those with whom I disagree. I want to believe what is true, beautiful, noble, and honorable. I need God's word -- the sacred Scriptures, the Holy Bible -- as my frame of reference. That way, I can love the truth and I can love people.
-- Ron Wood is a retired pastor and author. Contact him at [email protected] or visit www.touchedbygrace.org or follow him on Facebook @touchedbygracenwa. Opinions expressed are those of the author.