Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Open Wounds

subtitle: Quarantine For the Good of Loved Ones

Over dinner the other night with some Gabonese friends, we learned about a situation with a woman, whose husband is becoming weaker and weaker and is leaning on her more and more.  After 20 years of this, she is ready to walk out on the relationship.  They have 4 children together.

At first blush, we would say to her, "Listen- you have made vows to this man to be his wife for better or for worse.  You must stay with him.  God will bless your faithfulness in your marriage commitment and God will be your strength and sufficiency."  But wait... there's more...

This man has another wife (something allowed in this country) and does not lean on this other wife near as much as our friend.  Also, this man has tested positive for HIV.  Now, he is asking our friend to be a faithful wife and sleep with him at night and expecting her to have sex with him.  He says, "It's not good for a husband to be infected without his wife infected too". 

There's no good side to that statement.  Even the best interpretation of that statement- that he wants her to become sick so they can die together- is sick and wrong.  What may be the more accurate interpretation is that he doesn't want people seeing him suffering from HIV and then see his healthy wife and then wonder, "where did this guy pick up the virus?"  You see, it implicates more than his physical sickness- a moral virus.  He's attempting to dodge shame.

This year, as I read through the Bible (trying a little bit everyday!), I am reading in the French language ("Segond 21" version).  Today, I'm really stretching my vocab in reading about flesh wounds, rashes, and leprosy in Leviticus chapter 13.  This is detailed info for how a faith community should deal with people that are sick with open sores- not my most favorite part of the scriptures, but interesting.  At the end of this chapter, it instructs a person with an infectious wound to dress in a peculiar way (torn clothes; a covering over their lower face) and to remove themselves from others- to the outside of their village.  If anyone approaches, it is their responsibility to warn others of their condition.

On top of all pain from their physical wounds, now they are instructed that this will be their lot in life until they are better- ouch.  Can you imagine thw isolation?  Can you imagine the hurt and pain of the distance? I can only hope that these wounds would heal quickly.

Why would they do this?  A sick person would do this for the good of their family, friends, neighbors, community... they would do it because of a greater concern and love for others.

So, that brings us back to our friend and her HIV infected husband trying to infect her too.  I'm not going to try and convince you that I have all the answers here.  Certainly, there is a strong case to call this a twisted form of abuse and the husband has, with this action, undermined any sense of divine covenant in this marriage.  It's him that is bringing this covenant to and end, in my mind, not her.  Even simply for the sake of the four children, she needs to do all that she can to stay healthy.

As we ate our meal that night, I asked our friends what role the church plays in this.  They said that, normally, the church would be very involved, but the couple is not engaged in that process.  They are removed from a faith community in this.

In reading the scriptures, it seems that, in the passage referenced, the church would instruct the person who is sick and in danger of infecting others to remove themselves (change their behavior) to the extent that it would be a threat to others.  This would be their responsibility.

WAIT!  Don't hear me say that this man should be dropped off at the outskirts of Libreville.  Hardly.  Certainly, in this day in age, we have the means by which we can safely interact with people that are infected with a wide variety of sickness.  Only in very rare cases do we actually have to take extreme measures (think- "bubble boy") and quarantine someone.  In the case of HIV-AIDS, there is no reason that great care can't be given.  Face to face, with a personal touch, we can appropriately express our care, compassion, love, and friendship.  We can journey life together- shoulder to shoulder.  In fact, here in Africa, when we do our mobile medical clinics, we spend time dispelling myths about the WRONG idea that we need to quarantine HIV infected people. So, this is not what I'm saying.  No need for torn clothes and facial coverings!

WHAT I AM suggesting is that, the way in which we interact with one another... what we choose to DO and what we choose NOT TO DO... will give testimony to our Great God.  In this case, the husband's covenant love for his wife... the love that says he will honor her more than himself...  this love will motivate him to behavior that is life-giving... not life-taking.  So, there will be something missing from his life (sex)- just like those infected with sores, back in the day, who were missing a part of community life.  However, because of this sacrifice, others are kept healthy and not burdened so as to remove their impact on the community when they become sick too.

Sometime we talk alot about community and how we handle one another in the context of "normal", healthy situations.  However, what about how we handle messy situations?  I propose that it is in these situations where our Christ-centered lives have more opportunity to shine in a dark world (think- Mother Theresa).  In these difficult situations, whether we are the "healthy" ones or the "infected" ones, we both have opportunity to chose behavior that reflects "Kingdom of God" values of love and compassion for others- greater than love of self.

 Jesus replied:  
"‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart
 and with all your soul and with all your mind.'
This is the first and greatest commandment. 
And the second is like it: 
‘Love your neighbor as yourself.' "

1 comment:

  1. Steve, thank you for sharing this. As I read it, I started to wonder how many times I behaved the same way as the husband - perhaps more subtly, but still the same. When my heart is infected with gossip or a critical spirit, do I remove myself (my behavior) from others in order to avoid infecting them? No - all too often I want the opposite, even if I would never admit it out loud. Maybe because if they will gossip with me, or criticize with me, then I think I won't feel as much shame.

    It's something to think about.