“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world,” Ephesians 6:12a (NLT)
A shroud of silence hung eerily over deserted streets, homes, businesses, schoolyards and other public places that once bustled with activity. Outside of a few lonely security guards wearing protective clothing, there were no normal signs of life. No people, no pets, no stirring. Wherever we looked, nature appeared to be taking over each vacant town as greenery and wildlife seemed to be flourishing unchecked by human interference. It was as if all human life had been squeezed out of the area by an invisible, deadly force. Temporary gates now barred entrances to every street and driveway.
Entering the vicinity, we passed massive dumps filled with radioactive waste and radiation monitors posted along the road flashed cryptic numbers warning us of unseen dangers. We were driving through the Fukushima radiation exclusion zone that had once been the thriving home of 150,000 inhabitants. They had been suddenly forced to flee following the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011 and the resultant tsunami that compromised the local nuclear plants.
The radiation exclusion zone was initially off limits to everyone, but several years later, it was now possible to drive through portions of the formerly forbidden region. With the passing of additional time, residents were eventually allowed to return to designated areas that were declared safe for human habitation. As part of a massive decontamination effort, a literal army of government workers had laboriously scrubbed down the more effected areas of those previously deserted towns and even removed thousands of tons of radioactive topsoil and vegetation. The nuclear reactors were also decommissioned and together, the resultant cleanup attempts had served to lower some of the radiation markers. However, despite these large scale endeavors, the majority of the local residents were understandably hesitant to return to their homes and businesses. To lure them back, the government had rebuilt or reopened schools, shopping areas, sports centers, hospitals, housing complexes and offered additional financial incentives. But the scars on both the land and in people’s hearts still stubbornly remained; such wounds will likely take decades to fully heal.
Now, around the world and a couple of years later, silent city streets, daily news postings of COVID-19 related deaths and accompanying fears have an uncanny similarity to that unique experience in Fukushima. Interestingly enough, on that day when we drove through those modern Japanese ghost towns, my thoughts were drawn to other unseen dangers besides the flashing numbers on the radiation monitors. Since we live in a physical world, it is natural to become preoccupied with matters of physical safety. However, the Apostle Paul warned the Ephesian Christians (Ephesians 6:12) that ever present dangers of a different nature were potentially far more lethal. These dangers are the radioactive seeds of pride, selfishness, anger, apathy, strife, slander, lust and greed that are sown unseen by the Evil One himself, silently destroying healthy lives and communities. This form of pandemic can be far more destructive than any physical terror we might have to face in the present or in days to come. Fortunately, God has graciously provided His Word, His Spirit and His people to serve as warning monitors to assist us as we travel through life facing seen and unseen perils. Our safety and well-being are, thankfully, in His hands, but we must give heed to the warnings posted for our protection.