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Worst Time Ever?

May 17, 2014


What’s a bad day? What’s a bad year? Is it all relative, or is there anywhere in history one can point to and say “Wow, that truly deserves to be number 1.”

I imagine most people would probably place the Holocaust, or some other similar genocide at the top of the list. It’s hard to imagine a scenario worse than Auschwitz. But as I think about it, I think there might be a situation even worse than the Holocaust. The ultimate “I’m having a bad day, but at least it’s nowhere near as bad as X.”

I’m thinking about the Black Death.


In case you don’t know, the Black Death was a pandemic that tore through Europe in its most destructive form during the years 1348-50. It killed an estimated 75-200 million people (Asia & Europe) and 30–60% of Europe’s total population, at a time when the earth’s total population was only 450 million.

The symptoms were horrendous. Tumor like growths would appear all over your body, which oozed pus when opened, your skin would die and turn black, spots and rashes would cover your body, followed by an acute fever and vomiting of blood. You would die within 2-7 days.


But that is only the disease. What about the aftermath? For starters, remember this is the 14th century – they don’t know where diseases come from. It’s one thing for a disease like this to happen today, where we all know it’s caused by some germ and thus can begin the campaign to find the cure. We can rationally understand what’s happening even if we can’t solve the problem. But imagine not having any idea of where this sickness has come from or how to get rid of it. At worse, you begin to blame the outsiders in your culture (antisemitism – the persecution of the Jews – increased immensely during this time). At best, you think it might be caused by God or the Devil. But then why are all the clergy getting it?


The clergy angle is interesting. Many, being human, were terrified of the disease. Some would even refuse to help their sick congregants for fear of their own lives. And then they would die anyway. So many clergy ended up dying, the Church needed to replace them with less-than-qualified candidates. Many historians think that this loss of wisdom and experience, the plethora of people who probably should have never been clergy entering the priesthood, on top of the disillusion caused by priests abandoning their parishioners or not being able to do much to help them, is what led to the later corruption and mindset that caused the Protestant Reformation. No Black Death, no Protestant Reformation, no wars caused by religious upheaval, potentially hundreds of thousands of lives saved and church splits prevented.

Also, in a world where human relationships and community were key, imagine how alone people felt. Everyone in your family is dead, but none of your friends want anything to do with you because they are afraid they will get sick from you. Your pastor hasn’t come see you, either because he is dead or justifiably terrified. So you sit alone, crying, beside the rotten corpses of your partner and children, wondering what on earth you did to deserve this.

I could be wrong. There has been plenty of horrible situations throughout history. But, the magnitude of this event coupled with the ignorance of the populace involved, I think puts the Black Death, at the very least, in contention for “worst time in history.”

Have a nice day 🙂


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