“I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here,” Agent Smith tells Morpheus in The Matrix. “It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. … You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus.” It’s a memorable speech, but it turns out not to be great virology. As this study on the evolving virulence of HIV reminds us, the ideal dynamic between a virus and its host is not a disease state that leaves the host spent. In fact, the ultimate situation for a retrovirus like HIV may be permanent integration in the human genome with no associated pathology, as with many retroviruses before it.
Now, of course we aren’t there yet. HIV infection and AIDS are still very much a reality for millions in South Africa, Botswana, and around the world. They still need medication, support, and compassion. Still, I think it is important to remember that disease is not a necessary outcome of man and virus interacting, but a temporary dynamic born out of ignorance. The virus is learning how to live with our immune system, and our immune system is learning how to deal with the virus. Maybe there are some other relationships where conflict isn’t absolutely necessary but just a product of ignorance? Feel free to propose your own examples. Since it is advent, it reminds me that conflict between God and man isn’t required; by being incarnate as Jesus, God made it possible to know him and reverse our ignorance that temporarily created enmity between God and man.