The curve is flattening. So who gets the credit? Here’s a theological answer.

By Brandon Evans:
 
There has been some good news recently. We have been staying at home, wearing masks, and our healthcare workers have been working tirelessly to fight the pandemic. And the curve is flattening.
 
So who gets the credit for this?
 
NY Governor Andrew Cuomo offered his opinion in a CNN interview a couple days ago. He said, “Our behavior has stopped the spread of the virus. God did not stop the spread of the virus. What we do, and how we act, will dictate how that virus spreads.”
 
 
I’m with you, Michael. Cuomo’s view is that God, if he even exists, is not involved in our fight against Covid-19. But that is not true. God is very much involved in stopping the virus (more on this in a bit).
 
But I’m not here to pick on Cuomo. On the other side, Hobby Lobby CEO David Green notably appealed to the oft-used slogan “God is in control” in his decision to keep the chain open, despite the warnings from health officials. (Then he subsequently closed stores and laid off workers, but that’s another story.) The question is, are we able to act recklessly and just trust God is going to stop the virus because “he’s in control”?
 
 
Wrong, Michael! We are very much responsible to stop this virus through our actions. Specifically, through social distancing, washing hands, and wearing masks.
 
So Michael, it’s pretty simple. God is stopping the virus and we are stopping the virus. Both get credit for the flattening curve. Make sense?
 
 
I get that. This is actually a complicated concept. But A.W. Tozer’s timelessly powerful statement is as true today as it ever has been: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” What we think about God is crucial right now, because that shapes our thoughts, emotions, and actions as the pandemic continues. Our theology about providence—God’s involvement in the world he has created—has life and death implications at the moment.
 
Here’s the problem. Both Governor Cuomo and David Green (and many of us) reflect either/or thinking. In this case, either God is stopping the virus or we’re stopping it.
 
But this is an unnecessary dichotomy. And it is not how God operates in this world.
 
 
Ok, I’ll try to break it down simply.
 
 
I know you are. I’m not trying to be condescending. But this is a blog post, so brevity is key. I’ll break it down into three essential truths.
 
Truth #1: God is in utter control of the universe.
 
God has created everything. There is not a single entity—even a virus—that arose independently from him (Genesis 1:1; Colossians 1:16). And God is actively involved in the tiniest details of the universe. He causes the grass to grow (Psalm 104:14); and knows the number of hairs on each of our heads (Luke 12:7).
 
God is also in control of outcomes. He decides events (Judges 11:27); controls the course of nations (Job 12:23); and even controls “chance” events (Proverbs 16:33). Whatever God wants to do about the virus, he is going to do.
 
The underlying point is that God didn’t create the universe and abandon it to run on its own. He is actively involved in every detail of our lives. Our universe is not the product of random chance.
 
Now, how does God exercise his control? Sometimes he performs miracles. But usually he doesn’t. Usually, he works through what we would consider natural processes—like immune system responses, chemical reactions, and the laws of physics. But the bottom line is that nothing happens outside of God’s will—including the flattening of the curve. God is in total control of the outcomes from this pandemic.
 
 
No, Michael. You’re back to either/or thinking. You are not an empty shell that is controlled by God. You are very much a willing and active participant in God’s world. The universe isn’t run by fate, either.
 
So here’s the second important truth.
 
Truth #2: Our actions matter.
 
Humans have wills. We are responsible for our behavior. God’s commandments only make sense if this is true. And our prayers matter. As the apostle James reminds us, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2).
 
God has a plan for our lives that will be fulfilled. And we make real choices that really matter. The side by side affirmation of God’s action and human action is all over the Bible.
 
So this leads to the third essential truth.
 
Truth #3: God carries out his eternal plan, in part, through our actions.
 
The biblical worldview is that God’s will is carried out through willing human agents.
 
For example, God says he’s going to harden Pharaoh’s heart to not free Israel from slavery in Egypt, and Pharoah hardens his own heart (Exodus 4:21; 8:15).
 
And when God tells Israel through the prophets that he’s going to bring judgment because of their wickedness, he does. But he does it through Babylonian conquest.
 
Want me to go on?
 
 
Too bad. There’s one more big one.
 
In Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, he says, “This Jesus offered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:23) Did God cause Jesus to die? Yes. That was his “definite plan”. But did humans carry it out through their actions? Yes. Both the divine will and human wills were involved in the central event in all of human history (and everything leading up to it).
 
Another way to put it is that God is the primary cause of all things, even though we can’t see him. Just like with the wind—we can’t see it, but we can see its effects. And the actions of created things are secondary causes, even though they are what we see.
 
So right now, God is flattening the curve, and he’s doing so through the medically good actions of human beings.
 
Got it?
 
 
Ok. Take a coin, Michael. On one side is heads [God’s will]. On the other side is tails [human actions]. Both sides make up the same coin. It is true to say “God is flattening the curve” and it is true to say “we are flattening the curve.” These are two sides to the same coin.
 
The problem is that we want to see both sides of the coin at the same time. Is that possible?
 
 
Yesh!  You’re actually… right. Both sides can be seen at the same time, but only with a mirror behind the coin reflecting the backside. God, however, has not given us the mirror to see how the two sides of the providence coin—his will and our wills—work concurrently. So we ultimately have to appeal to a level of mystery when it comes to understanding how our wills work in conjunction with God’s. But when Jesus returns, we will have the mirror to see how all of this worked together.
 
So here’s where all of this matters for us.
 
If we diminish God’s activity in this world, we puff ourselves up. And that is the core of our human problems. But a proper understanding of God’s control over all things reminds us of our limitations. We are not ultimately in control of the universe (even though we like to think we are.) And it also gives us hope and a break from fear, because God is “working all things according to the counsel of his will,” as Paul says in Ephesians 1:11. We don’t know the specific reasons for the pandemic, but we do know that God is using it for ultimate good.
 
And on the flipside, if we diminish our responsibility in this world, we will be agents of destruction rather than healing. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves, and right now (and I guess always) that love is shown through wise and safe health practices.
 
To sum it up, God is bringing healing. And he is bringing healing through medicine, healthcare workers, and our efforts to avoid contracting the virus. This doesn’t diminish God’s control or elevate ours—that is precisely how he works in the world.
 
So give God credit as well as credit to the people who are fighting against the disease.
 
And trust God with the outcomes, because he is using this pandemic for his ultimate purpose of redeeming the cosmos.