Tish Harrison Warren on How God’s Actions and Our Own Can Go Hand in Hand

The first thing to say about our battle against COVID-19 is that it represents a feat of human genius and diligence. Our dash from discovering a deadly virus to administering the first batch of vaccines in less than a year is a testament to a lot of people doing a lot of hard work. Medical researchers, public health officials, doctors, nurses, and first responders have labored heroically, day in and day out.

The second thing to say about our battle against COVID-19 is that it represents an act of God. Vaccines, ventilators, hand washing, face masks, and healing are astounding gifts of grace amid suffering and illness.

There is no contradiction between these two ideas. Our work and God’s work are blessedly and inseparably entwined.

But in public discourse, we often pit human and divine causality—God’s efforts and ours—against each other. Case in point: Last April, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo explained declining coronavirus rates by saying, “Our behavior has stopped the spread of the virus. God did not stop the spread of the virus.”

In my latest book, I call this idea “competitive agency”: If human responsibility and work are involved, God’s responsibility and work are not, and vice versa.

This view runs rampant even among some Christians. In California, former congressional candidate DeAnna Lorraine put it bluntly: “If you have a mask on, it means you actually don’t trust God.” (It seems this logic could also apply to wearing seat belts, driving the speed limit, or locking your doors at night.)

Finance guru Dave Ramsey has suggested that to wear masks or take other COVID-19 precautions is to live in fear. Other leaders, too, have echoed this idea. The implication is that if we really trust God, we ignore public health recommendations. God’s protection does not come through human expertise or behavior but in spite of it.

Though masked (or unmasked, as the case may be) in pious language, this logic is largely based in a deistic understanding of the world. For Cuomo, Lorraine, Ramsey, and others, God’s protection has little to do with human action.

Functionally, this kind of deism excludes God from human work, efforts, and choices. In his book The Unintended Reformation, Brad S. Gregory notes how this “competitive, either-or relationship between God and creation” departs from historic Christian theology because it “presupposes that Christianity’s sacramental view of reality is false—that if God is real, he does not or cannot act in and through his own creation.”

Competitive agency therefore leaves us either as passive players trusting God to zap the world with protection, like a wizard, or as solo actors protecting ourselves in a world devoid of God.

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Source: Christianity Today