While working with Ebola victims in Liberia for their charity organizations, Dr. Kent Brantly, age 33, and Nancy Writebol, age 59, were infected with Ebola Virus Disease. Now, thanks to the benefits of an experimental drug ZMapp as well as top-quality Liberian and American medical attention, both are expected to make full recoveries.
Both Brantly and Writebol, after overcoming the terrible virus, credited and thanked God. Brantly said, “I am forever thankful to God for sparing my life and am glad for any attention my sickness has attracted to the plight of West Africa in the midst of this epidemic. . . . I serve a faithful God who answers prayers.” Similarly, Writebol’s husband, David, said, “We want to give God all the credit and all the glory for what’s happened.”
That Brantly and Writebol survived such a deadly virus is unquestionably something we should be grateful for. To be infected with such a disease is something that nobody deserves. EVD, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), “is a severe acute viral illness often characterized by the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache, and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding.”
To be clear, the missionaries and aid workers, who quite literally risk their lives to help others, are heroes who deserve the utmost respect and admiration.
However, David Writebol’s statement — that God deserves “all the credit and all the glory for what’s happened” — deserves more scrutiny.
If we’re giving God credit for two survivors — who had the benefit of five infectious disease experts and 21 nurses providing advanced medical care and experimental drugs — we must also, as Writebol’s husband suggested, “give God all the credit,” and I mean all the credit.
As of September 3, over 3,500 people have been infected with Ebola, and over 1,900 have died, according to WHO. The organization even estimated that the outbreak “could grow to 20,000 cases and could take six to nine months to contain.”
If we truly believe that God deserves “all the glory” of saving a few individuals, why don’t we also hold God accountable for the thousands of infections and deaths?
By giving credit to God, we’re essentially telling the thousands of victims who don’t have such incredible healthcare that God doesn’t care about them.
. . . it’s selfish to act as if God has selected you for blessings while he allows so much pain and violence and suffering in the world for so many others.
Perhaps it’s not as special to attribute the positive things in our lives to the help of our fellow mere mortals, or even simply to luck or coincidence, but it’s selfish to act as if God has selected you for blessings while he allows so much pain and violence and suffering in the world for so many others.
Of course, I’m in no place to criticize heroes like Brantly and Writebol, who have actually served those in need and endured unimaginable suffering. Their work has, of course, helped far more people than my ranting columns ever will.
But Christians need to develop a different language for expressing their gratitude in situations like these. By attributing their recoveries to “a faithful God who answers prayers,” they’re confusing matters for the countless others who prayed and did not receive a full recovery.
To be fair, in addition to thanking God, both survivors did also credit their doctors and ZMapp and supportive care for their recovery. Writebol, when asked what cured her, told NBC News, “I would say the Lord. His merciful, gracious hand saved me in a way that used people and medication and a drug that had not been released. I think all of those things have played into our recovery.” Brantly added, “I think God uses people and drugs and events and circumstances all the time to work his miracles. . . . I think God worked through those people to save me.”
But suggesting that “God saved my life” — as if divine intervention was the deciding factor – also suggests that God chose not to save the Spanish priest and Liberian doctor, both of whom also received the experimental drug ZMapp. Why weren’t they blessed with a recovery? Does God just prefer Americans?
In the same NBC News interview, Writebol did acknowledge that question: “We don’t understand the way that the Lord works. Why did God allow us to receive treatment? Why were we saved and not others? I don’t know we can ever answer that question.”
Of course, I do understand that, in all likelihood, Brantly and Writebol are genuinely and humbly expressing gratitude for their inexplicable and incredibly fortunate recoveries.
Still, the words they choose to express that gratitude carry dark theological questions — questions at the very heart of this loving God they believe in. Take another of Writebol’s comments: “[R]eally, this is not our story, it is God’s story.” That means the 1,900 dead and future months of struggle among thousands more people against this awful disease is God’s story, too. In an honest attempt to credit and glorify God for saving their lives, these Christians are actually highlighting God’s refusal or inability to save all the others who are suffering.
From my agnostic perspective, giving God credit for the work of mortals is insulting to the doctors and aid workers who have dedicated their lives to helping others, and to the many sick and dying outside of the few survivors who God did decide to save.
Image courtesy of European Commission DG ECHO.