Last Sunday morning, the Ebola crisis became more personal for me. As you know, a second Ebola patient was diagnosed in Dallas. This is the first person infected in the United States, and it happened in my city. She is a nurse who cared for Thomas Eric Duncan, our first Ebola patient. Suddenly Ebola was more than a news story.
The good news is that none of Duncan's family or friends has developed the disease so far. The bad news is that a professional health care worker, trained in proper protocols, was nevertheless infected. The Centers for Disease Control director stated that a breach in these protocols led to the infection. If it is difficult for health care workers in America to protect themselves, what of the doctors and military personnel being deployed in West Africa, where medical conditions are far more challenging? Will the Ebola epidemic continue to spread despite the sacrificial efforts of those fighting it?
If God is sovereign, he must either allow or cause all that happens. Which is true for this outbreak? What might God be saying to us?
I do not believe that God caused the Ebola crisis we are facing. There are times when he does in fact initiate disease as judgment on sin. Remember the plagues that struck Egypt, one of which caused "festering boils [which] broke out on people and animals" (Exodus 9:8-12). When King Herod stole God's glory for himself, "an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died" (Acts 12:23).
However, when God brings plague or other destruction in judgment, he warns the people first. He sent Moses to warn Pharaoh, Jonah to warn Nineveh, and Daniel to warn the king of Babylon. I am not aware of any prophetic warnings before the Ebola epidemic began in Africa and spread to the U.S.
While I do not believe that God caused this outbreak, he has allowed it. Why? Since he is "holy, holy, holy" (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8) he can never make a mistake. If he does not redeem all he allows for greater good, he made a mistake in allowing it. Since he cannot make a mistake, he must redeem all he allows. How could he be redeeming the Ebola epidemic?
One: we are developing Ebola vaccines and treatments more urgently than if this outbreak had not occurred. Perhaps more lives will be saved in the future as a result of this tragedy. Two: the nations of the world are joining forces in fighting this plague. Cuban doctors are working alongside American physicians; missionaries and soldiers are combating Ebola together. Three: we are learning once again the peril of self-reliance. The tiny Ebola virus endangers us despite the most advanced medical technology in human history. Our lives are more fragile than we want to admit.
In a recent First15, Craig Denison wrote: "You and I are only truly living to the degree that we surrender our lives to Jesus. . . . We often associate humility with weakness when in reality declaring our weakness before an Almighty God is the only posture of strength we can take."