Firefighters recently rescued a California woman who was stuck in a chimney. How did she get there? Allegedly she was trying to break into the home of a man she met online. After neighbors heard a woman crying they called firefighters, who had to dismantle eight feet of the chimney and then lubricate the flue with dish soap to rescue her.
I’m not sure if there’s a home security system that protects against chimney intruders. Or how small an intruder would have to be to get through one. Some problems are too unlikely to be worth our concern. And others are so large there doesn’t seem to be much point in worrying about them.
For instance, scientists say our planet’s magnetic field could flip from the North Pole to the South Pole in our lifetime. Such a shift last occurred 786,000 years ago. The global electric grid would be disrupted, and we could be bombarded with dangerous levels of solar radiation and cosmic rays, leading to more cancer. Though such an event would affect all life on our planet, there’s nothing we can do about it. So I would guess you’re not concerned.
While most have focused on the Ebola scare, Newsweek points us to epidemics that should cause us much greater alarm. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria infect some two million Americans each year, killing 23,000 of them. The outbreak of one such bacterium, Clostridium difficile, began in the U.S. and has spread around the world. It kills 14,000 people a year just in America. While 4,500 have died from the current Ebola outbreak, between 151,000 and 575,000 have died in the H1N1 influenza pandemic.
My point is not that we should ignore Ebola. Nor is it that we should live in fear of contracting another deadly disease. It is that we should distinguish between problems we can solve and those we cannot. The former deserve our best collaborative efforts. And both require our reliance on God.
For many years I wrestled with understanding the relationship between human effort and divine agency. “Let go and let God” sounds easier and more advisable than it often is. God told Noah to build an ark, when the Creator obviously could have provided one without human help. He instructed Moses to stretch his rod over the Red Sea, when he clearly did not need such assistance in parting the water and defeating the Egyptian army. Joshua’s armies were told to march around the fortified city of Jericho, when their activity had nothing to do with the city’s fall. Why?
Thinking About God, a terrific systematic theology by Fisher Humphreys, led me to the answer: as we work, God works. As we do what we can, he does what we cannot. We work to find a medical cure for Ebola and Clostridium difficile and other frightening diseases, while asking him for miraculous intervention where our efforts fall short. And our work in partnership with our Father honors him and transforms us.
There are days when our challenges seem too great and our culture too ungodly. But God still commands: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). It is always too soon to give up on God. Always.