Last week, Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, made a rather interesting theological observation. Commenting on the progress that his state has made in fighting the coronavirus, and praising the concrete efforts of medical personnel and ordinary citizens, he said, “The number is down because we brought the number down. God did not do that. Faith did not do that.” I won’t waste a lot of time exploring the hubris of that remark, which should be obvious to anyone. I might recommend, out of pastoral concern, that the governor read the first part of Genesis chapter eleven.
What I will do instead is explain the basic intellectual confusion that undergirds Cuomo’s assertion, one that, I fear, is shared even by many believers. The condition for the possibility of the governor’s declaration is the assumption that God is one competitive cause among many, one actor jostling for position and time upon the stage with a coterie of other actors. On this reading, God does certain things—usually of a rather spectacular nature—and creaturely causes do other things, usually more mundane. Thus, we can clearly parcel out responsibility and credit—some to God and some to finite agents. But this account is deeply unbiblical and alien to the Catholic theological tradition….
If you want a one-liner summary of this distinctively biblical perspective, you could not do better than this, from the prophet Isaiah: “O Lord, it is you who have accomplished all that we have done” (Isa. 26:12)….
…Which brings me back to Governor Cuomo. To claim that “God did not do that” because we did it is simply a category mistake. What brought the coronavirus numbers down? It is perfectly accurate to say, “The skill of doctors and nurses, the availability of hospital beds, the willingness of so many to shelter in place, etc.” But it is also perfectly valid to say that God brought those numbers down, precisely by grounding the entire complex of creaturely causality just referenced. This relationship holds at the metaphysical level, but it is perhaps even clearer when it comes to the psychological motivation of those dedicated physicians and nurses. Why ultimately were they willing to do what they did? I would be willing to bet a large percentage of them would say that it was a desire to serve others and to be pleasing to God.
The above comes from an April 21 posting by Bishop Robert Barron on Catholic World Report.