The thoughts expressed in the following article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the consensus of opinion of B. H. Carroll Theological Institute’s faculty, staff, and board of governors. They are offered in the interest of stimulating respectful discussion.
There is a story preachers used to tell about a man in a flood. He climbed up on the roof of his house to escape the rising water and waited for help to arrive. A boat came along and offered him a ride, but he refused, telling them God would save him. An hour later, a helicopter arrived and offered the man a ride out of the area. Again, he refused, reasoning God would save him. After another hour, a second boat passed. Once again, its operator offered the man a ride, and once again, he refused. Finally, the floodwaters rose so high that they swept the man off his roof, and he drowned.
When the man arrived at heaven’s gate, he asked the Lord, “Why didn’t you save me?”
“I sent you two boats and a helicopter,” the Lord replied. “What more do you want?”
This week, we are taking a break from our series on marriage to deal with a troubling trend in North American Christianity. Too many people are construing refusal to take the COVID19 vaccine as an expression of their faith. Like the man in the preacher’s parable, they are refusing the help God is offering to them, treating with disdain the efforts of smart and thoughtful people around the world and betting that a more miraculous deliverance is forthcoming.
The Way God Works
It is hard to resist the allure of the miraculous. We all want to see something happen in our lives that we know could only have been done by God. Moreover, the temptation to dictate to God the terms under which He must work is as old as the Bible itself (cf. 2 Kings 5:1-27).
But God does not work that way. We cannot dictate to Him how He will bring deliverance to His people, and that deliverance often comes in ways which are humbler and more this-worldly than we expect. This is not to say God never does miracles. The whole point of Christianity is that God raised Jesus from the dead—and it doesn’t take a scientist to know people aren’t usually raised from the dead. Nevertheless, much of Israel’s story, and the story of the church, is taken up with ordinary incidents orchestrated by a wise and gracious God.
Now, let’s be clear about what we are not talking about. We are not talking about whether, and to what extent, public health emergencies can be used by governments to mandate actions on the part of citizens or curtail certain freedoms. This is an important issue for Christians, and others, who live in democratic societies to consider, but it is not the issue we are addressing here.
We are also not talking about the relative wisdom of using social pressure to enforce conformity to certain behavioral expectations. Again, this is an important issue for thoughtful people to discuss, and it relates to more than just best practices for tackling the current pandemic. But that is not the issue we are discussing, either.
We are discussing whether it is an act of faith to refuse to take a vaccine that is proven to be safe and effective. And the answer is a resounding, though qualified, “no.”
The qualification to our answer can be found in the simple fact that some people are unable to take the vaccine for one reason or another. They have talked the situation over with their doctor, and they have decided to listen to their doctor’s advice. As all of us should, they are doing the best they know how to do in order to protect their life while also leaving the ultimate result up to God.
But in most other cases, refusing to take the COVID19 vaccine is not an act of faith. Indeed, too often it is an act of fear—fear of science, fear of government, fear of the academic and other institutions that shape our culture. Perhaps most of all, it is fear of the limitations that are inherent in any human endeavor.
When Fear and Faith Collide
This fear is not entirely unwarranted. The number of institutions that have failed the human race over just the last few decades cannot be counted. But we can acknowledge the legitimacy of our fears while also overcoming them.
You see, our faith is not in people. Our faith is not in science. Our faith is not in government, academia, the media, or even the church. Our faith is in God. And because we trust God to manage His world—and our lives—as He sees fit, we don’t have to take that task upon ourselves. We can move with courage on the basis of the best information we have, knowing that, even if it turns out later that we are wrong, God is still in charge and still at work.
Obviously, overcoming our fears has public health benefits. The more people get vaccinated, the less likely it is that the virus will spread. The less it spreads, the less it mutates, fewer people will die, and fewer people will be permanently debilitated.
But there is also a missional benefit to overcoming our fears. Our non-Christian neighbors are watching how we handle this crisis. So far, I’m afraid, they have not seen much to inspire confidence—either in our citizenship or in our common sense. Do we really want to be known as the crazy people who won’t get vaccinated, and will that really help us show our neighbors that the way of Jesus is the way to life?