Some Christians refuse all vaccines on the basis that they are somehow not natural or that they believe God will protect them from diseases. Some argue that God determines how long we should live so we cannot ‘save’ our lives. But we do things all the time to try and reduce our risk of disease or death.
Psalm 91 is sometimes quoted about the current pandemic. It suggests God will protect us and states, ‘Nor will any plague come near your tent’ (v10, NASB)
This beautiful psalm comforts us that we do not face our problems alone. We must not misinterpret it as a magical promise that no Christian will suffer. Nobody thinks it means that if you jump off a building angels will save you (v12). The devil tempted Jesus to do just that. Jesus reply was curt:
‘Again, it is written, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”’(Matthew 4:7, ESV)
We should not presume upon the protection of God and use this psalm as an excuse not to take steps to protect ourselves. To do so could be to test God the same way that Satan urged Jesus.
God’s protection offered in this psalm is not absolute. It is a spiritual, mental and eternal protection. The same concept is in one of the most famous verses in the Bible which appears to promise at first glance we will never die. Instead, Christians do die. It’s just that when we do our death is not permanent:
‘For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.’(John 3:16, Good News Bible)
Psalm 91 rightly used gives great comfort and hope but our hope is not for a trouble and sickness free ‘today’ but for a glorious ‘eternity’ to come. As Jesus himself promised:
‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’(John 16:33, ESV)
Despite the promises of God’s protection, we must still act responsibly, such as by wearing a seat belt when we get in a car. The use of medicines and vaccines are similar. We should not presume that God will shield us from the consequences of living in a fallen broken world.
In the time of the New Testament there was a lot of miraculous healing power at work but even the Apostles were not immune to sickness, nor were they able to heal everyone. Paul not only travelled with a personal Physician, Luke, but advocated the use of basic medical remedies to improve his friend’s health:
‘No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.’(1 Timothy 5:23, ESV)
The idea that God will protect faith-filled Christians from COVID-19 could be called an over-realised eschatology for those who like theological terms.
Some other Christians over-emphasise the sovereignty of God. This can lead to passivity and is another reason some turn down vaccines or other medical help.
COVID-19 vaccination is a life-or-death issue for believers too. In the clinical studies nobody got severe COVID-19, were hospitalised or died more than a few days after their first dose of any of the three main vaccines (Astra-Zeneca, Pfizer, or Moderna).
We do not yet know whether they will prevent all severe disease in people with other co-morbid conditions, and they are likely not to work as well in the immune compromised. Even if you believe that you yourself are not in a high-risk group, others around you are.
Vaccination is not just an act of self-preservation. It is an act of love towards our neighbours to do them good.
Failing to act to protect those who are more vulnerable than ourselves could itself constitute a sin of omission as we might be the direct cause of harm that is preventable. This is the same argument for social distancing and wearing masks. By taking steps to prevent ourselves getting and transmitting COVID-19 we are saving the lives of others less fortunate.
Most Christians do not reject medicines and medical help in general. There is no reason to reject vaccination wholesale as a non-Christian concept. God has given humans wisdom to create medicines and vaccines and we can accept them as coming from the common grace that he lavishes on all of us whether we follow him or not.
Adrian Warnock is a British psychiatrist, clinical researcher, author and blogger. This article is abridged from his Patheos blog which also includes a summary of the scientific evidence and the biblical ethics of vaccination.