In the last few weeks, I have been privileged to cling to incredible stories of divine healing. One involves a friend of mine with a kind of cancer from which the doctors said nobody in their records has ever recovered. This friend is, a year after his “expiration date,” cancer-free, and the doctors are gobsmacked, though my friend, a Christian, has an explanation. Another Christian friend was in an end-stage coma for liver failure around 15 years ago, and is now living a very full and healthful life, eight years past the average survival window for liver transplant recipients.
I have more stories that would build your faith, of miraculous healings, the confluence of extremely unlikely events, and the bravery, boldness and skill of doctors. I personally know of zero stories where those who were miraculously healed received healing while actively refusing medical treatment.
In the three Synoptic Gospels, Matthew 8:4, Mark 1:44, and Luke 5:14, Jesus tells a man with leprosy “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” Moses wrote of a skin condition called “tzaraat.” It was considered more than just uncleanness or a physical affliction.
Diagnosis and treatment of this condition was as much spiritual as hygienic. Rabbis had been interpreting Leviticus chapters 13 and 14 for millennia. The story of Naaman in 2 Kings chapter 5, the lepers who plundered the Arameans in 2 Kings 7, and Kings Azariah and Uziah all dealt with tzaraat.
Jesus was certainly familiar with all those Scriptures, and when he made the leper clean, he sent the man to the priest for examination. Jesus told the man to tell no one because he wanted the priest to declare the man clean, spiritually and physically, without being biased by stories of the miracle.
After a three-week battle with COVID-19, Florida radio host Marc Bernier succumbed. He was an outspoken critic of vaccine mandates, and himself a refusenik, for his own reasons. George Conway marked the event, ghoulishly.
A friend of Bernier’s, Justin Gates, had an on-air exchange in December about vaccination.
Bernier responded: “I’m not taking it.”
Gates: “Come on!”
Bernier: “Are you kidding me? Mr. Anti-Vax? Jeepers.”
Bernier held an anti-vaccine position out of personal belief, which was consistently applied, according to his friend Mel Stack. He was not out there on the radio making hay out of a political harvest of fear. It was his personal decision to forego the vaccine, and he paid for his choice with his life.
I personally know many people, from the various groups I associate with, who for their own reasons have become refuseniks. I’m sure this is no different for you. I don’t walk around with a “Get the Shot” T-shirt, or an armband, or asking everyone I meet if they’ve gotten their jab, hectoring those who haven’t. I do have a lot of sympathy for those I know who have chosen not to be vaccinated, especially those who have particularly complex cases, or are in the hospital fighting for their lives.
When the unvaccinated are in the hospital suffering from COVID-19—or in the grave having lost the battle—it is not the place to make your point about getting vaccinated. It’s far too late for the stricken, and it’s far too brutal for their loved ones and friends.
Instead, we Christians who have chosen to be vaccinated should focus on the Scriptural command to love. We are not priests diagnosing tzaraat. We are not declaring sin over an individual soul that God didn’t choose to miraculously heal. What kind of pride and self-righteousness is it to assume the role of judge of someone’s soul based on receiving an injection?
Certainly, there is room—later—for regret, and actual guilt for people who, irresponsibly, spread coronavirus by becoming vectors for infection, for themselves and others. But to believe that somehow, those who got sick deserved what they got is a grotesque, and anti-Biblical, position.
There are Christians who were vaccinated but still got infected with the Delta variant. There are some who were vaccinated, got COVID-19, became gravely ill, and died. Yes, that’s more rare than the unvaccinated crowding hospital beds, but it does happen. If the unvaccinated are to be blamed for their own sickness, and the sickness of others, who do we blame when someone did everything right, but still died?
The same God who is supposed to protect us when we pray Psalm 91? The same God who performs medical miracles?
Many Christians believe that God will protect them from COVID-19, and justify their belief with stories that the disease, and the vaccines, were sent by evil people with the intention of accumulating power, enslaving those of faith (along with everyone else), and moving the world to a post-Christian future, one where people of faith are removed from the public square, ridiculed and stripped of authority.
Many see COVID-19 as the Jews saw tzaraat, and they see taking the vaccine as evidence of a failure of faith in God to cleanse it. To these people, this vaccine, unlike the ones we received as children for mumps, measles, polio and other dread diseases, is one that God did not bless.
I respect people’s liberty of opinion. I think taking the vaccine—or any medicine—into one’s body is a deeply personal decision.
The COVID-19 vaccines are not a simple flu mist. They carry, for most people, a significant suitcase full of side effects. I took the Janssen/J&J vaccine in April, and for the better part of a day, felt like a truck hit me. I don’t think I necessarily needed the vaccine, having had COVID-19 in October 2020. My body already possesses antibodies and protection for that disease—how much the vaccine enhanced the natural protection is debatable.
I do know, however, the number of “double breakthrough” infections is vanishingly small, so I calculated the risk as acceptable for me. I didn’t see a statistically significant percentage of people getting seriously ill from the vaccines to fear taking one.
But the goalposts have moved so many times in the last 18 months that people are legitimately afraid of everything, and they must put their faith in something. You may say it’s easier to put your faith in God with the vaccines than in God without the vaccines, but our (mis)information machine on the news and social media hasn’t presented that option. The options have been to place your faith in the vaccines, or place your faith in God: A false choice that millions have not yet recognized as error.
When Christians like Dan Darling are fired for encouraging vaccination, and skeptics like Alex Berenson are suspended from Twitter for suggesting the vaccines aren’t effective, people are left with the impression that there’s no middle ground. The message has been “Get vaccinated, or die” on one side; and “Trust God or perish” on the other.
I’ve written about Berenson before. He’s got the pedigree of a legitimate reporter, one who is extremely skeptical of the “big pharma” message. He’s legitimately wrong about the vaccines, but he’s not wrong that the goalposts have been set that the vaccines are somehow magically effective, and that failure to get vaccinated is being cast as equivalent to a national sin.
Every nation, Australia being the latest, that set a zero-COVID target has had that goalpost destroyed. Americans were sold (including, and notably with gusto, by “Operation Warp Speed” Donald Trump) on the vaccines being safe, effective, available, and the answer to all our problems. The problem was packaged, over-simplified, and shoved down our throats, all while any skepticism, no matter how mild, of that view, was regarded as fringe lunacy.
One example: ivermectin is used as a dewormer for horses and cattle. It’s also a drug approved by the FDA for human use. The FDA warns that ivermectin should not be used to treat COVID-19. In the warning, the agency focuses on the drug’s use in animals, and notes that it’s approved for specific treatments for parasites in humans. Certainly, nobody should take their health into their own hands with medicines they don’t understand. Don’t take horse medicine even if you can get it without a prescription. That message is clear and needed.
But the reaction goes well beyond that message, and in fact has probably encouraged vaccine skeptics to explore self-experimentation. Objection to the reporting of, or the mere mention of, the scientific exploration of using ivermectin to treat COVID-19, even in patients who are on their death beds and without any other options, who have shown some responsiveness to the treatment, is bordering on fanatical.
Matt Taibbi wrote:
The drug has as a result ended up caught between two political movements — one populist, which believes officials are prone to lying and can’t be trusted, and one anti-populist, which associates theories about unapproved cures with political theories of stolen elections and other crazes. The former movement is sure the pharmaceutical companies are suppressing the drug because it’s been off-patent since 1996 and would imperil billions in revenues for vaccines and $3000-a-pop drugs like remdesivir if proven effective. The latter movement assumes ivermectin advocates are political grifters, cynically riding mistrust of the drug for votes, for headlines, and to undermine the authority of experts.
Caught in between are ordinary people and doctors like Bruce Yaffe, a New York physician known for a political discussion group he’s been holding since 1979. Yaffe (disclaimer: I first met Bruce decades ago) came across ivermectin as many physicians in the last year did, spotting the small Australian study showing that the drug seemed to inhibit the virus in vitro. He treated one patient, seemed to get results, and over the course of the next year treated a few dozen more, seeing enough good results that he felt more studies were at least warranted. “I don’t want to make any claims,” Yaffe says, “but I’ve been frustrated… I’ve been lobbying for someone to do a more aggressive study.”
Any mention of ivermectin, aside from the official position of the FDA, on YouTube or Facebook will draw the censor’s heavy hand.
When an entire segment of the population is already feeling persecuted, silenced, and having its fears marginalized, it’s no wonder that their knee-jerk response will be one of heel-digging and wagon-circling, especially among many Evangelical Christians who equate resistance to persecution with faith.
Now in the light of a massive wave of Delta COVID-19 infections, as the reality of their precarious decision is finally weighing upon many refuseniks, those who once tried to reason with them are frustrated and bitter in their reproach. It reminds me of Martin Luther’s later writing on Jews, after many years of trying to befriend the Jewish community, then being rebuffed. Ghoulish pronouncements and I-told-you-so’s, even among many Christians, will not heal the breach in trust.
David French quoted Martin Luther, who lived during a plague, saying “If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others.” One cannot hide from God’s sovereignty. What God demands will certainly be taken. What God gives freely, nobody can snatch away.
In Matthew 5, Jesus taught that we should turn the other cheek:
44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
If God should require anyone’s life this night, or at any time, whether by COVID-19, vaccinated or unvaccinated, that life is His to claim when He chooses. We are fools to consider that we can subvert God’s will by medicine. But should He choose to heal one who foolishly refuses a vaccine, that is also His affair, and not ours.
Any Christian who listens to another—a preacher, teacher, or even a trusted friend—tell them not to accept the vaccine, and does not check with the Lord for themselves, is being foolish. The question is actually a test of one’s life in faith—as one cannot be saved by another’s faith, one also cannot put blind faith in another’s message from God applicable to one’s own very life and soul.
Christians must ask God for these answers, who will give an answer by the Holy Spirit who lives in each believer, who is in Christ. If a Christian has lived a life only of religious observance, and has never heard a heart-check or message from the Lord in their own heart, then how can they know the vaccine is bad for them? How can that person have any assurance God will save them by not taking medicine versus by the medicine itself?
It needs to be asked: If a Christian professes to hear God giving words for themselves and others, does that person’s life line up with a Godly example? Having a secret sinful life, or fleecing the flock for money or influence guarantees the message will be compromised. (Read the story of Balaam, Balak, and the donkey.) And those people will be responsible for the deaths their intransigence causes.
But who are the rest of us to presume that someone with a personal objection to the vaccine is not hearing from God, or does not have the spiritual maturity, or the piousness of spirit to receive such a truth for themselves? Are we the judge of their actions and motives?
I am not saying that a known charlatan or person of dubious character is to be believed at face value. I am saying that someone like Marc Bernier (and I have no idea of his faith or even if he was a believer) cannot be presumed to be some kind of heretic or crackpot simply because he died from a disease that has a working vaccine. Dancing on his grave in presumption is also a terrible sin.
The goalposts of perception were always wrong, and the real goalposts are that more people will die of COVID-19 before this is over. Some will be due to their own poor choice; some will be in spite of their good choice. None of us have an expiration date stamped on the bottom of our feet. The sun rises, and the rain falls, on the just and the unjust.
Sometimes the just will get fired for suggesting wisdom. Sometimes a person who, by all rights and the vaccine’s power, should not die, dies. We cannot know God’s perfect will in these circumstances, except by our own walk and our own talk with God.
They will get COVID-19 or be spared; they will live or die, but we as Christians are to love them all as God loves them. As for the living and the dead, let God sort them out.
Follow Steve on Twitter @stevengberman.
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