I’ve been seeing a lot of news about vaccines lately in the social media headlines so I figured I would throw in my however much these thoughts are worth. A frustrating situation is when patients refuse medical treatment because they believe in God. But wait, I believe in God too, and I don’t remember the Bible ever saying we shouldn’t use medicine. The reasoning, I think, goes something like this: God is the all-powerful healer who holds our lives in His hands, and so if it’s His will that I get sick, then I’ll just get sick because if it’s His will to heal me, He can, and He will if I have enough faith in Him (and if I take medications, this would mean I don’t have enough faith).
While I do agree that God is the all-powerful healer who hold our lives in His hands who allows sickness in this world as a result of sin, and that if He wanted to, He could miraculously heal anyone of any disease, I do believe that medicine and faith are not mutually exclusive. God can do miracles, but usually God works through natural processes and the creative abilities and intellect that He has given to human beings, His image bearers. Those who would trust exclusively on God for medical needs probably would have no problem going down to the local store to buy food, or the mall to buy clothes. Even though God is fully capable of supernaturally providing food and clothing (manna for the Israelites and coverings for Adam and Even), He has chosen to meet those needs through people who He has given the knowledge and ability to harvest food and make clothing.
In the same way, God has given people the capacity to understand the workings of the human body, and the ability to do research to come up with ways in which to combat sickness. Yes, Jesus came and healed a lot of people of disease. But there were tons more who were not healed, because healing wasn’t the main purpose of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus came not to simply relieve physical suffering, but to usher in the kingdom of God. Jesus’ miraculous healings not only authenticated His claims to be the Messiah sent by God, but also pointed to the future reality of God’s kingdom that is without sickness, sin, or death. And so medicine is a means in which to bring creation back closer to how it was intended before sin entered the world.
In the Bible you don’t read anywhere a prohibition to use medicine. Paul even tells his fellow laborer in Christ Timothy to “use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Timothy 5:23), and not just pray for healing. The Gospel writer Luke, a traveling companion of Paul, was a doctor, and we don’t see Paul telling Luke to quit his job. Are there misuses of medicine? Of course, as there are misuses of everything else that is good because we live in a world of sin. We certainly can trust in what our hands can provide rather than God, but that can happen not just with healing, but with anything else (e.g., provision of food and future security). It’s a daily discipline to come before God in dependence even as we are active in using our gifts that God has given us for our provision.
All this is to say, the development of vaccines is an example of the grace of God given to us to combat the corruption of the natural order due to sin. Vaccines and antibiotics are probably two of the greatest medical discoveries in terms of lives saved and illness prevented. Are there side effects to vaccines? Sure. Is autism one of them? I can’t imagine the fear a parent would have hearing about the reports of children manifesting autism after routine vaccinations. I want to acknowledge those fears, but the vast bulk of scientific evidence would say no.
Christ came to deal with sin in this world. And that means not just taking away the penalty of our sins against God by dying on the cross, but also ushering in a kingdom (that will come in full when He returns) that is how things were intended to be: no more tears, no more sickness, and no more death. In the meantime, let us use everything that God has given us to stay healthy so that we are best equipped to carry out the kingdom work.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He willdwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:1-5
I appreciated this post, Dr. Tsai. As a good many people I know are disillusioned with modern healthcare, they not only criticize the insurance and pharmaceutical companies, but are also generally suspicious of vaccines. I agree that vaccines have saved many lives and are generally a good idea, though they are imperfect and do harm some people.
So often I see the debate on vaccines (or on any other matter) descend to accusing the other side of inherent prejudices or ulterior motives, a tendency C. S. Lewis wrote about with some humor in a very good essay titled “Bulverism.” If people would realize that accusing vaccine makers of some level of bias and self-interest (however reasonable such an accusation might be of anyone) is simply not relevant to determining whether to use vaccines, and if they would instead investigate solid studies of their use, I think we would have a much more positive view of vaccines.
I have sometimes wondered why so many people in my communities, for instance, are opposed to vaccines. I think there are several philosophical reasons for their opposition, even if the reasons they generally raise in argument are scientific (e.g., based on the fraudulent research of Andrew Wakefield).
-Distrust of any centralized institution, whether the federal government, the local public school, or the healthcare system;
-Overreaction to negative experiences with conventional medicine; a mental allergy to antibiotics, vaccines, and surgery; and subsequent embrace and emphasis of healing based on herbs, diets, and exercise;
-Justification of these older and “natural” approaches as being created or designed directly by God, overlooking the significance of human work in science and technology.
All these have grouding, but I think that general opposition to vaccines is an exaggerated application. Supposedly, Martin Luther said that humanity is like a drunken man who, after falling off one side of his horse and being helped up, promptly falls off the other side. That seems to be the case here.
PS – Is the word “Got” in the title some sort of attempt at German, or is it what I think it is? 🙂
Sorry — I was writing this comment earlier and got interrupted… You have already fixed the title.
Hi Ben! Wow, thanks for your thoughts. Yeah, “Got” was a typo…
Yeah, clearly the issue is much more complex than what I described, and unfortunately there’s not much time in a typical 15 minute visit to even touch on underlying beliefs.
You raise some really great points and I do agree that history swings like a pendulum back and forth. If you look at the epidemiology data regarding diseases that with available vaccines, it’s pretty fascinating. Whenever there’s a decrease in vaccinations, there’s a subsequent increase in the incidence of that disease, and it’s pretty much like clockwork.
Thanks for your interaction with the post, I appreciate it!