Although, as the name COVID-19 suggests, the Coronavirus started to circulate in 2019, it was in March 2020 that, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), a pandemic was declared. Since then, in different ways, countries started to engage in intermittent lockdowns, mask-wearing, social distancing, among many other public health measures, as an attempt to slow down the spread of the virus until a more permanent solution was found to control the pandemic. For many, in the blink of an eye, tomorrow became frightening and uncertain.
It was in that scenario that, with an impressive speed, the Covid-19 vaccines became the hope of a future free from the threat of the coronavirus. With many countries desperate to offer some form of relief to their citizens, heads of state started to fiercely engage in negotiations with pharmaceutical companies all over the world to acquire their brand-new, provisionally approved in record time, medication. For many, tomorrow now started to look less frightening and uncertain.
Since vaccines started to become available and people started to get vaccinated, due to highly polarized societies and evident tears on the social fabric of many western nations, an interesting phenomenon started to take global proportions. Vaccines went from previously being a simple, although important, medical tool available in the toolbelt of medicine to now being this coveted pharmaceutical artifact with almost divine salvific status and influence. If you think I am exaggerating, please bear with me for a little longer as, over the next few articles in this series, you will hopefully be able to see why this is not an exaggeration, even though I wish it was.
The New Golden Calf
Idolatry is nothing new in the history of humankind. The dethroning of God-Almighty in the human heart takes place when that same human heart decides to enthrone something or someone else in his place; even if it is a man-made caricature of the Eternal and only God who revealed himself in Christ Jesus. This is what the Scriptures call ‘idolatry’ and this sin is outlined in the first and second of the ten commandments given to Moses on top of Mount Sinai (Ex 20:3). To some extent, like the Israelites in the wilderness (Ex 32), all humans who ever lived struggled with idolatry in their hearts at some stage, if not in the totality, of their lives. An argument for idolatry being found at the very root of every sin can also be easily made.
But, “what has that to do with the vaccine?” someone would ask. “Are you inferring people who got vaccinated are idolaters?”, another may think.
Let me start by saying that I don’t believe everyone who is or will be vaccinated is an idolater, at least not because of deciding to take the jab anyway. Nevertheless, what I am saying is that, in the minds of many, perhaps even in the minds of most people right now, the status of the vaccines is quickly being raised to a status of a quasi-divine entity upon whom the power of giving and taking life has been bestowed. This reality is becoming evident in the way people are allowing the vax to inform, form, and transform much of their individual lives, their relationships, and societies; that also includes many important institutions that are foundational to human flourishing like churches, for example.
God, rightly so, as the creator and sustainer of the heavens, the earth, and of everything in them, demands all his creatures to fear and worship him alone. This means that God should very naturally be the centre of all things since all things were created by him and for him. When it comes to deciding how we should live as individuals or as a society, our first impulse should be to look to the word of God for guidance. In the case of the pandemic we are currently going through, for example, the first questions we should be asking should be something along the lines of “but what about God? Does he have anything to say about this whole thing? What is his current involvement with the world, especially amid this health crisis? Does he still have some guidance to offer about how we should live considering everything that is happening right now? Is he at all involved in any of this? Is he able to provide a scape?”
As far as I know, not many have endeavoured to ask questions like the ones outlined above. Certainly not in any public or prominent way, anyway. The solution presented by the majority of voices out there has been one and one alone: the jab. “Here is your hope, world! Here is your saviour! Here is the god who brought you out of the land of Egypt!” they are all shouting and there are but a few voices to speak up against that.
But let not my words alone convince you this is the case, below are just a couple of statements that present life sciences and vaccines as our current source of hope and joy for the future:
“This past year the life sciences have really emerged as the light in the darkness of the Covid-19 pandemic. Its value to society recognised to a degree rarely seen before, certainly not during my lifetime or at least working in this industry. We have many reasons to be proud of it …”Stefan Oelrich, President of Bayer’s Pharmaceuticals Division
“They are crazy not to get vaccinated. Life will be miserable without being vaccinated.”Chris Perry, president of the Australian Medical Association in Queensland
Even Christians have bought into this idea and, perhaps without realising, embraced a functional kind of atheism akin to one of the Old Testament kings, king Asa (2 Chronicles 16:12), which can gladly endorse a document called “shot of hope” encouraging global vaccination as the means of a future hope.
Nevertheless, what those Christians forget is that embracing unilaterally a means of common grace at the expense of the maintenance of a prophetic voice and Gospel witness that draws the attention of all to sin, its effects, and the ultimate solution to it put forward by God in Jesus Christ, has been the downfall of our evangelical generation of leaders during this pandemic.
As a result of Israel’s idolatry in Exodus 32, the God who has power over all the plagues and viruses of the world sent a plague into the midst of the rebellious people’s camp (Ex 32:35). The plague initially came because of the people’s idolatry in forgetting the Lord who offered them salvation from slavery. With that in mind, why would the people of Israel, even for a second, think that anything else besides genuine repentance could lead to their deliverance? I wonder if there are some important principles in that story that could be applied to our current circumstances. Nevertheless, the apostle John rightly prophesied about the evil stubbornness of people’s hearts:
“The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshipping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.” (Rev 9:20-21)
Thus Saith the LORD to the World
“Ah, stubborn children,” declares the Lord, “who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin; who set out to go down to Egypt, without asking for my direction, to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt! Therefore shall the protection of Pharaoh turn to your shame, and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt to your humiliation. (…) Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel, “Because you despise this word and trust in oppression and perverseness and rely on them, therefore this iniquity shall be to you like a breach in a high wall, bulging out and about to collapse, whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant; and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments, not a shard is found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern.” For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling, and you said, “No! We will flee upon horses”; therefore you shall flee away; and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”; therefore your pursuers shall be swift. A thousand shall flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you shall flee, till you are left like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain, like a signal on a hill.” (Isaiah 30:1-3, 12-17)
“Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” (Hosea 6:1-3)
“And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent, therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.” (Acts 3:17-21)