You can see it in the news. And you can feel it among people. It is heard in the relieved sigh as the vaccines roll out of labs and into the arms of healthcare workers these weeks. This is the beginning of the end of COVID; this is the corner we have been longing to turn. Now it is just a matter of time till tragic deaths are reduced, fatigued healthcare workers can return to families, businesses can again fully open and all of the smaller inconveniences and interruptions such as mask-wearing and social distancing can be put behind us.
For this we are thankful. Thankful to God and thankful to the sacrifice of so many to bring these vaccines about. But unfortunately, there are potentially dangerous spiritual side effects of the vaccines that I see. These side effects only prolong the struggle with a different disease that has plagued our world for many years— spiritual numbness/apathy and pride. Let me explain.
COVID has forced us all to reflect on many things such as death and along with it, other related matters like the soul, our lifestyles and the thoughts of judgment before our Creator. All these things naturally push their way to the front of our minds anytime we wrestle with the real and solid matter of our death. The illusion of perpetual health is gone. The once commonly accepted thought that death always happens to someone else and in a decade far, far away has evaporated. Though some may consider this morbid, there is arguably a healthy nature to regularly thinking about your own death. And there is a real benefit to times of crisis. This is why Ecclesiastes says that it is better to go to a house of mourning than a house of feasting (Eccles 7:2). The reason, the writer says, is clear: “the living lay it to heart”. It forces us to think these weighty matters through. There is great value in being faced with the prospect of death and various tragedies like this because it forces us to come to grips with deep realities that we spend time avoiding to our own hurt. I say, “to our own hurt”, because being prepared to die is being prepared to live. And without that preparation we fail to live well. Much like my knowledge of an upcoming vacation influences my hourly decisions leading up to it, so too does the knowledge of a permanent “absence” guide and influence me today. The truth is that this terrible pandemic is used by God to mercifully confront us all with this reality and stir us to respond to Him before we fail to have the chance. After all, each of us will face God and give an account for our lives. The Scripture is quite clear that all of us are sinners who stand in judgment because of our rebellion (Rom 3:23; 6:23). And this eternal punishment can only be avoided by God’s forgiveness of our sins. He provides this through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ (1 Pet 3:18). If we repent and trust in Him, we are forgiven and assured of a place in heaven as the Good News says (John 3:16). In this time of crisis many of these thoughts have been front and center for the first time. And with the arrival of the vaccines, such serious thoughts will likely depart along with the pandemic. The mundane concerns of life again may capture our attention and drive our daily existence.
Another unintended spiritual side effect of these vaccines may be the increase of pride. The triumph of these vaccines reinforces the sense that we can do pretty-much anything. The power of science and the wealth and coordination of government can rescue us! And in that triumph we may begin to say, “Who needs God when you have Uncle Sam and his distant relative, Dr. so and so?” I hear little mention of thankfulness to God. No grateful expression to His answer of countless prayers for mercy. No thankful spirit for His oversight of the tests and the wisdom He granted everyone to accomplish the work. Only the sound of back-patting and the shuffling of feet as politicians and CEO’s scramble to push to the front for credit! Certainly, this is dangerous and foolish. For all the wealth, power and research we can muster, we all know that even with COVID on the run, countless other diseases still loom, which no effort can prevent. And we all know that we cannot conquer the most relentless enemy of humanity—death. I fear that unless we are careful, the vaccine may only increase the pride that genuinely believes that given enough time and effort, humanity can defeat anything. Period.
I do not seek to be morbid or to kill the obvious and rightful joy in the vaccines. Not at all. I am grateful to God for them. I give thanks to God publicly for His work to bring this about. He deserves the glory and credit. But I write this out of concern. Concern that we do not forget the fragile nature of life. That we remember the fundamental realities as we return to normal life, such as death, our soul and God. And I hope that we will not soon forget these eternal issues and slide back to an apathetic and secular lifestyle—where the only fear we have is not getting the latest iPhone.
I urge you then to thank God for the vaccines, but equally, do not allow the vaccine to have the side effect of numbing us to the reality that we have souls, we will die and we will stand before God one day. May He give us mercy not to forget what has happened and more importantly to live everyday prepared to stand before God in peace because we have been forgiven by Jesus Christ.