New Post: Is the COVID-19 Vaccine a Miracle?

Latest from @jstump

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Interesting to think about. As one of the arguments some in the church have made is that we should not wear masks or get the vaccine but rather trust in the providence of God, I am quick to remind those who will listen that the vaccine is part of that providence, and to deny it is to deny God’s power and authority. Well, the second part of that sentence, I usually say silently.
But is the vaccine a miracle? I would agree that it is, if we let it be.

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I have some difficulty in calling a vaccine a miracle any more than the invention of the steam engine and the telephone were miracles. God has given us the abilities to think and manipulate our physical environment in marvelous ways, including in medicine, so I don’t see how a COVID vaccine is particularly different, just newer and maybe more spectacular from a certain perspective.

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As you know, I am nothing if not a champion of God’s providence, but I certainly do not extend it to ignoring the resources he has given us to protect ourselves and help others.

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That is why I added the caveat of “if you let it.” In the article, it is stated that miracles are “ “signs and wonders” that pointed to the reality of the Kingdom of God.” And if you think about it, it is a sign or wonder and it points to God only if the observer lets it. Whether something is a miracle depends on the audience, not the performance.

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I tend to think of a miracle as a supernatural, nature defying event. The vaccine was a product of scientific research and experimentation. It couldn’t be any further from a miracle. I think that’s the popular definition and what most people understand by the term ‘miracle’ but others will certainly define the word differently.

Vinnie

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With the exception of providential miracles where the laws of nature are not broken, just that there is extraordinary timing and placing of events, the events’ sequences, if more than one, and the mutual meaning infused into occurrences that are otherwise disjoint. (And once again, Maggie’s testimony is a beautiful example.) But they are nature defying, so I will concur with usage there, certainly

There are people who will see the vax as a miracle. Just as many will see the virus as a punishment from God.

Did you read the article? These points were addressed.

Yes in that we are the reality of the Kingdom of God.

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I think your article raises a few issues for me, personally, about how I understand reality and God’s interaction with the world and of course the problem of natural evil which you acknowledged. Things are a bit cloudy for me on a few fronts. A couple of thoughts:

[1] I am not sure how the miraculous catch of fish, as it is called, or the stilling of the storm are not deemed nature defying? You mention it could be coincidence but clearly the narrative thrust of both stories is that Jesus has control over nature. He commands, it obeys. This is the point of the disciples exclaiming “Even the wind and waves obey him.” Both accounts are intended to be read as full miracles in the common sense of a super-ordinary feat that normal people cannot accomplish IMHO.

[2] I think God can certainly interact with us without doing things that appear to break the rules of nature as we understand them. Some might define a miracle as any action of God in our world but then that might make everything a miracle. I am not saying you did this bit this one of those theological issues that cloud the discussion for me. Is there anything that exists and operates truly independent of God? I honestly can’t answer this with any certainty. I am not sure how the immanence of God fully works and I confess, there is some difficulty in adequately defining a miracle that will cover everything but that I don’t think of the universe deistically running alongside God who interacts occasionally. I think if we truly understood everything then our natural/supernatural distinction here might actually fade away. This is me bringing my own theological uncertainty to your article, however.

[3] Unless I was engaged in a deeper theological discussion with fellow Christians about the nature of God and how He interacts with the world, the whole concept of trying to talk to someone and explain to them that the Covid-19 vaccine is a miracle seems far fetched. If I have to redefine the word miracle before doing so, to not mean what the person colloquially thinks it does, or how the dictionary and world in general uses it, then the force of the statement is already lost and I run the risk of sensationalism at best and redefining a word to fit my ideology at worst.

I know you went into the idea of signs and wonders that are not nature defying miracles but ultimately this usage makes the word “miracle” too broad to be used in popular culture today. Is the little helicopter, Ingenuity, flying on Mars a miracle or sign or wonder from God as well? Where do we stop? Were the pyramids a miracle? The great wall of China? The writing of the US constitution? Wilt Chamberlains 100 point game?

I bring other baggage to your article and while you did again acknowledge it (“Jesus didn’t heal all the sick people”), it is hard for me to believe God let 200,000,00 million people die of the black plague yet I should attribute to him the miracle or sign and wonder of Pfizer, created by scientists working in a lab. Unless we want to generically attribute everything good to God, which is perfectly acceptable, I don’t believe he made the vaccine anymore than I think He made my dinner tonight. I just would not classify it as a miracle despite being thankful for it. Not only did God give the scientists their brains who made it, he made the world that houses it and many other infectious diseases. Covid is “new” to people and was all over the news and politicized during a contentious election year. So it breeds sensationalism. Meanwhile, it is estimated that almost 10 million people died of cancer in 2018. This happens every year and will seemingly continue to happen for the foreseeable future I don’t see the notion of the vaccine being a sign and wonder from God as a good apologetic or talking point to anyone who doesn’t already think all good things are of God. Being thankful to God over everything is certainly acceptable but I think the novelty of covid is garnering undue attention and your post could easily be changed to “Are all good events miracles from God?” To use your terminology, miracles are rare or extraordinary events but signs and wonders are probably not. Every time we see a sunset, is it not a sign or wonder from God (Romans 1:20)? The fact that we can now explain them should enrich this wonder rather than take it away.

Vinnie

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I am yet to read the article, but no, I don’t consider it to be a miracle. I think we need to be careful when using this word when it comes to human inventions, so that we still give all the credit that’s due for extraordinary work performed by amazingly clever and hard-working individuals. I’m sure you do Sir, but please imagine what an article heading like this looks like to a non-Christian? Like we’re an ungrateful bunch of people who have no appreciation for hard work of scientists,and instead credit God with everything good that’s happening, but never with the bad stuff. This of course, as far as this forum is concerned, isn’t true, but you can only make 1st impressions once.
I was actually thanking God when the news broke about the vaccine, but not because I thought “Godidit”, rather that God allowed it to happen. Let’s not forget there were serious doubts whether vaccine was even possible.

Please read the article, and then respond again.

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I just have, and I’m still standing by my original comments. I’m okay if others wants to see that as a miracle, as long as they still give credit to all the scientists and volunteers, which you clearly do, and I never accused you of not doing so.
This isn’t to say we shouldn’t be thanking God…but to me allowing something to happen or not putting obstacles (I think that was the case) just doesn’t qualify as a miracle. Like being grateful for all the things in your prayers… nobody assumes that they’re all miracles.
Regards
Marta

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agree.
If it was a miracle, why allow the virus to evolve in the first place?

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I agree assigning this to a miracle seems problematic. As an apologetic, this sort of thinking would probably do more harm than good.

But hypothetically speaking, as harsh as it seems, maybe the world needed to slow down?

Vinnie

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I would take issue somewhat with the entire premise that “all the people involved in the process have talked about how extraordinary it has been to develop these vaccines so much quicker than we believed possible”.

Actually if you talk to vaccine scientists, they point out all the reasons why developing them so quickly, while “unusual” in the sense that the time frame was so short compared to typical vaccine development, and a true testament to what science can achieve when money isn’t holding it back, it was hardly “extraordinary” in terms of being inexplicable.

  1. All the groundwork for creating mRNA vaccines was already in place and developed. So it was possible to create a vaccine using this technology very quickly. Traditional methods of vaccine development would have taken much longer.

  2. The scientists in China provided the gene sequencing for SARS-CoV-2 before it was even making it over to the US so that gave them a big headstart without needing to first culture the virus here.

  3. Scientists expected the next pandemic to be a high chance of another coronavirus so again, a lot of groundwork already in place for a vaccine specific to this type of virus.

  4. Obviously with the need for speed much of the red tape involved in getting approvals for Phase 2 and 3 studies was greatly reduced.

  5. Getting volunteer signups for vaccine trials often takes a considerable amount of time. In this case, they had MORE people than they needed in a VERY short amount of time.

  6. The other big area that typically takes a lot of time in vaccine studies is reaching a statistically significant number of infections in your test groups. This alone can take many months or years, before you are able to conclude the study and show effectiveness. But with COVID, the disease had become so widespread, it was an extremely short amount of time that this was reached. IOW, if we had controlled the pandemic much better, vaccines would have taken a much longer time to pass testing.

Those are just some high points. The most “extraordinary” thing might be in the effectiveness of the mRNA vaccines, which was indeed about as good as it gets in vaccine science… but hardly unheard of. And its ability to specifically target what scientists know is the essential part of the virus in infecting cells, the spike protein, is a big part of why it’s so effective. With traditional vaccines, you are just relying on whatever the body decides to mount an immune response against, which may or may not be the most effective part of the virus to go after (that is also why the mRNA vaccines tend to be much more effective against variants, since any change in the spike protein that might cause escape from the vaccine protection is almost certain to make the virus no longer virulent).

There’s been a lot of made of in the media about how fast the vaccines were developed, as if it was some kind of magic. It certainly was a propitious combinations of factors, but none were that unusual or extraordinary to those that understand the science of what went into them.

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Of course, I’ve aways considered it a little miracle when someone suffers a laceration, you get the edges close together, and a couple of weeks later they are healed. Happens every day and to everyone regardless of their faith, but still sort of wonderful.
It goes back to how you see God’s action and provision. With the vaccine, scientists did a great job to use the tools they were provided, mental, financial, and biologic. It is pretty interesting that so many of the vaccines developed turned out to be successful, given the failures expected. Of course, I am sure the ones that didn’t do well drifted off in obscurity.

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So, several of you (@Vinnie, @marta, @beaglelady) seem to be saying something close to, “It didn’t break the laws of physics, so you shouldn’t call it a miracle.” I don’t see you, though, responding to my claim in the article that breaking the laws of physics is neither necessary nor sufficient for miracles in Scripture. If that’s the case, then we need different criteria for what should could as a miracle. “Extraordinary” by itself lets in @Vinnie’s examples of Wilt Chamberlin (or the Miracle on Ice I pointed to) and lots of other things (e.g., getting the exact social security number I did) I don’t think are properly understood theologically as miracles. Instead, you also need the criterion of pointing to the Kingdom of God. That can happen on a sliding scale, such that some events point more clearly or fully to the Kingdom of God than others (e.g., the beauty of a flower might point that way a little bit, but not so much that I’d call it a miracle). So then I think your argument needs to be that the COVID vaccines either aren’t all that extraordinary (as @Keyhlar is claiming), or that they don’t really point to the Kingdom all that strongly.

Also, there seems to be an underlying assumption in some of your comments (I’ll let you own up to that yourselves!) that either God is acting or the laws of nature are doing their thing, and that we can’t say both at the same time. It is that assumption that problematizes divine action in my view. I’ve talked about that at length on this website…

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Would Marian Apparitions count as miracles?

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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