Most of my Christian family and friends would identify as broadly speaking orthodox, meaning they would affirm the traditional teachings of the Church in most areas. Included in this is a belief that God works in this world, a belief that can be loosely called, “miraculous”. And though I am sometimes hesitant to use the word miracle, I believe that God upholds and sustains this world, and frequently more directly intervenes in our daily lives in what we would call miracles. I know that sentence is not the most straightforward and that is because many people, Christian and non-Christian, have a very poor definition of miracle, and so I hesitate to say, “I believe in miracles.” What many mean by the word “miracle” is something unexplained and explainable. For people with this definition– Christian and Atheist alike– a miracle happens when we do not understand what happened, and if we understand the natural causes of an event it cannot be miraculous. If we can define the natural processes which brought about a change, then for these people a miracle has not happened. This type of thinking falls into a category I despise, God of the gaps. I think this is a bad definition of miracle; a miracle involves God’s action but does not require God to create ex nihilo; God can work through natural means and human involvement to preform miracles. I would suggest that God’s working to answer prayers can be both through human interaction or natural circumstances and a miracle.* Miracles happen when God directly changes some aspect of the circumstances, even if we cannot see that change. A theology of miracles might seem like an abstract conversation, or confined to the realm of “proofs of God”; the truth is our theology of miracles occasionally impacts our daily lives and I believe we live in one of those times.
I am thinking of how dismissive many Christians have been to receiving a COVID vaccine. Let me be clear, I do not mind if people have valid reasons for not wanting the vaccine, I am also understanding of those who have some fears. What I am upset about is the group of people who claim to want to end the pandemic and then dismiss the most effective means to end it. I have asked some of those who fall into this camp why they resist the vaccine and their answers usually amount to a mistrust of government agencies, bogus “scientific” data, or a general apathy. Particularly today I am addressing the first category, those who throw out the idea that a vaccine cannot have come about so quickly, especially when the government was involved. My question to these Christians is simple, “If the effort to produce the vaccine was spearheaded by a devout Christian who had been praying for God to send a miracle, would you accept the vaccine was a miraculous answer to prayer?”
Think about that question, can a vaccine be considered a miracle because of the speed at which it was developed? Or, does the vaccine not qualify for miracle status because we know the physical links in the chain of its development?
The truth is while President Trump and Dr. Fauci were the targets of the media headlines, Dr. Francis Collins (NIH Director) was behind the scenes organizing and spearheading Operation Warp Speed, which resulted in COVID vaccines. Dr. Collins is a devout Christian who speaks widely and openly about his faith.** Throughout the process Dr. Collins prayed for God to intercede in the COVID crisis. He has also admitted that the vaccines developed were far more effective and developed far faster than he anticipated. I am left to consider the possibility that God heard Dr. Collins’ prayers and had mercy on us. My thought is that though many of the pieces for a vaccine were in place before the crisis, and though we can trace a physical chain of events from start to finish, God worked in the process. We as orthodox Christians believe that righteous people in the past were able to touch God’s heart and miracles happened. Why are we so hesitant to believe that the prayers of Dr. Collins (and countless others) were unable to touch God’s heart? Why is it so hard to believe that God worked through Dr. Collins to provide a miracle for the world? Could it be that God heard our prayers and actively worked through medical researchers to provide and answer?
I think that many Christians do not want to face this reality, I think it scares them that God might actually work in the world, and might actually work in ways they have not considered. Throughout this pandemic whenever anyone has said, “I do not know who to trust” I have consistently responded, “I trust one man, Francis Collins.” Not because I think he is extraordinarily special, but because I saw in him a commitment to God. I saw in Dr. Collins a man who was committed to letting God work through him to bring about miraculous healing. I think now God has used him to answer our prayers. From day one many Christians have prayed for an end to this pandemic– they wanted a miracle. I think God answered, and continues to answer.
The question I ask to many of my Christian friends is this, “Is your faith big enough for this kind of miracle?” Are you able to consider the fact that God wants to preform miracles through us today, and do so in ways you might not have considered. Or is your faith so shallow that only unexplained will count as God working? I believe God works in mysterious ways and sometimes that means we can understand them. I have heard Christians mock others with the line “how can you preach faith to empty rooms?” because some pastors saw wisdom in social distancing. My response is how can you preach faith when you refuse a vaccine which is the end result of a righteous man seeking God’s help to end a plague?
*For those who might be interested, I suggest considering the idea of miracles through the lens of John Polkinghorne’s idea of active information. See Appendix B of Questions of Truth.