By Isaac Asabor
There is no denying the fact that the polemics that have been trailing the quest to find lasting solution to the surge of Covid-19 pandemic have brought to the fore the aversion which most religions have over vaccinations. In as much as some can be exonerated from such aversion, some undeniably have considerations, concerns or restrictions regarding vaccination.
To buttress the foregoing view, it is not an exaggeration to say that no sooner did the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire’s disclosed last week that Nigeria should be taking delivery of Covid vaccine by January 2021 that some persons resorted to fear about the vaccine being tied to the 666 that is derogatorily referred to “number of the beast, and “also called the “sign of the devil”.
According to a fact-check carried out by Reuters, and published online on December 4, 2020 with the title, “Fact check: RFID microchips will not be injected with the COVID-19 vaccine, altered video features Bill and Melinda Gates and Jack Ma”, a video shared over 27,100 times on Facebook suggesting that the COVID-19 vaccine will contain a tracking microchip that will be injected in the individuals that receive the COVID-19 vaccine once it is ready, is false.
Reuters in its Report asserted that the 3:49-minute video is a compilation of out of context or manipulated footage that includes news reports and commentary from Bill and Melinda Gates and Jack Ma that have been selectively combined.
It added that some comments on the video include “Say no to being tracked with a chip”, “I will cut off my arm before I let them microchip me or my kids” and “Scary! I don’t want anyone’s microchip implanted in my body!!”
Expectedly, the unanswerable conspiracy theory has begun to take root in Nigeria thereby triggering comments from prominent Pastors in the country. For instance, the Senior Pastor of Trinity House, Ituah Ighodalo, has said there was nothing wrong with Christians taking the Covid vaccine. The pastor of the Lagos-based church said those saying Christians should not take the Covid vaccine were misinformed, noting that the vaccine was not a “sign of the beast”. The cleric spoke on Monday while featuring on “The Morning Show” anchored on Arise TV.
As elaborately monitored by the Punch Newspaper, Ighodalo said the vaccine has nothing to do with the “sign of the beast”.
He explained, “Let us deal with facts. Fact number one is that there is virus out there. Where it came and how it came, we are not so sure but there is a virus and the virus is medically proven to be affecting people. The second thing is what is the solution? A vaccine is not the sign of the beast.
To my view, if there is any issue that should not be ignorantly enmeshed in the quagmire of bigotry, it should not be the vaccine on covid-19. To explanatorily put it, the vaccine itself is aimed at empowering somebody’s body to build up resistance to the disease. There is nothing wrong with that, and I don’t see that as an issue with the word of God, particularly in the Christendom.
People saying that we shouldn’t take the vaccine are unarguably misinformed. They are just trying to frighten people, and prey on people’s ignorance. We need a cure to this ailment. We need a prevention thereof and we must work assiduously towards it thereof.
Now let’s consider the role of modern medicine in the faith life of a Christian. Does the Bible forbid the use of medicines in general? If God doesn’t choose to heal a person miraculously, is it wrong to seek medical aid? If a Christian sought such help will he or she be interfering with God’s will? The foregoing are no doubt the questions that need to be answered convincingly before resorting to misleading the people.
When we consult the scripture, we find nowhere that God commands Christians to avoid doctors or medicine. In fact, we often see medical knowledge praised as a gift from God for the benefit of people.
For example, in Genesis 17:10-14 the Lord commands the procedure of circumcision to Abraham. God ordained this minor surgery for a very specific, spiritual purpose, but nevertheless this example demonstrates that relying on a medical procedure is not contrary to obeying God.
Secondly, we find physicians called Joseph’s “servants” in Genesis 50:2, and the word for physicians is the same word used to describe God as our “healer” in Exodus 15:26. Once again, the implication is that physicians are doing a good work for God’s people as an extension of God’s own healing ministry.
Thirdly, in Proverbs 17:22 we read, “A merry heart does well like a medicine.” This verse presents medicine in a positive light as an allegory for a happy heart. If our reliance on medicine was contrary to faith, then the word of God would never have used it as an allegory for a glad heart.
Then in Isaiah 38:21 we find the prophet prescribing a poultice (i.e., medicinal remedy) for Hezekiah’s boil. While all healing is directed by God, we see the poultice clearly demonstrates that God uses medical procedures at times as a means of delivering the healing He provides. Here is strong evidence that we may be healed by God though the use of sound medical practice!
In other examples, we find in Jeremiah 8:22 a statement that Gilead approves of physicians, albeit metaphorically. Then Jeremiah 30:13 equates the lack of medicine with a lack of healing, and Jeremiah 51:8 says medicine is the way for Babylon to be healed. Although these examples are spiritual metaphors, they only work as metaphor because they rest upon the fact of God’s gracious provision of medical treatments available for our benefit.
One final verse from the Old Testament is especially telling. Ezekiel 47:12 says healing medicine will be made from the leaves of trees that are nourished by waters from the new temple in the New Jerusalem. Revelation 22:2 also describes the tree of healing in the New Jerusalem, suggesting that medicinal tools are an important part of God’s purpose.
Looking to the New Testament Jesus Christ said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick” (Luke 5:31). Again, in Luke 4:23 Jesus quotes the proverb, “Physician, heal yourself,” and applied it to Himself. In no case do we find Christ disapproving of medicines or physicians. In fact, one of the Gospel writers, Luke, was a “beloved physician” himself (see Col 4:14).
Certainly, every Christian should understand that all healing comes from God, so we can seek medical treatment knowing that the Lord often uses medicine to accomplish His healing. As Jeremiah 17:5 states, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord.”
To this end, a dispassionate understanding of the foregoing scriptures strongly points to the fact that Linking Covid-19 Vaccine to Biblical 666 is a bigotry taken too far
Pandemics of one form or another have been with us for far more than one millennium, with religious leaders having enormous influence over their congregants. Often, they have been helpful in guiding their people to help those who are afflicted or could become so. In other instances, their pronouncements have reduced the likelihood of preventing infection, as was the case in adjudging condoms sinful and prohibited, despite scientific evidence that they were crucial in preventing HIV/AIDS transmission.
Today there are over 4,200 religions in the world with some welcoming, others conflicted but supportive, while others resisting one or more of the basic scientific and policy prevention pillars. These nearly universally accepted pillars are vaccination (when a safe and effective one is available), social distancing, limiting crowd size, and wearing masks outdoors and in public settings. Acceptance varies widely, both by each religion and among the faithful, so one size does not fit all.
Given such diversity and the breadth of subject matter, generalizations will not work: Nevertheless, a tour d’horizon of selected major religions and country responses has value in providing some added perspective.
Isaac Asabor is a Public Affairs Analyst.