Before 2020, people generally considered vaccines to be a mundane tool of medicine. School children in Ontario are required to have a whole set of vaccines. Travellers had to be immunized to visit certain countries. I myself had to take a host of vaccines to immigrate to the USA. I did not feel at the time that the USA infringed upon my personal liberty.
Fast track to 2021. Vaccines now are widely controversial. In the USA, I have observed that part of the controversy involves political differences. But there are also medical and epidemiological reasons too. For example, some believe that natural immunity is better than vaccine immunity. In Canada, the controversy has less heat and seems to centre on the idea of vaccine passports. People feel that if they decide not to vaccinate, then they should have equal freedom to visit restaurants as those who are vaccinated.
I will say a few things about this below, but my point here is to explore the question of whether or not vaccines are good. I do not intend to discuss every point of controversy that surrounds the use or non-use of vaccines. I primarily want to ask and answer the question of whether or not vaccines in general are natural goods.
In short, here is my argument. No one should be forced to take a vaccine, but everyone should recognize the natural good that medicine is. “The farmer knows just what to do, for God has given him understanding” (Isa 28:26). By the light of nature, he teaches the medical researcher too.
Vaccines Are Natural Goods
The reality of sin, corruption, and death mar the goodness of nature, however. God created the world to be “very good” (Gen 1:31). Human sin leads to corruption and death (e.g. Gen 2:17; 1 Cor 15:50–58). So nature has undergone corruption. Corruption corrupts something good. So nature remains a good-being-corrupted. Hence, human salvation involves not only the release of death but also of corruption: “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor 15:53).
Despite all this, “The Lord has made everything for its purpose” (Prov 16:4). The heavens declare God’s glory (cf. Ps 19). The earth declares his handiwork. The Farmer farms by following God’s natural instruction (Isa 28:26). At the end of the day, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecc 3:11). Apart from this perspective–recognizing natural beauty and our limits in light of eternity and the Eternal God–our work will be futile.
But God the Word, the true Light “gives light to everyone” (John 1:9). And God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:45). Through such activity, “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Rom 1:20–21).
None of this knowledge saves since it only leaves someone without excuse (Rom 1:20). But the knowledge of God’s good Providence, his ongoing patience not only leads us to repentance (Rom 2:4) but it also preserves nature’s ongoing goodness. It is good that the universe holds together, the very thing that the Word of Power holds together (Heb 1:3).
It is good that the earth maintains its orbit around the sun. It is good that sun and rain come out daily. It is good that governments govern since “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom 13:1).
As the Westminster Confession says, “there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed” (WCF 1.6).
God also instructs the medical researcher who sees the rationality and order of the created order. He or she studies causes and effects. And through nature and through the light of nature, the researcher comes to conclusions. Since humans are fallible, mistakes happen. But when worked out in full, vaccines and other medical treatments and operations constitute natural goods.
A Reasonable Trust of Vaccines
Human sin can mar many a good thing. And perhaps that has occurred when it comes to vaccines. The elimination of polio is good. The imposition of vaccine passports at the expense of individual liberty appears to transgress the Charter (Canada) as well as American rights. But perhaps, some might argue, these limitations of freedoms tend towards the common good. So the short-term elimination of freedoms for the sake of safety is good.
There is lots to parse out. And I do not want to do so here. I want to, if I can, distinguish natural goods like vaccines from the political setting they find themselves in. Anything good can be abused, corrupted.
And I would argue that despite this abuse we should not blame the medical advancements but rather those who wield them improperly. Since God ordains government (Rom 13:1), government is good. Some governors are not good. We don’t throw out the government (a natural good) because someone uses their authority poorly. The same is true for vaccines.
I do not support forced vaccinations. As I said, no one should be forced to take a vaccine, but everyone should recognize the natural good that medicine is. “The farmer knows just what to do, for God has given him understanding” (Isa 28:26). By the light of nature, he teaches the medical researcher too.
Vaccine passports may come to your region. There, you will have to work out the Charter or Rights question. Churches will have to work out how to manage such rules and guidelines. In Canada, vaccine passports do not apply to churches. But some churches may decide to self-impose their own guidelines. I disagree with that decision.
My singular point in this article, despite all these important factors, is that vaccines fall under the umbrella of medical advancement, a common good that we can perceive with the light of nature. That does not mean every individual researcher or vaccine is good. It does mean that they have the capacity to be so. And it does mean that we should not be too cynical or too credulous of any medical claim.
Yet with basic diligence, we can reasonably trust the farmer to produce good yields; and we can trust doctors to treat illness with skill and (at times) compassion. Vaccines fit here too, as something we can reasonably trust with due diligence. They are a natural good that, like anything else, can be corrupted or misused or miscreated.