Vaccinated Against the Best News

About Vaccination and the Best News

Vaccination against disease involves getting a small dose of something infectious with the result that one’s immune system gains the upper hand against the infection, eradicating it (smallpox) or nearly so (polio).

Vaccination against the best news involves getting just enough news to underrate and ignore it—or getting such a mangled presentation of the news as to reject it.

The best news is the news about Jesus. In Greek it’s called εὐαγγέλιον (good messenger or gospel), but as a reminder of its significance, I occasionally refer to it as the best news.

In brief, the best news involves the following: Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate around A.D 33, was buried, but rose from the dead and returned to his Father in heaven, sending his Spirit to us on earth, so that by faith we can share his life forever.

Non-Christians can be vaccinated against this gospel—and often are. Surprisingly, Christians, too, can be vaccinated against the very faith they claim—and this is a seriously bad vaccination.

How to Vaccinate an Unbeliever

Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. (from Matthew 13:18-19)

In Jesus’ parable, some people reject the gospel out of hand because they do not understand it. Too little understanding vaccinates them against believing—often for the rest of life. It happens this way: as they age, they later encounter the good news in various forms. However, first impressions being lasting ones, they (honestly) think to themselves: “Oh, that. I decided long ago that it wasn’t for me.”

When this happens, only something sensational or catastrophic—or both—will awaken them to the value of the best news. A divorce, an arrest, an addiction, an affliction, the death of a loved one, or the growing realization that one’s life is meaningless—such events may awaken a person’s faith.

A miracle can reverse the course of one’s vaccinated life, leading the person to earnestly look for Jesus. It may consist of experiences such as a physical healing, the exposure to a person of faith whose love and integrity cannot be ignored, or discovering that the words of the Bible suddenly make sense in a way they previously did not.

How to Vaccinate a Believer

The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil. . . . (from Matthew 13:20-23)

A believer becomes vaccinated against the gospel by a lack of perseverance.

Difficulties, persecutions, disappointments, listening uncritically to skeptics and higher criticism, finding oneself in the clutches of a vice—all or any of these can dissuade one from believing. When things don’t always line up—and when does everything line up in this world?—we all tend to capitulate. Either the promises in the gospel don’t come true, or shiny things in the visible world start seeming much more interesting than seeking God. Material goods, social status, handsome and beautiful people, intellectual superiority—these and others may swarm into one’s life, rendering the initial enthusiasm and its attendant beliefs insignificant.

The lynchpin to getting a full vaccination is finally to stop reading or listening to the gospel altogether. Instead, listen to interpretations of it, particularly skeptical ones. Better, listen exclusively to alternate explanations of the meaning of life, including the one that dismisses as unimportant the meaning of life.

Allow me to grant the possibility that one’s previous commitment to the gospel may have been a genuine mistake. Assume that what I call “perseverance” increasingly becomes a gross denial of reality as one matures. This could be the case, and I’ve considered it a possibility in my own life. One element that keeps me believing in spite of this possibility is found within the gospels themselves. Repeatedly, Jesus warns against being bamboozled out of one’s faith. The parable of the sower quoted above is one example. Another comes from Luke 21:34-36:

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.

The Gospel of Matthew, similarly, has several reminders for believers to be vigilant, to “watch” both that one is not deceived by a false prophet or that one is not spiritually asleep at the return of Jesus.

I urge all of us: don’t miss the the true gospel. This is the one that Paul said comes not only in word but also in power. If Jesus told his disciples they were of little faith, so much more are we prone to mistaking a knowledge of Jesus for faith in him. It behooves us to humble ourselves and ask God to teach us how to live in power as well as in word.

It might take time and the discomfort of the unknown, but once the eyes of our heart are enlightened, then we will be free from being referred to as a people whose lips are near to God but whose hearts are far away.


Publishing Info
This post was first published on: May 29, 2024. If this article is significantly updated, the publication date beneath the title may change in order to bring current posts to the top of the directory.

Prayer is Not Begging and is More than Hoping

Listen to the old version of this post (10 minutes, 16 seconds)

Sitting on my couch, I looked at the name of a woman written on a piece of paper. We will call her Beautiful. It was a reminder to pray for her healing because her cancer had returned. I thought of all the people who were praying for Beautiful. Probably a hundred or so.

Beautiful died about a year later. And so I revise this post, soberly.

When I re-read the gospels, I never see Jesus begging, nor, when it comes to healing, hoping. When he announces the death of Lazarus to his disciples, he says, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up” (John 11:11). He does not, for example, say to the disciples, “and I hope to wake him up.” Nor when he is at the grave site does he say, “Father, I’d really like it if you raise Lazarus from the dead.” No, what does he say? “Lazarus, come forth.” And it happens.

Now I know this is a sensitive subject because when we pray for a healing (or a resurrection, which I have done with no success), the disappointment of someone or ourselves remaining sick is compounded by the disappointment of prayer or our faith being inauthentic. When that happens, we might doubt God’s existence, his character, or the accuracy of the New Testament. In the end of this scenario, we are left with a sickness (or death) and an imaginary God.

At that point, we often backpedal, and there are plenty of Christians and agnostics to help us do so. Because of my low opinion of this kind of help, I’ll deliver some of their consolation in a rambling sentence.

Healing miracles are rare because medical science has rendered them unnecessary, and you can’t expect to pray like Jesus, especially since all those miracles were to introduce the world to the gospel, not to be part of it, I mean, they symbolized our spiritual healing and nothing more, so we should be satisfied with inner healing and leave the rest up to God who, after all, would heal if he wanted to … look at the apostle Paul whose prayer for healing wasn’t answered and who concluded that in his weakness God’s strength was made perfect … who do we think we are to expect any more than Paul?

If you’ve been exposed to intelligent people of faith—or have read the New Testament with an eye on how faith and prayer are expressed—you’ll know the entire ramble is not in the scriptures.

Here are the counterpoints.

  • Medical science is in its adolescence; many diseases including cancer are often fatal, the blind to not have their sight restored, those with withered limbs do not, in a moment, regain a fully functional limb, and deafness is only partially addressed medically
  • Jesus never suggested that he was the only one with God’s ear; in fact he said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12)
  • The miracles did introduce Jesus and his disciples to their world with a bang, yes, but nothing in the New Testament suggests the miracles were destined to stop at any point in time; the Book of Acts was apparently written 50 or so years after Jesus left the earth, and nothing in it suggests that the divine show of healing had ended or would end
  • It’s always suspicious when any miracle of God—any show of the supernatural in Christianity—is watered down to something humans can do, something that no longer requires a miracle; thus, saying “spiritual healing is all that Jesus was trying to point us to,” or saying “inner healing is more important than physical healing” is, what shall I say, suspicious? so suspicious that the people who say such things would do better to publish self help books
  • My ire is raised by the idea that God would heal if he wanted to: who in this world would say the vast amount of sickness, let alone violence, is what God wants?
  • Finally, for the low hanging fruit, Paul’s unanswered prayer: if you read the passage in II Corinthians 12, where Paul asks three times for God to remove the thorn from his flesh, you see that in the previous paragraphs, he listed the persecutions he endured (much more frequently than his fellow apostles), that it makes sense that persecution was the messenger from Satan that humbled him since he had received so great a revelation of Christ…besides, in light of those revelations, even if Paul were talking about his alleged bad eyesight, how many sick people have ever needed humbling because of the greatness of the revelation they had received?

Back to my couch and to Beautiful. She had many (many) people praying for her. She did live a year longer, but left the world too soon. If the number of people praying worked like addition, the healing power would be great, but faith is not like arithmetic. One plus God is a majority. One person with faith can be in a crowd and God will look over the crowd to find that person (2 Chronicles 16:9a). When Jesus went to raise the little girl from the dead, he allowed only three disciples the the girl’s parents into the room…and he healed her.

I have no idea what kind of prayers were spoken on behalf of Beautiful. I do know the kind of prayer I received when I was about to be diagnosed for cancer. Going up to “the prayer team” after a lively service at a large Evangelical church, I explained my concerns to the mature couple who were appointed to pray for me. As soon as I expressed my desire for healing, the man said, “Well, we all have to die sometime.” And that was followed by his wife telling me about a motorcycle accident that injured her in a way she has never recovered from.

As soon as I could get away from their aura of disbelief, I headed to the parking lot and called my sister in another state in order to shake off the bad vibes from the prayer team. My sister speaks words of faith—and did that night. My healing came through successful surgery (not what I had hoped for, but a heap better than having to die sometime soon).

This post focuses on what prayer is not. When I write a sequel, by God’s grace, it will express, at least in part, what Jesus-inspired prayer is. I surmise it will involve the classic verse from Mark: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Until then, be well, speak well, pray from the heart and believe God knows what you need before you mention it.


Publishing Info
This post was first published on: July 30, 2022 at 22:46. If this article is significantly updated, the publication date beneath the title may change, just as it might change in order to bring current posts to the top (or bottom) of the directory.