Rana on Covid and mRNA vaccines

I’m assuming that based on @John_Harshman’s statement, he thinks the plague is incompatible with omnibenevolence if God is also omniscient and omnipotent. Let him correct me if I’m wrong please. You give off the impression that you’re only trying to be argumentative by jumping in to question me on my question of someone else. It’s frustrating because it’s happened before.

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That makes sense, I’m just very wary of “data” when it comes to the existence or nature of God since I really don’t have a firm grasp of what an omni-* being even is. How can I understand something that’s so much larger than myself enough to be able to use data in this way? If I have no hope of controlling or even understanding God to a level of running an experiment, I just don’t see how it is helpful.

I do see evil and pain and suffering and I often ask God “why?”. I don’t have a good answer, but Christianity isn’t dependent on having an answer to that question. The problem of evil is a universal problem as far as I can tell, not specific to Christianity or even theism generally. We’re all wrestling with it and I appreciate all the folks at PS wrestling together, even from very different perspectives.

I wouldn’t say I was speculating, just trying to push back a bit on being conclusive on the other side. I don’t think I would have said what Fuz Rana said since I do think it’s mostly speculation. I am sometimes frustrated with the way RTB does that at times. But that doesn’t mean we can firmly say God didn’t do something in all this COVID mess, in my opinion.

Maybe he is, I can’t say. I personally feel like COVID has brought some real issues within American society to light, like individualism and the idolizing of personal freedom over love of neighbor, but there is just no way I would say that I know God caused or sent it for that reason (or any particular reason). I think it is up to each one of us and then as together as the Church to wrestle with what we should take from this tragedy. I just can’t speak for God.


I’m pointing out that you are putting words in his mouth.

And you weren’t only trying to be argumentative by fallaciously challenging @John_Harshman’s statement?

Me too.

Sometimes it’s better just to ask instead of offering nonsensical answers. At least yours weren’t obscene like Rana’s.

I find wrestling like Rana’s to be downright corrosive to my understanding of Christianity.

Why do you feel the need to try to push back? I am genuinely curious.

Thankfully, that would not be consistent with any of my conversations with you here.

I agree completely, particularly since the latter for me is the very essence of Christianity, I would say not just real issues within American society, but real issues within American Christianity.


My extremely well respected OT Hebrew bible professor implied in class that HIV/AIDs was God’s “natural consequences” for homosexuality.

Apparently quite a few Christians said early on in the pandemic that covid-19 was God’s punishment to the wicked millenials and generation Zers. That is, until it was pointed out that it mainly killed off the older generations…

I wasn’t aware of that.

I suspect that there is a massive overlap of creationism with coronavirus denialism.

My church’s motto is “God is still speaking.”

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That’s a good question. I am tired of the ID/YEC debates and haven’t had time to dig into some of the other discussions of late on PS. I think what I’m pushing against is the idea that the problem of evil is “slam dunk” argument for atheists.

Perhaps it’s also more an attempt to push against the idea that all Christians do is rely on trite arguments that are intellectually lazy and either devoid of empathy and compassion or so lacking in intellectual humility they can’t admit that there is no “slam dunk” here.

All answers, as far as I can tell, to why evil and pain and suffering exist are unsatisfying and frustrating. For me personally, I think the Christian view makes for the best model of reality as a whole but that doesn’t make it easy or obvious or without persistent, nagging questions.

I don’t know how God works in the world a lot of the time. I have a hard time articulating how that would actually work. In fact, one of the reasons I came to PS was I really wanted to know how we could think about what “God-guided evolution” would actually mean. I wish we could get off the ID/YEC-train and spend more time wrestling with that one but I don’t know enough to do it myself.


A good person does what he can to reduce evil. God can do anything. Therefore a good God would act to reduce, even prevent, evil. People make all manner of excuses to explain why this doesn’t happen, all of them lame. He’s allowing you your freedom — to die from plague? He’s teaching you a lesson — which apparently nobody learns, and what lesson could be worth millions of innocent deaths? This world is unimportant, and all will be rectified in heaven — which leads to indifference and such things as “Kill them all; God will know his own.” Did I miss any?


Then how can you thank God for his actions, when you are unable to discern whether he did or didn’t do anything?


A couple thoughts on this:

  1. I can’t really tease apart exactly what parts of who I am are genetic vs how I was raised, but I can express thankfulness to my parents regardless for contributing to me being who I am. Some characteristics, like say eye color, seem like an obvious causal genetic connection but there is a lot that came down to influence they had on me and life experiences we shared together. I think there is a useful analogy there.
  2. A significant part of this is a cultivated attitude of thankfulness. I pray a prayer of thankfulness before every meal. Some meals are better than others but I have made it a habit to thank God for his provision every day. Do I think God specially made my meal or intervened to make sure that hamburger doesn’t cause me health problems? No. Am I grateful I live at a time and a place where food is readily available and for a job where I can afford it? Yes, absolutely. Do I feel a sense that in my thankfulness I should respond to God’s provision by seeking to help those who don’t have enough food? Yes. I guess I could just tell God to do it, but I think there is something in the idea that God uses ordinary people (even atheists :wink: ) to make a change in this world.
  3. Sometimes I’m thankful for even painful things, hard things, because they have helped me grow and learn and become a better person for it. Do I wish there was another way? Absolutely. Do I have questions for God when I see him face-to-face, Absolutely. Do I think that evil/pain/suffering necessarily and logically mean that there is no God or that he is a monster? Nope.

So getting back to the particular issue at hand, I am incredibly thankful that the COVID-19 vaccines were developed so quickly and that they are so effective (I was thinking it’d be more around 50%). I have expressed my thanks to God for that, but I personally have seen no evidence of a “divine intervention” so my thankfulness is in a providential sense.

While I’m open to speculations like Rana’s that there is something special in the timing that allowed an effective vaccine to be available during the pandemic and not years later, I certainly don’t think that means either that God sent the pandemic for that purpose (or at all) or that he poofed the vaccine into existence and thereby discounting the incredible amount of hard work that scientists have put into them. I also wouldn’t post such speculations as an apologetic.


So what are the possibly special things about which you are speculating?

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Well, I’m not speculating, that has (I thought) been a consistent point. My purpose in throwing out any “well, it could be” was to try to show that “God is either incomplete or a moral monster” makes some assumptions and is overly simplistic. I was not trying to offer speculations or arguments as to what actually happened. I have ideas as to how God may be using the pandemic in my life but it would be hubris for me to say I know what God is doing in everyone else’s.`


Actually God cannot do anything. He can only do that which is consistent His being and attributes.

We don’t know what reality would have been had historical events not happened, so maybe God has acted to prevent evil and to use it for the greatest good. I cannot say He has by looking at the events in the world and you cannot say He hasn’t, because we are not God.

But the Bible tells us God has acted for the greatest good:

Genesis 50

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people[b] should be kept alive, as they are today.

Romans 8:28

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose.

Hebrews 12

Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

That the lives of one-cell human embryos at the instant of fertilization are far more important than those of live human children?

Yes, that’s the common excuse. Everything’s for the best in this best of all possible worlds. Mysterious ways. Etc. There is of course no way to test this excuse, which makes it perfect. The implication, though, is that we should thank God when bad things happen, because it’s all part of his plan and it will work out for the best. Do you do that? What do you think was the benefit of the Black Plague? Has it worked out yet?

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If there is, you’re going to have to explain what it is.

It appears that you are thankful for things when you can have no idea whether God had anything to do with them. And how can you distinguish God using people for his ends from people just doing it on their own?

The big question is whether you should be thankful for thousands of deaths of other people if those deaths helped you learn a valuable lesson.

Well of course not. But isn’t that just your personal bias at work?

I’ve never been able to figure out what “providential” actually means. It doesn’t seem to involve God actually doing anything, just taking credit for what happens. What could God possibly have had to do with the development of mRNA vaccines? And if he really wanted to help “providentially” with the pandemic, couldn’t he have just arranged for somebody else to be President, or maybe for China to have been a little more transparent early on, or both? Maybe he could have advocated mask-wearing?

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It means you need to find a new argument for why God doesn’t exist.

Often after when I realize it has been for my good. While bad things happen (like Job), I can’t think of when I have; I wish I had that kind of faith. Maybe right now is an exception - I have morning sickness and would prefer to curl up in a ball and be in bed all day but I’m sometimes thankful because I know that women with morning sickness are less likely to have a miscarriage. It can also mean that I might have smart kid, lol. And my husband doesn’t show empathy that often because of his autism unless he sees physical suffering or disadvantage so he’s more empathetic right now which I can be thankful for. (Probably this isn’t a good example because I’m already aware of the good that results from the bad)

Maybe I will be able to be more thankful in bad times someday as God keeps working on me.

I could make guesses, like you and I wouldn’t be here, the United States of America wouldn’t be here or wouldn’t be a free country, who knows? There are tons of possibilities but in the end it’s all speculation. I can’t know.

I think that you aren’t seeing the sarcasm.


Sorry, let me take a stab at it. What I was thinking about was that my parents had both a direct, physical influence on me by their contributions to my DNA as well as an indirect influence on me through their words and actions. Their abundant demonstration of care and love in important ways helped me trust them when I couldn’t see the reason behind things I thought were not loving at the time. Sometime they let me deal with struggles on my own when they could have intervened, because they knew I needed to learn. Similarly, I don’t think God’s “action” has to be miraculous to be real, and it doesn’t have to be plainly evident to us either. I’m sure it doesn’t make sense to you, but I’ve seen God love through Jesus and in my own life enough that I trust him, even if I don’t understand him.

I’m not sure I can generally with any significant level of confidence, but since I believe God to be trustworthy and, you know, God, I’m pretty sure he knows what’s going on. I don’t think “people just doing it on their own” and “God using people for his ends” are mutually exclusive.

That seems to me to be an absurd question and I’m kind of surprised you don’t seem to see the leap you’re making there. When a family is at the funeral of a family member, should they be deemed moral monsters for being thankful that the death brought the family together? When someone receives a heart from an organ donor should they be thankful for the death of another person or thankful for the choice that person made to become an organ donor? Finding ways to redeem tragedy and loss are universal human impulses. This is what I’m seeing in these conversations about COVID and the vaccine.

Depends on what you mean by bias. It is biased in the general sense that we’re all biased here because I’m not a blank slate and I’m working from a framework that presupposed God’s existence (you would be working from the opposite). I never claimed otherwise though and I’ve repeatedly said that I’m not trying to create an apologetic or rational argument for God’s existence. If you don’t believe in God then what rational argument over God’s goodness can we have? It doesn’t make any sense.

I’m not sure exactly either but I’m pretty sure that’s not it. :wink:

Some things that maybe come to mind might be nudging some of those scientists into the career and education they have so that they are ready to tackle this challenge. Maybe it was giving people some hope and encouragement when they were tired and struggling with failures. Maybe it was reminding a mentor to remind someone of something. These things are all sort of nebulous and coincidental, but for the Christian they might be seen as God working through ordinary means and ordinary people (which is sort of how I think of providence).

Yep, those would have all been nice, I don’t know why those things didn’t happen, but if I had to guess it might have been some natural consequences of our own making. I don’t know for sure and I am often frustrated by God’s inaction when I want him to act in particular ways, but I also know I’m not God so it’s entirely possible I’m missing something important.

P.S. @John_Harshman, I think I’ve said all I can say (and maybe more :grimacing: ) on this and I have some important work to do so I’ll probably have to keep replies to a minimum. I just don’t want you to think I’m ignoring your good and important questions if I don’t respond.


What does “action” even mean in that sentence? What does “real” mean? Do you have any idea? Yes, it makes no sense to me, or rather it appears to mean nothing.

Sure, that goes along with omniscience. But how is that relevant?

This also appears to mean nothing. Perhaps we’ve been through this before? I’ve had several conversations attempting to find out what “providential” means, and they’ve never managed to come to anything, just like the present conversation.

Not analogous. It would be analogous if someone had murdered the deceased for the purpose of bringing the family together. In that case I suppose they might be glad to be together but they most certainly would not be thanking the murderer for it.

Please don’t try to equate us.

And yet you can have no knowledge that any of these things happened. They’re certainly subtle enough that we could not distinguish them from complete lack of action. Of course it’s logically possible, but it reminds me of all the people who claim that the Egyptians must have had help from aliens to build the pyramids, because they weren’t techologically advanced enough to do it themselves. It takes away credit from those actually involved.

Don’t you see yourself making excuses here?


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