There are three general approaches to how we make ethical decisions. Sometimes in history they have functioned as competing schools of thought but some contemporary thinkers (particularly John Frame) suggest that in fact we need all three perspectives to make decisions. I’m going to outline them here – probably a little (a lot?) simplified for the purpose of this article.
- Deontological ethics – our moral choices are based on specific commands.
- Virtue ethics – our moral choices are based on the fact that we are/should be virtuous people. What would virtuous people do?
- Situational ethics – looks at what is the right thing in this situation? What will bring about the correct result?
Let’s look at each in term in relation to our dilemma about whether or not to take the vaccine. In the first situation, do we have commands about whether or not to take a vaccine in the Bible? The answer to that is no. We do have commands about not taking life and about doing good not harm. These, on the understanding that life begins at conception are the basis for the Christian view that the original abortions were wrong but do not deal with the further consequential outcomes from that taking of life.
What do virtue ethics tell us? There tends to be too Christian versions of this. The first is to see the Christian as the virtuous person, not in their own strength but as someone filled with the Holy Spirit, in the process of being sanctified and with their conscience re-awakened. The problem here is that we find that different Christians come to different conclusions. The other version is to see Christ as the archetype of a virtuous person and ask “What would Jesus do?” There are three problems here though. The first is that what Jesus would do must also account for his divine nature. It is not always the same as what we would do. The second is that this is a specific detailed example where we don’t have a comparable incident from Christ’s life. The third is linked to that, Christ lived in a particular cultural context and a specific stage in history and so asking what he would do today in a contemporary dilemma risks asking us to second guess his actions and in such cases the reality is that I really mean “this is what I think he would do.”
So, this is a context where taking into account the first two perspectives, the third becomes vital. We need to look at our situation and make a decision based on that. Given our circumstances, what will best bring glory to God and what will best help me to love my neighbour. My reasoning is that I detest abortion. However that particular awful event happened many years ago in this case and I cannot do anything to change the past. I can play my part today. That means doing good by acting to help save lives in a pandemic. Taking the vaccine will help us to build a form of herd immunity to protect the most vulnerable. I also want to glorify and honour God. I won’t do that by simply ignoring the abortion issue and so it is important for me to speak out about the wrong here and help campaign to see this horrific global genocide ended. But I also glorify God be loving my neighbour and by obeying the authorities.
This perspective is not scripture free by the way. You see what I still need to do is see how Scripture bears upon my situation and also to think about the story the Bible tells and how our situations might fit into that story. So, what we see in Scripture is that every time people do things with the intention of harm, God uses it for good. Abraham heads off to Egypt and lies about Sarah, it actually brings harm in Egypt but at the end God brings blessing even through that. Elimelech and Naomi desert Bethlehem for Moab and the result is that God brings Ruth back as an ancestor of David and Jesus. David sins in the case of Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite but through that line comes Solomon and Christ. For me, there is this sobering truth that we worked dark evil but God brings light out of it. We bring death and yet God brings life. So, in this context, and respecting that others will come to a different conclusion, I believe that the situation asks me to take the vaccine. In a different situation I might answer differently. This helps me to make a decision now whilst holding a charitable view of others and the decision they come to