The other day I listened briefly to talk show host John Robbie interviewing an HIV specialist. It was World AIDS Day and HIV awareness dominated the media. This particular discussion surrounded medical progress over the past 34 years to stem the scourge of this awful disease—a scourge that affects over six million people in South Africa.
The specialist said that, in addition to developments in the production of antiretrovirals, there are also some advancements toward producing a vaccine to combat HIV. According to her, some antiretrovirals are currently being experimented with in this regard by our Department of Health. She pointed to some test cases in Thailand, where apparently such a vaccine has resulted in some immunity against the deadly virus. The expert then very nonchalantly said that such a vaccine, if successful, will be beneficial for “men who want to have sex with men,” and for “sex workers.” I was struck by how cavalier she said this (as though this is to be perfectly accepted behaviour). But I was also struck with the realisation that, whether she realised it or not, she was actually boasting that scientists have now come up with a vaccine against the wrath of God. Let me explain.
Romans 1:18 declares that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth [from and about God] in unrighteousness.” Paul then reviews the spiritual declension of humanity through the end of the chapter. As sinful man rejects the Creator, he makes his own rules while defying God’s rules. And a major area in which this is seen is with reference to sexuality. Paul speaks of the perversion of marital sex into such behaviours as homosexual actions. He concludes: “who, knowing the righteous judgement of God, that those who practise such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practise them” (v. 32). The interview I heard is a case in point. The specialist was gushing over a vaccine that would enable people to practice sexual sin while diminishing the consequences. Rather than condemning such sinful actions and lifestyles; rather than acknowledging God’s boundaries and agreeing with His conclusion of judgement upon such sins; she “approved” behaviour which God describes as defiant and deserving of His wrath. However unwittingly, she was exalting in the manmade development of a vaccine against the wrath of God.
It is important that we be clear in our thinking about this matter. After all, any and all disease is rooted in the entrance of sin into this world. Cancer or chicken pox, polio or scarlet fever, heart disease or any other illness in our world—including HIV—is the result of God’s curse, which He enacted when Adam fell (and when we fell in him). These are all a manifestation of the “death” that God said would occur if Adam rebelled against Him (Genesis 2:17). Does this mean that we should do nothing to mitigate the effects of this curse? Certainly not. God, in His grace, has enabled man to find cures against many of these consequences. And we are grateful for this. The fact that Jesus healed many people indicates that alleviating suffering is an act of grace, one which we should pursue. But there is a world of difference between finding a cure for a disease and the mentality that pursues a vaccine for the purpose of “safe sin.”
A vaccination against HIV will no doubt be welcomed in the healthcare industry as well as in the broader society. No doubt there will be wonderful benefits, such as protecting people from HIV-tainted blood transfusions. It would be of great benefit to protecting healthcare workers. It could prove helpful in protecting the unborn from being infected by mothers who are HIV positive. A vaccine might protect a faithful spouse from being infected by her unfaithful spouse. Such a vaccine would be a blessing for those who are married to a repentant spouse who at one time was infected. It would be a blessing in a marriage where one spouse was inadvertently infected by some tainted blood. Christians certainly can endorse such applications. And we should. This is a part of what it means to “exercise dominion” for the glory of God. The gospel empowers believers to spread God’s blessings as “far as the curse is found.” But there is a world of difference between this and developing a vaccination to protect those who practise ungodly behaviour. It is like those products that promote getting drunk while promising at the same time to guard you from the effects of a hangover. It is like the push to “use condoms” for “safe sex” rather than declaring that sex is to be enjoyed in a monogamous marriage between a natural born man and a natural born woman. (It is amazing that we have to be so descriptive in defining marriage, but this is evidence that Romans 1 is not some archaic passage.) I love the story of a young person who asked their grandfather what people did in his day to engage in “safe sex.” He showed them his wedding ring and said, “We wore this.”
Certainly God-honouring science aims to manage, to the best of our ability, the effects of the fall. God graciously gives insight to people who help us to minimise the consequences of the fall. And if a cure is found for HIV/AIDS it will be an act of grace on God’s part even towards the unrepentant. God is kinder than we can ever comprehend. But to pervert this in such a way that we minimise or ignore completely the reality of God’s wrath is the height of folly and is ultimately destructive to a society.
Finding a cure for HIV/AIDS would be a wonderful breakthrough and wonderful blessing, particularly if those infected because of their sin would heed the words that Jesus spoke to a woman guilty of sexual sin: “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11).
Through medical advancements the effects of living in a fallen world can be mitigated. But no medical, scientific, political or sociological discovery will ever vaccinate us against the wrath of God. There is only one way to escape that: by the gospel of God. The vicarious death of Jesus Christ, in which He experienced God’s wrath on the cross for all who repent and believe on Him, is our only hope. And because it is the gospel of God, it is a sure hope. Jesus rose from the dead and so salvation from God’s wrath is forever secured for those who trust Him.
Neither condom nor vaccine nor any other manmade development will shield us from the wrath of God. But Jesus does. Let’s tell the world this good news of God’s grace in the midst of a disease-ridden world that is otherwise under His wrath.