[Editor's note: This series of articles was adapted from an event entitled "Reforming the Healthcare System: How a Biblical Worldview Bears on the Current National Debate." It was hosted by the richmond center for christian study and featured lectures by Dr. Terrill Wade, a retired family physician, homeschooler and educator.]
Do you know a family struggling to afford the costs of healthcare, or perhaps have a relative who has been rejected from coverage because of a pre-existing condition? Perhaps you have heard stories about people who have lost everything in bankruptcy due to overwhelming healthcare bills.
How can we resolve the healthcare crisis in a way that is fair? There are many different ideas floating around out there, but does the Bible have anything to say, directly or indirectly, about how healthcare should be handled? If so, how does a biblical worldview bear on the current debate about healthcare reform? Is there anything you can personally do to bring resolution to this vital issue?
As a physician, I believe that the most important question to be asked about healthcare reform is, "What does God have to say about justice and mercy, and the governmental role in the healthcare field?" To me, the real debate about healthcare reform is more concerned with these issues than it is with specific medical knowledge or techniques.
God, being the Creator of humankind, knows people and their needs far more clearly than we do. Indeed, 1 Corinthians 1:25 tells us "For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom…" So, to the Scriptures we turn in search of His wisdom.
What Should We Think about Healthcare Reform?
First, beginning in Genesis, we discover God's answer to the basic question "What does it mean to be healthy?" In other words, what is the goal of our reform? The first chapters of the Bible illustrate real health in action. The word "health' is not actually mentioned, but the situation is clearly one of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. Adam had full and open communication with God, full and open communication with other humans (Eve), a healthy body, meaningful work, and a stimulating environment. This well-rounded view of health should influence the way we seek reforms in our system. Even as we discuss ways to care for physical health, we ought to include in our thinking the areas of mental, emotional, and spiritual health as well.
Secondly, Genesis also reveals that as humans we are given the dignity of being made in God's image. We are not valuable because of movie-star looks, football-linebacker size, amazing works of charity, or a Nobel-prize intellect. Human beings are valuable simply and only because God places value on each of us. Such intrinsic value, thus, invalidates any attempt to measure up the size, stage of development and intellectual awareness of other humans to see if they fit our idea of ‘personhood' and ‘worth'. This suggests that protections must be set and maintained for human beings at the beginning of life when a person is very small and doesn't yet resemble a fully formed child out of the womb.
Such protections must also be preserved for those who are at the end of human life when a person may not be able to contribute as expressively to the community, as well as in situations such as stroke, coma or severe mental retardation when patients do not have the same degree of intellectual awareness as that of a fifty year old man at the peak of his career. A logical extension of this principle is that healthcare providers who understand and hold to this biblical view of human dignity should be protected by law when they refuse to participate in any life-taking procedures that have become more and more common in recent years.
A third feature we notice is that work is part of God's good plan for man. In Eden it was meaningful work. We are not told if it was easy or hard, but it had value. What does that have to do with healthcare reform? Leviticus 19:9 requires the owners of fields to leave gleanings for the poor to gather for their food. In other words, any needy person who is able-bodied must help himself. If you add this requirement to the original dignity of work, it seems preferable that healthcare reform be set up in such a way that enables able-bodied citizens needing healthcare coverage to find ways to earn what they need, rather than simply receiving money or healthcare handouts. Earning provides the dignity and satisfaction of achievement that comes by helping oneself. Handouts diminish dignity and satisfaction. Additionally, the use of income sliding scales for regulating insurance payments and requiring small co-pays at the time of care are practices that encourage individuals to manage their resources well and participate in the system wisely.
What Are We to Do as We Await God's Ultimate Restoration?
Unfortunately the early chapters of Genesis reveal other relevant but less pleasant views of the human race. We see the ushering in of sickness, pain and death as a result of mankind's rebellion against God, and we learn that these things will be with us until Christ comes again. But it is precisely against this background of marred humanity that God gave His laws, writings and wisdom literature.
To the people of Israel God showed His holiness, revealed His requirements for man, and told them how to live in this difficult, sin-cursed world while waiting for the Redeemer to come. Through the study of these Scriptures we can acquire valuable insight into how God requires us to treat our fellow man. Let me apply some of these principles to one of the most basic questions in the current healthcare discussion: "How essential is it that we make sure that everyone has access to suitable healthcare?"
In the Old Testament God continually called on His people to take special care of the poor and needy. Since the maintenance of health required adequate food and shelter (a financial issue), and personal attention was about the only real help during sickness or treatments of injury (a personal support system issue), we are on safe ground to equate people unable to afford healthcare today with the "poor and needy" as described in Scripture.
By and large, God's calls for His people to take special care of the poor and needy were directed at individuals to be kind to those in need, giving generously. The concept of a governmental mandate to care for the poor and needy is notably absent from the pages of Scripture. Sadly, it has become easier and easier in our day for professing Christians to sit back and think, "Leave healthcare to the government. After all, they already have my tax money to do it."
God, however, always starts with the Christian individual's willingness to be part of His answer to the needs of the world. We must resolve this issue for ourselves before we call out for big government to step in. Good sense alone tells us to try solving a problem at the lowest level possible first. We only move up to a higher level of authority and structure when greater resources than are available at the lower level are needed.
The question is pointed, but it must be asked: Are our hearts truly committed to being part of God's answer to the needy in the area of healthcare? Do we look after those in our own extended families (the original support system)? Do we help our elderly church members get to their doctor's appointments and make sure that they are able to afford their pills? Do we even know if any of our members cannot afford health insurance? What would we do about it once we knew? Are we looking for ways to help our co-workers? Can we participate in local non-profit healthcare initiatives?
If personal healthcare is love in action (and I believe that it can be), then we must remember that the more organized and bureaucratic help becomes, the more the modeling of God's love is lost to the recipients of the help. Higher levels of government involvement and regulation may well be needed to curb the abuses of our present system. But it is never the government's role to step in and do our job of reaching out in love to fellow human beings who bear God's image.
Who Is Worthy of Help?
While we may like to choose who should be helped and how, the New Testament teaches that Christ does not give us the luxury of deciding who is worthy of help in the matter of healthcare reform. In the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25), Christ tells us, "Love your neighbor as yourself." He then gives us a parable depicting the most unlikely man who sacrificially helped a needy one whom God had placed in his path. This he did with no regard for the man's social status, nationality, or character. Furthermore, the calls to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44) and help our enemies (Exodus 23:4, Proverbs 25:21) reinforce the non-discriminatory nature of God's love.
Finally, in order to drive home the high priority of loving our neighbors, Christ used the convicting parable of the sheep and goats to emphasize the importance of the fact that when we either do, or do not "take in a stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit those in prison" we are directly affecting Him. It is chilling, and challenging, to read of those who are banished to eternal damnation because of not caring for the "least of these." (Matthew 25:35). Scripture clearly teaches that we cannot afford to shrug off our responsibility to seriously exert ourselves, get out of our comfort zones, and care for the needy around us.
But is reaching out locally and individually enough? What about the many who are not in the support systems that I just described, or who are in support systems that are not doing the job? Right now many people in the United States are suffering from the lack of needed medical treatment or are being crushed under burdensome healthcare costs. Are we, as Christians, required to make sure they are covered? How can we possibly do that in a country of over 300 million people? Is it time to move up to the next layer of resources?
Before dealing with that in the next article, let us be reminded that Scripture says we live in a "now-and-not-yet" time period. Christ has come and inaugurated the Kingdom of God, but it will not be fully finished until He returns. The calling God gives us as 21st century Christians is to continue His kingdom work by loving God, by loving and doing good to our enemies and neighbors, and by spreading the Gospel. May God give us whole-hearted commitment to His Kingdom work, and the wisdom to discern His leading in thorny issues such as healthcare reform.
This series of articles was adapted from an event entitled "Reforming the Healthcare System: How a Biblical Worldview Bears on the Current National Debate." It was hosted by the richmond center for christian study and featured lectures by Dr. Terrill Wade, a retired family physician, homeschooler and educator.
To interact with Dr. Wade and others at The Richmond Center for Christian Study, visit their blog here.
Here is a short video clip of the healthcare reform event from which this article was adapted:
The Richmond Center for Christian Study seeks to demonstrate the reliability of a biblical worldview and show how that worldview bears on every part of life and culture. Understanding that the cross of Jesus Christ radiates profound effects throughout all of reality, it is the desire of The Richmond Center for Christian Study to grow Christ's kingdom by winsomely helping people see these effects and joyfully embrace Christ as Lord.
Chris Daniel, Executive Director of the Richmond Center for Christian Study
Dr. Terrill Wade, board member of the Richmond Center for Christian Study and retired family physician
Dr. Donald R. Stern, Richmond Area Health Director
Dr. Michael Murchie, Assistant Medical Director of CrossOver Clinic in Richmond, VA
For more information about The Richmond Center for Christian Study, visit their website at richmondstudycenter.org