Thursday, August 20, 2009

Health Care: WWJD?

The public debate over health care has become so heated and so factious that even one as high and exalted as Barack Obama is seeking endorsement from a higher power. Yesterday, in a web conference with 140,000 faithful on the line, President Obama appealed for support of his health care reform plan on religious grounds.

“There are some folks out there who are, frankly, bearing false witness.” the president said. He went on to itemize "death panels", "a government takeover of health care", and "government funding of abortion" as some of the falsehoods being promoted by opponents of his plan.

"These are all fabrications that have been put out there in order to discourage people from meeting what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation, and that is that we look out for one another, that I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper.” he said.

Combatants throughout the ages have sought the imprimatur of the almighty on their cause. It's a fool's errand. Our most heralded causes -- even world wars -- are but a jot or tittle in God's eternal plan. The mismatch of context is so staggering that the question "Whose side is God on?" is almost laughable.

But it might be worth a moment to consider this ancient yet trendy question: What would Jesus do? In other words, if Jesus was walking around on planet Earth today, what would he do, what would he think, what would his attitude be toward the health care debate?

Historic Perspective

Let's start with the source of the health care problem: illness and aging. Neither of these conditions existed in the Garden of Eden. It was not until man sinned and was thrown out of the garden that illness and aging came into existence.

It was not God's desire that illness and aging would ever exist. But it's an inescapable fact that Jesus, as the second person of the triune Godhead, booted Adam and Eve out of the garden and cursed them with illness and aging (and ultimately death) as part of their punishment for sin.

So the question "What would Jesus do about health care?" seems incredibly out of place considering Jesus is responsible for the need for health care in the first place.

There, I said it!

No matter what your theology, it seems to me an inescapable fact that an all powerful God simply must be responsible for the illness and aging that we use health care to treat. Whether you believe that God causes the ravages of illness and aging or just allows them as the consequence of sin, the net result is the same. God is on the hook for the health care 'problem'.

Don't worry, God has big shoulders. He's OK with you identifying him as the one responsible for the health care problem. Just don't go so far as to say that it is his fault. He set up a perfect system free from all illness and aging. Adam and Eve were the ones who messed it up. It's their fault and God is responding in a just manner to that fault.

So are we clear on this? We are living a life that is God's plan B for us. Plan A had no illness or aging (nor accidental death or injury either) and no need for health care.

Neither did plan A include socialism or communism. It didn't even include western democracy, representative government (a republic) or market-based economics. In fact, it included no form of human government at all. In plan A God was (and is) the sovereign King. In plan A, God personally governs all of man's affairs and personally provides for all of man's needs. All of them. All the time.

Even after the fall, God was not a fan of human government. He established governmental 'chains of command' for the nation of Israel, but he was always at the top of the chain. Eventually the people begged God for a human king like all the other nations had. God resisted that idea knowing man's tendency would be to look to their king for their every need rather than looking to God.

After a lot of pestering, God finally relented and gave Israel a king. He basically said, "Fine, you want a king? OK, I'll give you a king. But you'll regret it." And Israel often did regret it. They had good kings and bad kings. Their kingdom was like a box 'o chocolates: you never knew what you were gonna get.

So human government is not part of God's plan A. I don't think it's even fair to say that human forms of government are part of God's plan B. He only yielded to man's desire for a human government. He never suggested it and I don't think to this day he much likes the idea.

So doesn't this question of "What would Jesus think of Barack Obama's health care plan?" become ever more absurd? Well God, now that your people have rebelled twice, first by disobeying you and introducing illness and aging to the world, and then again when they rejected you as their preferred form of government, what's the best way to handle this mess? Should we try to mitigate the curse you put on us by turning over the mitigation strategy to a human form of government which does not acknowledge you as it's sovereign?

How, exactly, should God answer this question?

Isn't it ironic that God initially set up the most perfect nanny state one could imagine, but we rejected it and are now trying to recreate that nanny state in our own image?

WWJD

To understand what Jesus would do about health care if he was walking around on the planet today, we need only to look at what he did about health care the last time he was on the Earth.

"14But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. 15Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick..." - Matthew 12:14-15
In every translation of the Bible that I have checked, this passage conveys the clear idea that Jesus healed them all. Not most. Not some. Not just the ones he could. He healed them all. Jesus' health care plan -- then and now -- is to return to eternal plan A: no illness or aging at all.

He didn't tell Caesar that there were 47 million in the Roman world who needed a health care plan. He didn't direct the government to set up health savings accounts for all Roman citizens. He didn't even tell the church to build hospitals for the sick. He personally, forthrightly healed them all.

And he directed his followers to do the same. He told them that they would do even greater medical miracles than he did. This is one aspect of the health care system that I believe is seriously broken. His followers either don't believe what he did or don't believe what he said they could do and as a result the sick are not healed in anything like the numbers Jesus would wish. We don't believe in a return to plan A I'm afraid.

During his time on earth, Jesus did not say very much to or about government. I think this is because he was focusing on the return to plan A and he just didn't think it very worthwhile to spend much time on anything else -- let alone reforming human government which to him was at best a societal band-aid to their self-inflicted wound caused when they rejected him as their King.

The two things he did say about government are of course noteworthy. First he said that we should "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things which are God's." (Matthew 22:21) It's dangerous to expand the meaning of this verse beyond the original context. Recall that the smarty-pants of the day were trying to trap Jesus into saying something that would get him in trouble no matter which way he answered. So his answer was designed to sidestep that danger more than anything.

I think his answer was also a kind of back-handed slap at the smarty-pants. Why are you guys asking me about plan C? (which I don't even like that much) You should be focusing on plan A -- rendering rendering unto God.

In his second teaching on government, Jesus said,
1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.4For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing.7Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor." - Romans 13:1-7
This is a clear teaching on government authority. It may be plan C, but government officials still report to God (whether they think so or not) and they operate with God's authority so we are to respect that. This is a hard teaching for citizens of a democratic country where we believe that government derives its authority from the consent of the governed. Also challenging for a conservative like me is this clear teaching that government has the right to tax her citizens. That chaffs a bit!

Two functions of government are described here: "God's servant to do you good" and "God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrong doer." Clearly government administers God's justice and dispenses God's judgment.

It also serves to "do you good". I really wish Jesus had fleshed that out a bit more. It's like the "general welfare" clause in the US Constitution which is claimed for a great many more purposes than the original authors intended. I don't think you can argue that Jesus intended to provide justification for the comprehensive nanny state with this one sentence. Remember that Jesus desires to be our nanny state.

But I admit that the statement "do you good" is broad and not further qualified. It's not unreasonable to use it as a supporting argument for the Obamacare plan. However, I've never heard President Obama or anyone in the administration use this scripture in support of their case.

Jesus tells us the administration of justice is a function of government. However, health care is not the administration of justice. To tell you the unvarnished truth, illness and aging are the result of God's justice in action. So it is just wrong headed to say that people deserve health care as a matter of some civil right derived from God's justice.

Health care is the administration of grace and mercy. In the scriptures virtually all the dispensations of mercy are done by an individual or by God. I can't think of a biblical example of the governmental administration of mercy (except in forbearance of the God-ordained administration of justice).

This is subtle, but so important to our way of thinking. Health care is grace from justice, not justice itself. Read that last sentence a few times until it sinks in. To think otherwise is to negate God's right to curse and to treat his grace with the contempt of privilege rather than the thankfulness we owe him.

The very fact that we can rollback the curse to any degree at all is purely a function of God's grace in granting mankind the medical wisdom to do so. To treat that grace as an expectation, worse as a right, is a terrible affront to God I think.

Probably the best example of biblical health care administration is the story of the Good Samaritan. In this story an individual pays the recuperative health care costs for a man who has been mugged and robbed. It was not the government who provided the services or paid the tab. It was a private business that provided the services and a private individual who paid the tab.

In making a biblical case for his health care program, President Obama references the story of Cain and Abel. In the biblical account, God asks Cain what has happened to Abel (Cain has murdered Abel) and Cain replies, "I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper?" Obama decides this means that "...I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper.”

Even if that interpretation is correct, that we are all our brothers' keepers, it is not a license for government to force us to be our brother's keeper. At the most, the story is an admonition to personal responsibility, not community or corporate responsibility.

But Obama's interpretation here is wrong. God's response to Cain really had this meaning: "Of course I don't expect you to be Abel's keeper. Why are you throwing up that smoke screen when you know I don't expect that? I am Abel's keeper. Oh, I see, it's a bogus argument designed to distract from what I really do expect -- that you obey my command not to murder. I don't expect you to be Abel's keeper, but I sure expect you not to kill him."

Any claim that the story of Cain and Abel is support for government sponsored health care is a complete misapplication of this scripture.

Summary

Let me close with this. God is very interested in health care. He desires that man be healed supernaturally by the administration of God's grace and mercy via his saints (his people on Earth). He also provides the grace to overcome his own curse via the medical knowledge he imparts to mankind.

God's interest in human government is at best tertiary. He desires that man returns to God's eternal plan A in which God is all the government there is and all the provision anyone ever needs.

There are no biblical commands that would require government to provide health care coverage at all. Likewise, there are no biblical commands preventing government from providing health care coverage.

The only biblical examples of health care being provided are voluntary, sacrificial acts by individuals or acts of grace and mercy by God himself. There is no biblical account of compelling anyone to participate in health care and no record of government being involved in health care.

However, there is no biblical reason why people could not decide to join together in a health care program under government auspices. The biblical model would suggest that such an association should be voluntary, but the scripture also gives government the right to levy taxes and says almost nothing about how the taxes should be used.

Based on this brief and admittedly incomplete study, I don't think either side in the Obamacare debate can make any claim that God favors their position.

So why don't both sides cut it out.

5 comments:

  1. Wow. Talk about a broad perspective. Frankly, I think you pretty much nailed it. The only thing I would add is a perspective on the impact of sin in human nature.

    Although we don't usually express ourselves this way, the whole conservative position is an attempt to acknowledge human sin and limit it's consequences.

    The founders set up a limited form of government with all kinds of checks and balances because they knew that no one could be trusted with too much power.

    Government was set up to protect us from the sinful actions of our fellow citizens (crime). The problem is that the people in the government have the same flawed human nature as the criminals do.

    If the government were being run by angels (of the unfallen variety) it might be safer to allow limited forms of socialism, becuase we could always trust the angels to be both wise and good. No intelligent person would look at either party and trust it to always be wise and good.

    If we can't depend on altruism to get the job done, then what are we to do? This is where I believe God gifted our founding fathers with real genius. We set up a system in which both selfishness and altruism create benefits for the greatest number of people.

    If I could design a better wheelchair, something that would be head and shoulders above what we have now, I would be doing greaat good in the world. But I would also create vast wealth for my family if I did that. I can do it with mixed motives; frankly, it doesn't matter why I do it. The end result is a benefit to my fellow man.

    I live in the land of government regulations. In my business (taking care of disabled adults) the first question I must ask is not "what would the person I'm caring for want me to do," nor is it "what would Jesus want me to do." The first question is, "what will the government want me to do and what will they do to me if I guess wrong?"

    So on the one hand we have a state in danger of bankruptcy and on the other hand I am regulated by people who will Monday morning quarterback every health related decision I make. So what do I do? I make what are mostly unneccessary trips to the emergency room with my people just so that I can keep my job. To put it another way, a nearly bankrupt state is forcing me, a conservative, to waste government money like a drunken sailor so that I can fulfill a function that is in fact a government mandate.

    Are they trying to be good? I think so. Are they wise? I think not. In private industry, if you are not wise, you will soon be out of business. There are no such checks and balances for government regulators.

    Frankly, I don't want these people deciding whether or not I qualify for a heart transplant some day.

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  2. I must say that I am appalled at the use of religion and morality by our President to try to appeal to Americans' conscience as a method in attracting their support of his health care plan. This is a man who supports late-term abortion, and who has voted against a bill in the Illinois state legislature that would allow medical care to babies who are aborted and are still alive after the abortion procedure.

    This is also from a man who required Georgetown University to remove a cross that was behind a podium that he would be speaking from.

    He has also told the world that the U.S. is not a Christian nation.

    If we are not a Christian nation and he does not want to be associated with the cross, then why does he feel that it is okay now to bring religion and Bible passages into a political discussion?

    It is immoral for him to do so. He is using God to advance his agenda, and I wonder if he is violating one of the 10 commandments, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain."

    On another vein, I am reminded of Jesus' statement that we would do even greater things than what He did (amazing!) and wonder if the Church really understands what that means and what our mission really is. Are we too afraid to pray for healing for people because it seems they just don't get healed? Why aren't they healed? Has anyone been able to really answer that question? Until we know the "secret formula" (which won't be until we finally see through a glass clearly, and not dimly as we do now) we shouldn't abandon praying for the sick.

    Yet sometimes God chooses to use other methods to heal, and sometimes chooses not to heal at all. I believe that everyone SHOULD have equal access to healthcare. Should the government provide this care? A very difficult and complicated question for which I'm not sure I know the answer. But it's certainly a debate worth having, and certainly not rushing into in just a few weeks or even months.

    And certainly not by arm twisting and conscience pricking by the President of the United States. Shameful. Classless. And beneath the dignity of the Office.

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  3. Very insightful comments by both Mark and Abigail!

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  4. Abigail, people have been debating this issue for decades, not weeks or months. Already forgot the ill-named "Hillarycare", did you?

    I agree that careful consideration is due, but let's not pretend this is "all of a sudden". It's not.

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  5. To Wayne and Mark: I know where you are coming from. Truly, I do. But I suggest you keep this information 'Top Secret'. It's sort of like the old Catholic notion that "We have the secrets, but they are too complicated for you to deal with".

    I realize that Protestants rebelled strongly against that notion (as well as against other notions), but upon analysis I think they might have been ill-advised to do so, at least in the case of fully explaining the doctrine.

    The more you elucidate these beliefs, the more secular humanists you help to create, I think.

    Yuki?

    Staggered. Stunned. Absolutely overwhelmed, once the real meaning got through to her. I mean, she is agog, to put it mildly. And this is not the result of any prompting on my part.

    This bit of Christian philosophy results in one of two things here in East Asia: rejection of the idea entirely, or modifying it to the point where it is no longer accepted as doctrinaire by "mainstream" evangelicals. (There is a third option, of course, which is total acceptance, but it is a very rare thing -- if you think your "Christian" churches in Korea, for example, would pass your muster, you are probably dreaming.)

    I may have more later, but I am, on principle, disinclined to joust with those who claim divinely inspired ancient writings. We just get into a pissing contest that no one can possibly win.

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