At the moment, we’re having a national brouhaha over health care, and many people are irritated and bewildered. Some have gotten notices that their current policies have been cancelled, yet the website for buying government insurance is malfunctioning. They’re stuck in no man’s land, and anxiety levels are rising. It’s a good time to put the matter of health care in biblical perspective. Here are 10 features of the biblical witness on the matter:
1. Doctoring is biblical. Jesus honored the medical profession by calling Himself the Great Physician and by inspiring a doctor, Luke, to write much of the New Testament (Luke and Acts). Furthermore, illness is real and there are physical resources for dealing with it, facts that escape devotees to Christian Science, which is neither Christian nor science.
2. God has graciously placed medical resources in nature. Proverbs 31:6 and 1Timothy 5:23 speak, respectively, of alcohol as sedative and palliative. These passages anticipate a range of medications available for such purposes, from anesthesia to antibiotics (e.g., aspirin from willow bark and penicillin from mold).
3. Healing was a sign of Jesus’ power and compassion. The Gospels are full of healing accounts, from Blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10 to the centurion’s servant in Matthew 8. And the prophets continually pressed their hearers to care for genuine victims of circumstance and oppression. Following His example and infused by His Spirit, Christians have been at the forefront of the healing arts throughout Church history.
4. Primary responsibility lies with the individual and the family. In 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul says, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat,” and in 1 Timothy 5:8, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” By extension, basic coverage for life’s essentials begins at home, and we should not burden others unless we can’t help it.
5. We are to be stewards of our health. In this connection, 1 Corinthians 6 teaches that our bodies should be regarded as temples of the Holy Spirit; Proverbs 23 tells us to “put a knife to our throats” if we tend toward gluttony. Though genes and physical circumstances have much to do with our health, much of it still under our control. And, incidentally, those who seek spiritual gain by “mortifying the flesh” (e.g., flagellation; hair shirt) miss the boat.
6. The Bible commends prayer for the sick. James 5 directs those who are ailing to call on the church for intercession. And yes, miracles can happen.
7. Worry is a sin. While careful stewardship of our bodies is our responsibility, anxiety over potential lapses and shortfalls in care should not cripple us. Jesus reminds us of provision for “birds of the air” and “lilies of the field” in Matthew 6, and asks, rhetorically in Luke 12, who can add a day to his life by worry. Furthermore, Paul posts the antidote to anxiety in Philippians 4: prayer saturated with thanksgiving.
8. We’re all dying. This has been the case since Adam’s fall, in Genesis 3, where God said that Adam and his offspring would return “to the dust.” In that sense, medicine is fighting a losing battle, and to presume to eliminate all maladies would be to emulate King Canute, who parked his throne on the seashore and then commanded the tide not to invade his land and soak him.
9. Those in Christ will inherit eternal health. As it says of the inhabitants of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21, God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain.” This is the real, extended healthcare plan.
10. There is no substitute for truth. Regarding health care, the economics are complex, the discourse heated, the public-policy ramifications enormous, and the politics incendiary. The “Father of Lies” (John 8:44) loves to sow confusion in the midst of the conversation.