After seeing yet another video on Snapchat of millennials protesting for free health care yesterday, I finally decided to speak my mind on the issue. But as I was pondering how I would go about doing it, I realized that I am in such a firmly entrenched habit of approaching the issue through political theory that I had not spent much time considering what the Bible has to say on the issue. Not that classical liberalism and Christianity are opposed on this topic — I believe they are quite in line with each other. But the Bible, which I take to be my religious authority, has some very important things to say that are pertinent to the healthcare debate, and I want to take a chance to focus on their impact on how we should approach the issue of healthcare. The three points which I will focus on in this post are that we are commanded to selflessly care for the poor, we are commanded not to covet or steal the wealth of others, and we are commanded to industriously provide for ourselves.
Let me preface all of this by saying that, regardless of party affiliation, we are likely all in agreement that the current healthcare system is hopelessly broken. It is shackled down by litigation and red tape which makes it far more expensive than it needs to be. It reeks of greed on the part of corporations and medical professionals seeking frivolous personal wealth, and it also reeks of greed on the part of individuals eager to make an easy buck off of malpractice lawsuits. These factors among a mind-numbingly complex web of other factors drive up prices in the healthcare industry to the point that people can hardly afford to keep themselves healthy.
There is an entire debate to be had about whether the healthcare industry needs less or more government intervention. I tend to side with the former, but I want this post to focus on Biblical principles, on which Christians and non-Christians alike should both agree, which should guide our attitude towards and actions to improve health care. I would be delusional to think that I somehow have all the answers and can somehow offer a thorough solution for healthcare in a blog post. Instead, I just want to lay out the principles which should characterize whatever solution our society does find.
Principle #1: We Need To Selflessly Care for the Poor
There are dozens if not hundreds of verses in the Bible about caring for the poor. For the sake of brevity, I will focus on a few attributed to Jesus Himself.
Matthew 25:31-40 states that when we care for the poor, the least in our society, it is as if we do it for Jesus Himself. Verses 41-46 state that those who do not care for the poor and needy deny the same help to Jesus Himself, and they will be punished. This passage not only establishes that we should help the poor, it establishes that we have a moral obligation to do so for which we will be morally accountable if we fail to uphold that obligation.
Further, Matthew 19:21, Luke 12:33, and Luke 18:22 all describe instances in which Jesus told a person that they ought to sell their possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. The proper takeaway from such a passage is not that all men are required to give all their possessions and care for the poor (for Jesus never makes such a sweeping claim), but that we should be perfectly ready and willing to do so if Jesus called us to do it in order to care for the less fortunate.
The overarching principle from all of this is that we should selflessly and sacrificially care for the poor. Failing to do so violates a clear moral obligation. It is clear that the poor need assistance when it comes to access to health care, therefore Christians and non-Christians willing to share in the Biblical principle of charity should feel and act upon a moral obligation to help them. There are many organizations and benevolent donors already doing so. But it is clear that more needs to be done.
The best part is that this part doesn’t even require the government. If somebody is dissatisfied with the health care resources available to the poor, it is fully within their power to take actions to help provide a solution themselves.
Principle #2: We Should Not Covet or Steal Other People’s Wealth
In addition to principles of charity and selflessness, the Bible also imparts moral commands concerning the protection of an individual’s possessions and the attitude we should have towards the wealth of others.
This isn’t too complicated. Exodus 25 states in no uncertain terms that we should not steal, and we should not covet. Case closed.
As my millennial generation and the generations before it seek to improve the healthcare system, we would be violating the Bible’s moral commands if our “solution” involves the forceful taking of another person’s possessions in order to benefit ourselves. In fact, we are already in violation of our moral duties if we view the wealth of those who are fortunate with contempt, envy, and disdain because they can financially care for themselves in a way that we cannot. Such an attitude is one of covetousness and is morally reprehensible.
The Bible makes it clear that even as we benevolently seek to improve the conditions of the poor, we have no right to command the wealthy to give more than they have already given. This is made plain in Acts 5. During a time in which Christians had selflessly been giving much or all of their possessions in order to care for each other, a man named Ananias claimed he had given more than he really had. Peter reprimanded him, but he did not condemn him for not giving enough. Quite to the contrary, Peter affirmed that Ananias had the right to do with his possessions whatever he desired, but his deception was wicked.
Even at a time when the Church was characterized by the selfless giving of personal property, one of the foremost leaders of the Church acknowledged Ananias’ moral right to retain his own property and do whatever he wanted with it.
Therefore, the benevolent charity demanded by the Bible is something we are responsible for insofar as our own possessions and wealth are concerned. We cannot rightfully demand that a person gives more to the poor even if our motivations are altruistic. And it is nothing more than theft or covetousness to forcefully command the wealthy to “give” to the poor if we are just demanding that they give to ourselves.
If my generation finds itself impoverished and needy, and the wealthy choose to selflessly provide health care for us through charity, then my generation should have an attitude of humility and gratitude. But my generation currently reeks of entitlement and covetousness in demanding to be taken care of by commandeering the wealth of others to pay for their own medical services.
Principle #3: We Are Commanded to Industriously Provide for Ourselves
While this statement should be tempered with the understanding that God is the ultimate giver of all good things, Proverbs is clear that we are to provide for ourselves.
Proverbs 6:3-11, written to a young man, tells him that if he finds himself financially imperiled then he ought to learn from the swiftness of gazelles and the industriousness of ever-working ants, that he should not rest his eyes, and ultimately that he ought to labor to provide for himself.
This is a principle that seems lost on my generation (and, broadly, on the generations before it). Providing for ourselves requires labor. Merely holding a position in a workplace does not make us entitled to wealth or comfort. It means we have a venue by which we may labor to provide for ourselves. Some venues provide greater opportunity to provide for ourselves than others, and the ones with the most opportunity require the most work.
A neurosurgeon is worth wages far greater than a barista at Starbucks. This is not an attack on unskilled professions. It is the statement of an objective fact. A worker is worth his wages (a principle found more than once throughout Scripture), but it would be delusional for a worker to think he is worth more than he really is (not that my generation would ever do a thing like that…).
This means that having the nicer things in life like cell phones, tv’s, computers, gaming consoles, new cars, etc. might have to take back-seat to being able to pay a bill to go to the dentist. But I would remind my generation that we are not entitled to any of those things, nor are we entitled to the wealth of others to cover our own health care so that we can afford luxury items.
So if we find ourselves financially imperiled, even if it is because of something like health care needs, we are to have an attitude of industry in seeking to provide for ourselves to the best of our ability.
Of course, no matter how hard we work we may very well still be incapable of providing for ourselves in the face of a healthcare industry that is astronomically expensive.
Even so, we are not entitled to the wealth or property of others. No amount of misfortune can justify covetousness or theft which is all that there really is in our actions and mindset when we feel disdain towards those with wealth who have not given it to us to fix our problems so we demand that the government take it from them and give it to us instead.
If we find ourselves in need of help, we may, of course humbly ask for help from God and those around us. But this should be done out of an attitude of humility rather than entitlement.
Charity is a virtue that must be chosen by a person for themselves, not commanded of them out of self-interest on the part of the beneficiaries.
As all generations proceed forward in dealing with the conflicting ideologies surrounding the healthcare industry, it should be taken as axiomatic that we do indeed have a moral obligation to care for the poor. This is equally applicable to my generation as it is to all others. However, this does not justify the commandeering of wealth to which we have no right no matter if it is for ourselves or altruistically for others.
What we ultimately need is a revolutionary change in mindset so that the healthcare industry is once again characterized by selfless care for the sick and needy rather than the financial exploitation of them. I don’t believe this can be accomplished through a government takeover of health care. I believe that such a governmental takeover would be a superficial solution which only artificially creates the selflessness which needs to be involved in taking care of the sick and poor.
The healthcare industry needs to be flooded with charitable resources for those who cannot provide health care for themselves. We cannot expect the government to make this happen. Citizens burdened to do so must make it happen themselves. This will allow direct access to health care for those who would not have it otherwise, and force the rest of the healthcare industry to offer better services at accessible prices in order to stay competitive with charitable organizations.
I pray that my generation will harness the energy that it currently applies to self-interested entitlement, and redirect it towards a fundamental shift in the mindset surrounding healthcare by becoming the doctors, nurses, hospitals, chemists, legislators, and philanthropists willing to radically act in the interest of “the least of these.” But as it is now, the self-interest displayed by my fellow millennials demanding to be provided for is the same self-interest we condemn on the part of those in the healthcare industry who are only interested in providing for themselves.
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