Guest Column

Something’s Been Missing in the Health Care Debate

By Herb Hash Jr.

Along with many other folks in Watauga County, I’ve been thinking a lot about health care reform now being discussed and argued in Congress. And I am disturbed because I believe that something of great importance is either being left out or pushed to the sidelines -- the Jewish/Christian values which have had so much influence on our nation since its inception. I am referring to biblical values such as the love of God and neighbor as highlighted in both the Hebrew Scriptures (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18) and the New Testament (Mark 12:29-31).

One of the key texts which relates to the health-care debate is Genesis 1:26-27 which clearly states that men and women are "made in the image of God." The Hebrew word for image here is tselem and suggests that all human beings are of great value and have the capacity for self-transcendence, reason, and communication -- that is, relationships with God and each other. Humans are supposed to mirror the character of God to the world.

In Genesis 1:1-2:4a, before the fall of Adam and Eve, it is clear that God’s intention for all human beings is that we should live long and healthy lives. And since men and women are given responsibility for creation (Gen. 1:26, 28), it is clear that we have a responsibility for each other and all other life forms that are a part of creation. It is also clear that being made in God’s image makes us quite special and different from the rest of creation. All of creation is an act of the love of God, but human beings are created with a special accountability and responsibility not given to any of the other creatures.

Other texts which highlight the importance of love for God and neighbor are Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18, and Mark 12:29-31.

The story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4 is another key text. After Cain kills his brother Abel, his response to God’s question, "Where is your brother Abel?" is "I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?"

I suggest that since we are all made in the image of God and are accountable to God for each other and all the rest of creation, we are all in some sense keepers of one another. Suffering, disease, and death are common to all of us. But some 22,000 Americans die each year because they lack health insurance (Newsweek, 9/21/09 p. 45). We are the only industrialized democracy in the world which does not guarantee health insurance for everybody. T. R. Reid in his article "No Country for Sick Men" in the Newsweek issue above makes the point that medicine is not a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder. It is a human right which must be distributed equitably to one and all.

In Isaiah 58:6 we find the prophet warning the pious: "Is not this the fast that I choose; to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?" What about the yoke of being unable to have access to, or unable to afford, quality health-care in our society? Do we not have a responsibility to God and to each other to "break the yoke" of those who remain chronically ill or die due to lack of even minimal health-care?

The prophet Jeremiah brings a pointed word from God to the Jews who had settled in Babylonia: " the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare" (Jeremiah 29:7). Could it be that in America many of us have become so selfish that we have forgotten the value of concern for the good of all? Have we forgotten the biblical call not only to nourish the image of God that is in each of us but also to care about all others made in God’s image?

God used Elisha to bring healing to Naaman the Syrian (II Kings 5:14), but the word of God through Amos was addressed to the entire northern kingdom of Ephraim. He spoke against those who "trample upon the poor" (Amos 5:11) and those who "push aside the needy in the gate" (Amos 5:12).

If "God is love" (John 4:17) and we are to mirror the character of God, it follows that we have a responsibility to care for one another as neighbors. I believe this care is both individual and corporate.

And we cannot escape the fact that much of Jesus’ ministry involved the healing of individuals (Mark 1:40-41, 3:5; Luke 4:39; John 9:7). But there was also a corporate nature to his ministry as outlined in Luke 4:18-19. I believe it is also quite significant that in the final judgment described in Matthew 25:31-46 "All the nations will be gathered..." We call ourselves the "United" States. When are we going to act on our best Jewish/Christian values? When are we going to come together in a united effort for substantive health-care reform and do what is right for all Americans?

How we handle the health-care issue will give our answer to God’s question to Cain.

Herbert Hash Jr. is a retired Baptist minister and lectures at Appalachian State University. He and his wife live in Brushy Fork Precinct.