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
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: "...seek 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
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
How we handle the health-care issue will give our answer to God’s question
Herbert Hash Jr. is a retired Baptist minister and lectures at
Appalachian State University. He and his wife live in Brushy Fork