Theology of health care

"Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him." (John 9:3) ~photo courtesy LumoProject.

An appeal to lawmakers out of personal experience of the health care system.

REV. JOHN W. BOLEY
Clergy Assistant to Bishop, Michigan Area

So we are all mired in the public policy debate about health care in America. Nothing new. On the one hand, it is a fascinating discussion filled with important decisions about what kind of people we want to be. On the other hand, the callousness for human life and needs is disgraceful. Through it all, I am reminded of the Book of Job in the Hebrew Scriptures and its enduring education. 

As we all know, Job was a self-described righteous man who did everything correctly in his life. And he was healthy, wealthy and wise. But he was inflicted with great tragedy to his family and his personal health. The rest of the Book of Job is essentially a discussion about God’s role in these afflictions, amounting to a theological debate surrounding the nature and the cause and effect of personal tragedies in people’s lives. 

There was Job, arguing that since he was righteous, he was undeserving of these tragedies. He believed, along with a theological branch of his faith culture, that if you were righteous, you would and should be healthy, wealthy and wise. Therefore, these afflictions were undeserved. He cried out to God for some explanation. 

Job’s friends came to visit him. They argued with him, that since he had been afflicted so much, it was clear that he was not very righteous at all. He needed to just admit it and get on with life. Job’s friends agreed with the underlying theology, concluding that his afflictions defined him as unrighteous, even sinful. 

In the end, Job never got answers to his cries and complaints. But he had an encounter with God through God’s glorious theophany, and ultimately became satisfied with that. 

This understanding of Job and his friends is what a former professor of mine used to call the “Deuteronomic theology.” In other words, due to God’s covenant with Israel, there was thought to be a direct cause and effect between righteousness and health, wealth and wisdom. Or, conversely, between sinfulness and suffering. Parts of the Hebrew Scriptures, notably Proverbs and some of the Psalms and prophets, directly embrace this understanding. It boils down to a belief in a fixed and consistent system of rewards and punishments established by God. 

This same professor suggested that the Book of Job was placed in the Hebrew Scriptures to shatter this direct cause and effect covenantal theology. Jesus never followed this theology. He rejected it in his teaching and storytelling. For example, see John, Chapter 9. (Healing of the man born blind.)

This Deuteronomic theology has always been around. And there are kernels of truth in it. God does indeed want us to thrive. And, those people who lead righteous lives are more likely to live healthy, productive lives. But, of course, life isn’t that simple. 

This Deuteronomic theology, rejected by Jesus, has made a roaring comeback in the last few decades under the name of “Prosperity Theology.” Prosperity theology is generally the realm of large independent church pastors, who have convinced their parishioners that they can be healthy, wealthy and wise by righteously contributing large sums of money to their ministries. Prosperity theology is a heresy, because it takes some basic truths and takes them to extremes that cannot be sustained. 

Prosperity theology has found its way into our politics, justifying and celebrating wealth at all costs, and condemning anyone who has trials and tribulations in their lives. And along with so many other public policy initiatives, our health care policy is drastically affected.  

And so, in our health care debate, prominent politicians feel no shame in excluding people from access to health care. Such people are unrighteous by definition and are not worthy of insurance or health care. People with pre-existing conditions probably deserve them. People who cannot have coverage by their employers don’t deserve public assistance. Insurance, which is all about spreading the risk, by definition, goes against this cause and effect of righteousness and prosperity. And some of this is advocated by some evangelical Christians, who have departed a long way from the way of Jesus. One politician said recently that they want health care to cover people who have “done it right,” and that anyone with pre-existing conditions has not lived right.  

The logical extension of this thinking is that our daughter Hannah has a fundamental moral defect because of her illness, Cystic Fibrosis, even though she had nothing to do with inheriting this genetic disease. And also, Diane and I would share this fundamental moral failure since we are not rich, cannot afford her health care ourselves, and gave her the disease out of our own weakness as carriers of this genetic disease, even though this disease is not evident in our historic families. 

My family has become wards of the system. Even though our extended families have always produced more than we have consumed, and have led relatively healthy and productive lives, due to Hannah’s illness, we have taken out of the system more in health care coverage than we have ever put in. I am a welfare case, dependent on the safety net of insurance and State of Michigan assistance. 

This is not a pity party for me and my family. Rather it is outrage at the simplistic view of politicians who can only do the bidding of billionaires and who cannot see the complexity of life that can take them to a more sophisticated understanding of health and wealth that could lead to a greater society for everyone. It is outrage against those who embrace a heretical theology rejected by Jesus and unworthy of a just and compassionate society. 

I will pray and work for a day when the Preamble of the Constitution and its promotion of the general welfare, mixes with the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ toward a more just society for all.  

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