I came across this intriguing question while reading an article on the Christianpost, a Christian news website. The controversies over the contraception mandate and the question of whether governments can make people buy certain things aside, is the idea of making healthcare available to all against biblical concepts?
Just a cursory look at where political parties stand, it would seem universal healthcare is not something that God would care for given its lack of support by conservative groups. It seems to me, though, that from a study of Scripture (albeit quite brief), the more liberal parties support the kind of things that we see happening amongst the early Christian community, like sharing food and material goods with those in need and reaching out to those who were socially oppressed.
Acts 2:44-45 says, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Now there are some that would say these passages simply describe what was going on in the early church because of their circumstances, and not a prescription for Christians today to follow, and I think there’s truth to that. Elsewhere in the New Testament letters there are calls to care for the needy, but not a command to sell all you have and give it all away.
Others would say that the caring for the poor ought to be done by the Christians, as seen in the early Church, and not legislated by the government. While I also agree that the church needs to care not just about spiritual needs, but to relieve physical suffering as well (as means to point people to Christ), I don’t think God would be against legislating to provide for the poor. In fact, God actually did.
God gave the nation of Israel its very own laws so that Israel could be a model of what a nation governed by God would look like. Despite being terribly difficult to read through, those first few books of the Bible gives us an idea of God’s heart and what He cares about. You don’t have to read much of the Old Testament to know that God cares about the down-trodden, the widows, the orphans, and the poor. Just read Isaiah 58 as one example.
God’s laws made various provisions so that those without means could be taken care of. Deut 24:9 says “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.” The Israelites were forbidden to lend to their fellow people with interest (Deut 23:19). God commanded that every seven years, all debts would be canceled and servants be set free (Deut 15:1, Exodus 21:2).
God’s heart for the physical wellbeing of everyone in the Israel nation is captured by these amazing verses: “But there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess— if only you will strictly obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today” (Deut 15:4-5). God’s laws were such that if the nation obeyed, every member would be taken care of and not be in need.
Now of course I not suggesting that the Mosaic Law is meant for the United States. Thank goodness for that, or else I don’t think I will survive with my allergies if we had to do animal sacrifices. But I do think there are principles that are reflective of God’s heart for the poor and outcast that is appropriate for the government to legislate, and it’s not simply up to the church to do.
And as an additional disclaimer, I’m not advocating that everyone needs to just pool all our resources so that we all have the same (which the OT Law does not endorse either) or promoting liberal politics (as they are also for things that are clearly unbiblical). But I would like to suggest that the concept of universal healthcare, a provision of basic services (note basic, and not everyone have access to every single medical intervention) to optimize health through prevention, and promptly treat common illnesses, is a worthwhile goal to pursue, not as a means to itself, but as a way to extend the restoration of God’s kingdom to every aspect of this world.
Now the question is how, and I won’t even try to tackle that here. I will say though, that if you have a heart to meet the needs of those who are suffering, here is an excellent resource that is being offered free! When Helping Hurts is an eye-opening book that shows how well-meaning Christians (or anyone for that matter) can actually do harm in their attempts to do good. For those who don’t like to read, here’s a free audio download!