From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness—only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil.
In memory of Senator Edward Moore Kennedy (1932-2009)
My father suffers from severe gout. He has no grip in his right hand, which makes mundane tasks like driving, putting on shoes and socks, opening jars, and signing checks impossible. Recently, he wept while telling me how useless this condition causes him to feel. I flushed with rage because, unlike hundreds of truly debilitating diseases, gout has moved from the “treatable” to the “manageable” category of conditions. For over a year, a new product that restores full mobility to gout patients has been available. But my father’s healthcare providers won’t approve its “first-line” usage and none of his physicians will prescribe it. His insurers’ preferred alternative was discontinued due to his allergic reaction to the medication. Just yesterday, he finally found a physician willing to prescribe the new treatment. To access coverage, the doctor first had to prescribe the preferred drug. He told Dad to buy the pills, throw them away, come back in a month, and he’ll qualify for the new product. So my father needlessly lived in pain for a year, spent inordinate time finding a physician clever enough to thwart bureaucratic indifference, and is forced to flush money down the toilet to get help he needs.
This is the healthcare system so many people are fighting to preserve. I shudder to think what millions of Americans with far more grave conditions and far fewer means reckon with. I wonder how many lives end prematurely, how many homes are destroyed because our sick have no access to help. Despite the relative insignificance of my dad’s case, it proves the future of healthcare in this country is not a “rights issue”—it’s a moral dilemma. And, as a Christian, I can’t reconcile Christ’s command to love others as our ourselves with anything but demanding total healthcare access for all.
The first chapter of Isaiah makes one thing very clear: a physically ailing nation is a sign of its people’s spiritual malaise. Isaiah begins his prophecy by brutally indicting Israel for its neglect. In verse three, he quotes God’s statement to him: “The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel doesn’t know, my people do not understand.” Isaiah continues the tirade: “Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.” (v4) The prophet and God alternate in accusations that Israel’s rebellion has led to neglecting the principles of God in exchange for ritualized worship. They’ve confused going to church with serving God. Consequently, sickness has infected them from head to toe. They’re wobbling. Yet their false piety has deceived them into believing they stand strong and righteous before their Maker. Not so. “From the sole of your to the top of your head there is no soundness—only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil.” (v6) Finally, in exasperation, God tells them what must be done to regain His favor and reestablish sound standing in His sight. Forget all your fancy worship, He says. “Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” (v16-17)
A Christian Imperative
Healthcare reform isn’t a Democratic or Republican issue. It’s a Christian imperative. Any true follower of Jesus must realize this. It’s not about taxes or “socialism” or how long it takes to get a doctor’s appointment. It’s about countless people left beaten and bloody along the wayside, like the wounded man in Jesus’s story of the Good Samaritan. As the man lay unconscious and helpless, a priest and a lawyer pass him without a second glance. It takes a Samaritan, a person deemed unworthy by the religious majority, to pick him, dress his wounds, and pay for his care. It shames me to say this, but our current healthcare debate is nothing more than the clamor of self-serving priests and lawyers who have no concern how many helpless and hopeless, oppressed and abandoned souls they step over. And they can blow as much smoke in our eyes as they’d like with scare tactics about “death panels” and subsidized abortions and personal freedoms. But if we’re in tune with God’s Word and sensitive to His Spirit, their smoke dissipates immediately. We see inexcusable infirmities and heinous neglect. We’re appalled by rank injustice and class-based hostility. We recognize why America’s wobbling closer and closer to moral collapse. We know what we must do to help her regain her stability.
Jesus taught us to love our neighbors and enemies and tolerate their sin. But nowhere did He even slightly suggest our tolerance should carry over into blanket permission. The wrongs currently levied on the disenfranchised and underprivileged are not acceptable. This is not a matter of personal opinion. It’s a certainty of what’s right. Political affiliation or personal preference brooks no relevance in our decision to support or oppose the proposed healthcare initiative. As Christians, we have no choice. Just as God spoke to Israel in Isaiah’s day, He speaks to us: “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!” While our nation wobbles with unsoundness—suffering from head to toe with wounds and welts and open sores it has neglected to clean or bandage or soothe—we must stand firm in our commitment and convictions. When asked our views about healthcare reform, we must resolutely declare our support because our Christian obligation compels us to do so.