With the debate swirling around the Affordable Health Care Act (aka Obamacare), I thought I’d take a moment to share some thoughts on healthcare and life in this fallen world. Chief among these thoughts is this commonplace: insurance is not a right.
I’m not a student of political science, nor an expert in the philosophy of history, so I can’t enter deeply into the history of the discussion of the “rights of man” here. I’m also aware that this is a politically charged issue about which many others have registered political opinions.
My focus, as a student and teacher of the Bible, is what it says about the “rights” and how that can inform our way of thinking on this topic.
First, then, I take the word “right” to suggest something that I am owed, something that is essentially mine and therefore, is not, or should not, or even cannot, be taken away. But something deep and weighty is missing from this.
What’s missing is, strictly speaking, humans, as creatures made in God’s Image, made from the “dust of the earth” (Genesis 2), have no essential rights. “Human” comes from the same word from which we get humus, or “soil,” which points to our derived and dependent existence. Therefore, as humans, we are essentially dependent upon God, not essentially independent, with essential “rights. Looked at in this way, God is the only one who has fundamental rights. Humans have rights only by derivation or extension.
If this is true, this fact should infuse a note of humility in the discussion of human rights: people have rights as people only because of their being made in God’s Image and in His Likeness. In this regard, it also follows that human laws, which regulate relationships between humans, derive their force and weight only from the prior existence of God’s Law.
So when you covet my new Ford, or try and take my bike that I left unlocked out in front of the CVS, or you stand before a human judge and say I did something that in reality I did not do, you are only violating my “rights” inasmuch as God has said so.
Put another way, humans are to pursue truth, peace, and contentment in their relationships with one another, not for any reason, nor for “no reason,” but only because God has spoken that they MUST. Therefore, when they do not, they not only sin against each other, but more importantly, they sin against God.
Speaking of which, there is an extremely important element usually missing in the discussion about rights: the element of sin. Sin taints and spoils all our aspirations to be, and become, what God intends us to be. God intends us to be truthful; sin spoils our intentions in this regard and makes us unholy, filthy, and false. God intends us to be content with what He has given us, and willing to share with those who have less; sin makes us stingy and idolatrous with our stuff, and by that idolatry, we are deformed and become ugly.
The study of human rights, then, becomes something of a game (a quite serious game) of managing human relationships in a world corrupted by the effects of sin. Which is where the discussion about healthcare and health insurance comes in.
Sickness and Sin
We struggle against sickness and death in this world because of sin. Strictly speaking, that’s our own fault, as the old eighteenth century ABC primer taught when instructing new readers about the letter “A”:
“in Adam’s Fall sinned we all.”
We brought it on ourselves, through our federal (corporate) representative, Adam, and because of this close, covenantal connection, all mankind sinned in him and with him in his first transgression.
So “life” is not a right, nor is health. It is a gift from God. To talk about it as if it were some inalienable right, apart from God’s mercy, is to lay the first layer of atheism in the world. Ultimately, the account of the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden was an account of humans seeking to establish themselves independently from God, as if they could have “life” apart from His Word and His Blessing. They were obviously wrong, and sickness and death are the pudding that is the proof.
“We don’t live in a theocracy,” you might be thinking; or “we can’t talk about God in a pluralistic society.” Perhaps, but if God is the one who has established the governing authorities, then whether or not they say we can talk about him shouldn’t really matter. We can, and we must.
So if health or life is not a right–and it is not–then certainly neither is some guarantee that you can be insured or protected against the ravages of the effects of the fall. There is no such protection. And too often, when people look for insurance, they are looking for ways to live as if this life were eternal and unending, which is like saying the Fall didn’t happen.
What Is Insurance?
For those who have forgotten, or perhaps who never learned, it might be helpful to state just what exactly insurance is. Insurance is a contract for services, purchased as a safety net against unforeseen expenses, costs that may be incurred in the future, which would exceed what you could normally pay for with your regular income. Too many people think of insurance as a necessity, but it is not. It is an investment strategy.
Understood in this way, many people buy insurance who instead should be saving their money in some more traditional instrument. In fact, I believe much insurance is normally an unwise use of money.
Realistically, however, insurance becomes more necessary when a society is so litigious that its neighbors (citizens) are constantly suing one another, cheating one another, vying for superiority over one another, and unjustly relating to one another. But then insurance becomes a kind of fault, a loss or grief, or even symptom of a wider societal cancer: that cancer being a system-wide failure of people loving neighbors as themselves.
But my parents taught me a long time ago that I shouldn’t buy insurance for something that is my responsibility to save up for a “rainy day” or “in the event of an emergency.” Why not?
Not only does unnecessary insurance enrich others who don’t really work for their money (insurance agents have a nasty reputation which is not altogether undeserved), but it distracts me from the responsibility I have to live wisely, and frugally, and with care, in light of who I am and what I’m called to do in this life. It is also a kind of participation in a throw-away society, indirectly encouraging people to make stuff that breaks before it is supposed to.
This brings us back to healthcare, health insurance, and the concept of stewardship. If humans are created by God, in His image, and are here on the planet to care for His creation (ourselves and our environment) for His glory and Honor until He returns, we have work to do.
Part of this work includes being diligent to use appropriate means available to to maintain our health. An important implication of the sixth commandment (“Thou shalt not murder”) is that we must use all lawful means for promoting and extending our own lives and the lives of our neighbor. This command is not merely a negative command (do not murder); it is a positive one as well: keep, protect, and promote life in this life.
Part of its positive character, I believe, gives us a basis for recognizing appropriate limits to pursuing health, within a humble recognition of basic creational realities, summarized well with this old poetic phrase:
one life to live, ’twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.
We are to live as stewards in this creation, recognizing that we will one day give an account of our stewardship. Which highlights another part of this work of a steward. That is, we ought to avoid human schemes that are designed to drown out this transcendent priority (“only what’s done for Christ”) with the cacophony of voices crying out for “human rights” and “health coverage for everyone,” and “tax penalties,” etc.
My Family’s New Approach
Recently my wife and I made a switch, prompted by the insane red-tape that we have been dealing with for about eight months now in trying to settle our family in some appropriate health insurance program here in the state of New Jersey. We have decided to make a fundamental change in the way we go about addressing our family’s health needs and have opted out of the governmentally subsidized system and are now part of a Christian cooperative cost-sharing ministry called Medi-share.
The system basically works like this: your premium gets paid to a Credit union formed for the purpose of covering the approved health-care costs of all its members. When you become in need of some health service, in the course of your life, and incur some qualifying health care expense, your bill is negotiated and paid through the credit union to which you belong.
Non-sick visits are paid out of pocket, in negotiation with the physician and or medical practice. Because premiums are lower, an employer can take some of the money which was previously going to the health insurance provider and dedicate it to an employee in a flexible spending account (FSA) from which various medically related payments (teeth, glasses, diapers, childcare) can be made. Additionally, an employee can request that his taxable income be reduced and some portion of that be deposited into the FSA.
All that to say, we’re happy with the switch and thankful to God that it represents some more sane approach to the whole debate. It doesn’t fix the federal government, nor state laws, nor does it really address the excesses of the pharmaceutical industry, corrupt prescription practices, over bloated billing departments in hospitals, bureaucratic nastiness at the IRS, or any other such things. But it is our way of making a statement to our children, to our church, and to the world and even angels above, that whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do all to the glory of God.
Insurance, let alone human life, is not our right. It is God’s gift. We aim to be good stewards of that gift, by avoiding fear, idolatry, and humanistic and atheistic lifestyles that by their excessive focus on this life effectively exclude God the Lord from any consideration. We also aim to be good stewards by not merely saying we “trust God” for His provision, but in fact make practical efforts to secure His blessing and favor through appropriate use of medical technology, medical services, and fair payment to people who work hard in the health care industry because they want to participate in the honorable work of bringing life.
In this fallen world, corrupted and polluted, as it is, by sin, as the funeral liturgy says,
“in the midst of life we are in death.”
This is both promise and warning. Promise that death’s curse has not snuffed out life, and we should seek to live life here, in this world, to the fullest, under the glory and smiling pleasure of a kind and merciful Redeemer. Warning that this life is not all there is; it will soon come to a close, and then we will, alive, stand before the Living God, who will judge us for the way in which we lived for Him in the mortal life we were given.
There is an insurance policy for that Holy Interview; and many who are otherwise very savvy with their various insurance policies for any contingency in this world would do well think more long term and invest by faith in Him who Died and Rose again from the Dead.