I have been thinking about health care literally for 30 years. When I was in high school, I designed all of my course work to fit a career in dentistry. I was not sure if I wanted to be a dentist. I knew I never want to be a preacher. About the only thing I did know for sure was, I was going to be the Super Bowl winning quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys.
I had a wise guidance counselor in high school, a man named Nolan Suiter, who advised me to visit with as many doctors and dentists as I could, in order to get their feedback about the direction the health care profession was headed. My friend’s dad, who was also my dentist, frankly advised me not to go into dentistry because of his anticipation of heavy government involvement. Consequently, I have been interested in the health care debate ever since.
Through the years, as insurance premiums have increased and coverage has decreased, I have continued to follow the health care debate. I, like probably many of you, have found myself so frustrated with insurance problems that I have wanted to scream. I, like probably many of you, have found myself amazed at the technological advances that medicine has made.
One example: my guess is, were my daddy to go to the doctor today with the symptoms that he did almost 30 years ago, they would discover his stomach cancer early and easily treat it.
As I watch people debate health care, I cannot help but think about how complicated the challenge is. There is a kaleidoscope of variables involved. I want to address it from a Christian perspective.
To address the myriad of variables, I want to offer diagram with four quadrants to symbolize the tension between four basic categories. I realize there may be more than four categories, but it is Friday morning and I have to get something down on the computer screen. Here is my diagram:
As we process health care, let us remember there are spiritual instincts present that are healthy. The first is we do everything for God. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31.) It is noble to pursue excellence in healthcare. We should pursue and expect the best treatment, the best administration, the best insurance companies, the best doctors’ offices--the very best of everything.
Unfortunately, pursuing excellence has a cost. In my diagram, diametrically across from "All for God" lies the category of "Stewardship." God calls people to manage money well. Although, debt is not a sin, it is heavily discouraged in Scripture. This is for one’s own protection. Bankruptcy looms when families owe great debt; nations that owe great debt face catastrophe.
Twenty years ago, when I was living in Argentina, I was amazed when I discovered that earlier in the 20th century, the size of the Argentine economy consistently placed in the top 10 in the world. When we lived in Argentina, the economy was a disaster. Much went into the Argentine collapse; included in the factors, was the nation's debt.
Kingdom Vision particularly lies in tension with Mercy and Compassion. Jesus over and over calls us to serve Him, recognizing him as the king of our lives. Passages such as Luke 9:23 tell us, “Then he said to them all: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’”
Having a vision for the Kingdom by definition means self emptying and self abandonment. Disciples of Jesus constantly surrendered a good thing -- their physical health -- for a better thing: the expression of their faith in Jesus. Because of their vision, they “knew that [they themselves] had better and lasting possessions (Heb. 10:34b).
In our society, the instinct to avoid "sparing no expense" in the pursuit of prolonging a life that, in God's providence, is doomed, is healthy. When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, he was told he had only a few months to live. If he submitted himself to experimental chemotherapy, he might have squeezed out two more years. For the sake of his family, he chose to go home and die in peace.
Daddy's vision of the Kingdom caused him not to fear death. His concern for others caused him to willingly, and at much lower costs, surrender his body to God.
(I might add that he could easily have made the decision to undergo experimental chemotherapy, not in the desperate hope of staying alive because this world was all there was to offer, but with a desire to allow his body to serve others of the future. This would have been an equally noble decision, and one which would have honored the Kingdom.)
Mercy and Compassion are the variables I think are the most problematic when it comes to healthcare. No one wants to leave a wounded soldier on the front line facing enemy fire. Our instinct is to risk all to save our buddy, even if the chances are slim that he will survive. It is the same when someone is sick; our instinct is to spare no expense to get her well.
These feelings are good. After all, did not Jesus tell us the story of The Good Samaritan in Luke 10? He emphasized that we should have compassionate hearts of mercy, for God does. It is no accident that a number of hospitals are named Good Samaritan.
Over 20 years ago, Jay Leno had one of the great comedy lines of all time. The context was when Jessica McClure was an 18 month old toddler, who fell in a well in Midland, Texas. Thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars were spent, thousands and thousands and thousands of man-hours were offered, all in the hopes of rescuing this girl.
Finally, after a few days, she was rescued. Vice president George Bush traveled to Midland and visited the family. He came out saying something to the effect of "only in America" would such an effort be made to save such a life.
On the Tonight Show, Jay Leno, guest hosting for Johnny Carson, said in effect, "Yeah, right. It's like the Swiss would've said, 'Let Her Die!'" The fact is, people in every nation would have exhausted their resources to save a child trapped in a well.
In 21st Century healthcare, our mercy compassion can bankrupt us. Particularly, if our worldview says, “This world is all we have." Mercy and Compassion lie not only in tension with Kingdom Vision, they lie in tension with Stewardship.
Medical technology is advancing at an amazing rate. The cost for these discoveries is astronomical. In any other field, in a free enterprise system, the marketplace would take care of these cost challenges.
In a free market, the early adapters are the ones who pay the high price for new products. Sooner or later, when my 20+ year old bedroom TV, and my 20+-year-old den TV give out, I'm sure I will buy a high-definition TV for the family. I will pay a fraction of the cost of those who purchased these marvels of technology when they first appeared on the market. Time and the marketplace are bringing down the prices.
In healthcare, particularly when it involves our loved ones, we all want to be the early adapters. Back in 1995, our second daughter Abby, almost died immediately after birth. She spent a couple of weeks or so in neonatal intensive care. I can assure you, I wanted the best technology available. I did not want to wait for the marketplace to drop prices.
Never before in history have so many inventions and discoveries appeared so rapidly in the field of medicine. This is expensive! If we want immediate access, someone will have to pay the bill.
Do you see how the solution is not easy when it comes to healthcare? That is why I am going to do my best to discuss this topic, giving my friends the benefit of the doubt.
I want to offer patience in my listening. I want to pray a lot too. I am not so sure that in serving as an agent for the Kingdom of God in a fallen world, if God's providential care is not more concerned about the process rather than the result.
"A full exhibition of the duties of the elder's office, and of the moral and intellectual qualifications requisite to an appointment thereto, belongs to a commentary on the First Epistle to Timothy, rather than on Acts of Apostles. We will not, therefore, consider them here, further than to observe that the duties were such as can not be safely dispensed with in any congregation; while the qualifications were such as were then, and are now, but seldom combined in a single individual. Indeed, it can not be supposed that Paul found in the young congregations of Lystra, Iconium, Antioch, and every other planted during this tour, men who could fill up the measure of the qualifications which he prescribes for this office. [1 Timothy 3:1-7.] But he appointed elders in every Church, hence he must have selected those who came nearest the standard. It is not an admissible objection to this argument, that inspiration may have supplied the defects of certain brethren in each congregation, so as to fully qualify them; for moral excellencies, which are the principal of these qualifications, are not supplied by inspiration. The truth is, the qualifications for this office, like the characteristics prescribed for old men, aged women, young men and women, and widows, respectively, are to be regarded as a model for imitation, rather than a standard to which all elders must fully attain. It were as reasonable to keep persons of these respective ages out of the Church, until they fill up the characters prescribed for them, as to keep a Church without elders until it can furnish men perfect in the qualifications of the office. Common sense and Scripture authority both unite in demanding that we should rather follow Paul's example, and appoint elders in every Church from the best material which the Church affords."
1. Saw an episode of Jay Leno last week—at least part of one. Didn't do enough to motivate me to watch the whole thing.
2. Watched THE OTHERS for the third time with my two oldest daughters. It's definitely in my top five scary movies of all time.
3. ABC NIGHTLINE is focusing this week on the 10 Commandments. Last night I caught the broadcast concerning adultery. There were four panelists debating. On one side: a woman advocating open marriage and a man who runs a website to help spouses who want to commit adultery connect with a lover. On the traditional side: a man who is recovering porno addict, and Ed Young, pastor of Fellowship Church, in Grapevine, TX. I was impressed with Ed Young, especially his demeanor and non-verbal communication. He was as good as any I have ever seen in these types of situations. The entire series is available for viewing on ABC News website.
4. The Tyler Morning Telegraph had a nice story on the ETCA volleyball team this week. http://www.tylerpaper.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090924/SPORTS05/909240309.
They highlighted the four seniors: Hannah Henderson, Morgan Ashbreck, Ally Beth Hannah and Audra Wade. I have all four in my ETCA Bible class and enjoy them immensely. Thanks to their leadership and play, the team has only lost two games, both to public schools that are larger.
5. Since I don’t know how to post photos in FB, I’m going to pass along a photo our ETCA athletic director, Aubrey Ballard, took of my daughter, Haleigh, with his IPhone. He was nice enough to email it to me with these words, “This picture is of Haleigh Edge raining down a ferocious and terrible spike vs ETCS on Tuesday. Zoom in to see how high off of the ground she is.”
Have a great weekend!