With the passage of President Obama’s health care reform, we have initiated the largest expansion of government in the history of this nation. While the full implications of this law are not yet fully realized and probably won’t be for some time, we can be certain that America has crossed a critical boundary that promises to fundamentally change this nation forever-and not necessarily in a good way. By nationalizing one-sixth of our nation’s economy (make no mistake, this is the first step toward the inevitable: nationalized health care), the state will control more of our lives and consume more of our money than we can possibly imagine. That is not to say that reforms weren’t necessary-they were! But a government takeover was not, and never has been, the best solution.
This measure represents one more-and perhaps the most significant-step in the long march toward statism (an ideology advocating the power of government to achieve economic and social goals) that has progressed over the last century. First there was the Social Security Act in 1935, followed by the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, all of which represent government expansion into social governance and relief and all of which have grown into financial behemoths and all of which are now financially insolvent! The president’s health care plan is distinct in that it presumes to exercise control over an already existing and enormous segment of the private sector. This feature is what promises fundamental changes in our nation’s economy, away from free-market capitalism to what is, essentially, a government-mandated redistribution of wealth.
Under the statist ideology, it is assumed that the state knows what’s best for the people and thus the sacrifice of individual freedoms (and your money) is ultimately “for your own good.” In Great Britain and other European socialist democracies this has led to the “nanny state,” in which government becomes excessive (i.e., intrusive) in its desire to protect, govern, or control various aspects of society. This has included everything from the government dictating to people what they can eat and how to educate their children to the games that children can play. In short, it slowly leads to a form of enslavement not intended for humanity made in the image of God. From a biblical perspective, people are not subservient to the interests of the state; they are obligated only to God, under whom the state carries out its aim of serving justice and promoting the common good.
Unfortunately, our “captivity” appears inevitable at this point, and it may be generations before our former freedoms are recovered, if they ever are. At the moment, it may be easy to blame this condition entirely on the current political administration; clearly they have made the real choices that will yield real consequences. However, as Christians we are also compelled to examine ourselves individually and corporately. Asking, “Have we, the church, done anything (either by commission or omission) that might have contributed to the preconditions essential to such radical social and political change?” Upon examination, I cannot help but draw parallels between our situation and that of the Israelites as they went into Babylonian captivity.
Israel was to be a sign and foretaste of the kingdom to come, a people who lived under the rule and reign of God. Toward that end they were uniquely entrusted with principles and values for living that would distinguish them from the world. Among these were numerous laws about social governance with a particular emphasis on caring for the poor (Deut. 15). The multitude of commandments relative to debt, tithing, and “gleaning” (Lev. 25:35–38; Deut. 14:28–29; Lev. 19:9–10) were so extensive as to insure that “there should be no poor among you”(Deut. 15:4, NIV). It is against this divine expectation that we discover the actual “sins” of which Israel was so guilty that their captivity was ordained by God. Isaiah delivers God’s indictment against Israel:
Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?” says the LORD; “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations-I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. …Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Is. 1:10–13, 16–17, ESV, emphasis mine.)
The words of the Lord grow even stronger in their condemnation of Israel’s pious religiosity at the expense of participation in God’s redemptive mission, setting right what sin has set wrong:
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, “Here I am.” If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. (Isaiah 58:6–10, ESV)
Might there be a parallel between Israel’s failure to care for those in their midst and our own? Has the contemporary church in America come to emphasize a gospel of only personal salvation-a privatized faith characterized by personal piety and formal religion-rather than the all-transforming power and presence of the kingdom and Jesus Christ, the King who reigns? Did not Jesus begin his ministry by saying the Father sent him to accomplish what was asked of the Israelites? “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18–21, ESV).
Unfortunately, we find ourselves inadvertently hobbled by theological liberals caught up in the “social gospel movement” of the early twentieth century. These liberals equated any and all humanitarian efforts with the kingdom. In short, they sought to bring forth the kingdom without the king. Regrettably, the conservative evangelical reaction has unwittingly resulted in many worshipping the King without a kingdom! Now, evangelical Christians-fearful of falling into the liberal trap-have largely abandoned the social, political, and economic dimensions of the biblical gospel. In the wake of this void, other social structures such as government were (and will be by necessity) increasingly relied upon to fill the vacuum in the face of real social needs.
We must repent of our indifference to a suffering world and join with Jesus in proclaiming to the world that the King has come and make his kingdom visible through both word and deed so that our light might “break forth like the dawn,” and “the glory of the LORD” may be revealed!