When it comes to health care, the problems are many and the answers unclear. But restoring shalom should be our highest priority.
Ask someone about health care, and you are almost certain to receive a passionate response. We’ve created a national tug-of-war as we debate one of the most divisive issues in our modern public discourse. And the new health care reform bill, which became law on March 23, 2010, will only intensify the debate. Since we often discuss political solutions without really understanding the problems, it would benefit us to define some ethical concerns about our health care system.
First, the good news: our modern system of physicians and hospitals stands as one of ...view middle of the document...
As a result of the Fall, “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Rom. 8:22). The sickness of creation is evident, not only by the ultimate toll of death but also by daily suffering and disease. For humanity, shalom has been lost.
The Hebrew word “shalom” describes the essence of health as wholeness, completeness, and well-being. Often used as a blessing or greeting, shalom implies both physical and spiritual aspects. Author Dr. Spiros Zodhiates described it as “a harmonious state of soul and mind, both externally and internally” in his book The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible. The full embodiment of biblical shalom is perhaps best summed up in Isaiah 26:3: “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace [shalom], because he trusts in You.”
More than physical health — though that is included in the concept — shalom cannot be accomplished by men, for it is a gift from God. In his book The Bible and Healing, John Wilkinson points out, “True shalom or well-being comes from God … In God alone can we know the wholeness of our being and the rightness of our relationships which make up what the Old Testament means by health.”
In its essence, shalom is the restoration of bodily and spiritual integrity in the face of suffering brought on by the Fall. Because of His compassion and love for sinful humanity, God sent His Son to make us whole once again. The fullest expression of shalom comes from the blessing and promise expressed by the Lord Jesus: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). In this regard, the title “Great Physician” seems inadequate, for He does so much more than bring physical healing: He is the Prince of Shalom.
With this understanding of biblical health, the role of the healer is to reverse the effects of the Fall and to imitate God in restoring shalom. Besides being a biblical mandate, this idea has found its way into secular health concepts as well. For example, Article 25 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family.”
Yet, as we have seen, everyone does not participate in this right. The lack of social justice in health care should concern every one of us. In Isaiah 58, the Lord directs the prophet to rebuke the religious pretensions of the Hebrew people. They were whining because God would not answer their prayers (v. 3): “Why have we fasted … and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and You have not noticed?”
The answer was simple. They had neglected the needy in their midst: the poor, the oppressed, and the hungry (vv. 6–7). As a result, God was not interested in their empty rituals. Only when they dealt properly with the less fortunate among them would God say, “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will...