The ongoing struggle to come up with a workable health care plan that would include rather than exclude people from participating may be easier if we were to answer a fundamental question. Are we a compassionate, humane society?

On the surface, many – including me – would say we are. But the wide range of ideas submitted to express that ideal in practical ways is at the root of our difficulty in installing a system that doesn’t reward indolence but is still quick to help the truly needy.

Another fundamental question being: Is healthcare a right or a privilege? Again responded to with a myriad of ideas and convoluted thinking. Many, at the very least, wanting increased individual responsibility for anyone receiving any number of aid programs, including healthcare. But another question may help us determine our answer: Should health depend on wealth? Should a country, such as ours, with the vast amount of research and development of medicines and treatments that we’ve achieved, respond to the needy amongst us strictly on the cost effectiveness of that response?

A major cause of the predicament we find ourselves in today is the driving force behind the industries whose origins were based in service; the insurance companies and the institution of medicine. The insane grasping for profit driving these two monoliths of society to at times engage in disgraceful and decidedly uncaring ways. (Insurance at first envisioned as a practical way of pooling money to protect members from catastrophic loss due to unforeseen and unanticipated health issues or financial loss. The medical profession beginning as an effort to help sick and injured people, ideally without regard to social standing or ability to pay.)

I’m not suggesting that insurance executives, research facilities, pharmaceutical companies or doctors and their associates shouldn’t make money. The issue is that economics seems to drive some of these professionals almost to the exclusion of caring for people; literally ministering to them. (A completely foreign concept to many today.)

Our free market economy has achieved much for our nation over the years, but it’s one sinister aspect is almost completely ignored – to our peril – today. Greed. It’s what drives the money-men to invest in enterprises to make more and inspires the working-men to work harder and longer. Not altogether a bad thing, but without restraint ruinous to individuals, families, companies and even countries. (And while I’m not a big fan of imposed regulations, we’ve proved repeatedly – as sinners – to be poor self-regulators.)

For me, the issue comes down to individual and then national aspirations of godliness. Many of us believe our nation had its start as a godly nation and promote a return to our roots. As such, can our Christian conscience allow people who could be cured of disease or eased in their suffering be denied both because of a lack of money? (Especially considering the ever escalating cost of medicine, medical treatments and the insurance we depend on to cover that cost. Everyone but the crazy wealthy – including many of us – potentially needing help in the future and possibly being denied.)

In this great nation of great over-all wealth and Christian tradition, can we countenance the specter of people dying, if not in the streets, then alone and uncared for in their beds at home? When its abundantly available – for the right price?

A major argument against government aid in all its many forms is that it’s not the government’s constitutional responsibility to provide it. And to a point, that’s a valid argument. But surely a Christian nation’s politics would/should be informed by its Christian ideals.

Besides which, our founding fathers never envisioned our country becoming as big as it has nor encompassing the number of people it does. A driving force behind that generation's aspirations, besides freedom of religion, being the economic opportunities available here like nowhere else. Shouldn’t the success of the economic “engine” that has made us one of the wealthiest nations in the world contribute something to the welfare of people who, for one reason or another – often beyond their control – have missed out on? (Which is not meant to denigrate the effort of those experiencing success by virtue of their hard work, family fortune or plain good luck.)

But some would argue that biblical instructions to share, care for and minister to our families, neighbors – and enemies – is impractical and unrealistic. If it has or had any value at all, it was directed at the church or individuals within the church. So it’s the responsibility of the church, not the government, to come to the aid of those in need. And in all honesty, I think we could do much more than we do. But then I wonder, with the immensity of our country and its people’s needs, could the church throughout our land today – even acting collectively – meet all those needs?

Following the early church’s example would go a long way in answering all the questions posed throughout this article, as one of the inspirations for its early success and compelling growth was its ready willingness to respond to the needy around them; not only within the church but among the “pagans” as well.

Check back next week for a look at a pagan Emperor’s complaint against his Christian citizens’ tactic of good-will and better deeds.