Human beings are created in the image of God, body and soul, and have been called as such “very good.” Our bodily nature reflects God’s goodness to us and the embodied acts that we participate in (eating, sleeping, work, communicating, sexual relations, etc.) are expressions of honoring our Creator as He intended us to live.
Our bodies are a gift from God and we are called to care for our bodies as given things, just as we would steward any other gift that God has given us.
Caring for our bodies implies a recognition of our physical limits as human beings; even in God’s original good creation human bodies still required food and sleep.
The existence of sin in our world has begotten a great number of potential physical harms to our bodies. Trauma, infections, exposure, neoplasms, autoimmune disorders, and other forms of internally or externally induced illness threaten our bodily integrity, our ability to carry out embodied acts of worship and service, and ultimately our lives.
Our flesh will see decay and we will all eventually die as a result of the curse of sin, but our physical bodies will be miraculously transformed into glorious heavenly bodies in the Resurrection.
Caring for our bodies requires making use of the other gifts God has given us. God has seen fit to provide miraculous protection from hunger, the elements, or disease in many cases, but the vast majority of human beings will require stewarding the resources in our environment appropriately and participating in acts of physical care for one another for the sake of human life. Health is stewardship of our resources so as to adhere to the physical limits of the human body.
Caring for our bodies does not consist in solely maximizing the length of time any one particular body is alive, but in allowing each human life to glorify God by minimizing the degree to which illness participates in the embodied acts of worship. Each life has a trajectory or arc with limits particular to each human being; a body which is properly cared for must be given what is necessary in order for that arc to avoid sudden and otherwise preventable interruptions or degradations.
It is not possible to predict, prevent, or cure every illness that affects every human body. There will always be unforeseeable accidents or hidden conditions; our scientific knowledge will always be limited such that not every condition once diagnosed can be readily treated to restore physical function or prevent death.
It is possible to screen for, prevent, and treat many illnesses that affect most human bodies and thus care for one another such that many lives that would otherwise be cut short or suddenly degraded by disability are permitted to continue their trajectory. The scientific knowledge and the physical resources that makes this care for human bodies possible are always changing, but there exists sufficient knowledge to say that certain interventions can reasonably be expected to help the population prevent or ameliorate many illnesses. These “essential interventions” will vary from region to region based on the health needs of any given population and the existing medical infrastructure available to that population, but it is reasonable to use metrics such as Quality Adjust Life Years to delineate such interventions.
To honor the image of God in one another, we are obligated as human beings created by God to steward our resources towards the end of maximizing the essential interventions accessible to our fellow human beings. Failing to steward the resources that God has given us such that any fellow image-bearer lacks the medical care that would reasonably be expected to prevent or ameliorate disabling or deadly illness is an expression of disdain for God’s created order and a failure of love towards neighbor.
God has granted human government the power over life and death; while a government and its citizens may attempt to do any number of things, from a Christian perspective the basic measure of a just government is one that protects human life.
Both the natural evils of the fallen world and the volitional evils of human cruelty are capable of doing harm to human bodies; thus, any human government should do what is necessary to ensure that none of its citizens are denied those interventions that can reasonably be expected to prevent or ameliorate illness.
There is no health care system that is perfectly able to deliver said interventions, but any health care system in which a citizen under their government could die or be disabled for lack of said interventions is unjust and must be reformed in order that all citizens can access this basic level of health care.
Citizens of any government with an unjust health care system should work to ensure that all of their fellow citizens are afforded the basic goods of health care necessary to preserve life.
Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at www.MatthewAndMaggie.org