From a Christian point of view, the virtue of compassion is rooted in the character of God and exemplified by the saving work of Christ. His was an example (though not merely an example) of ultimate compassion, giving completely of himself not out of compulsion but out of pure sacrificial love and devoid of political motivations. It is a model of compassion that we can only live out analogously because we fail to meet the standard of pure selflessness. For Jesus, he willingly chose to lose when he had already won. He is God! We strive, and with God’s power we achieve, but due to the fallen state of things, someone inevitably encounters our weaknesses. But we still seek to be compassionate.
Caring for society’s most vulnerable is part of our mission as the church and one that Christians take very seriously and act upon on a daily basis. The poor, the widows, the children—these are a few segments of society to which scripture explicitly challenges us to give of ourselves. And God’s church understands that the gospel without a cup of cold water isn’t very good news. Could we do better? Obviously.
As it pertains to the recent passage of health care reform, some left-leaning Americans suggest that conservative, especially Christian conservatives, lack compassion because some—ok most—have been opposed to the health care reform bill in question. They abide by the bold assumption that the health care reform bill sits above other acts of compassion. It is better than creating jobs, it is better than smaller piecemeal options like opening of the state borders to more health insurance competition. It is better than simply working at the elimination of fraud and wasteful spending.
What would Jesus do? What would he think?
Some liberals think he would do what they did on Sunday night, the Lord’s Day as one representative reminded us. That was disorienting. He said it was time for the representatives to “walk by faith” and pass the bill. Would Jesus do health care reform as they have penned this legislation? Probably not. Jesus would turn over the tables in congress and tell them to stop making deals that squander funds that could help those in need…..if Jesus were invited to comment on the dealings, that is. The bottom line is left-leaning Americans seem to be saying that godly compassion necessarily includes health care insurance. Furthermore, they seem to think that health care is a need that overrides other acts of compassion and ought to be raised to the level of rights. Maybe Jesus would ask us to be better stewards of our financial resources or maybe he would ask us to view the economy as a fishes and loaves opportunity. None of us can know for sure what Jesus would say, he’d probably call us all out as fools. But what we can know is that we are often faced with moral conflicts and the methods of compassion can also conflict.
I know of no Christian conservative who takes joy in anyone lacking health care resources. But economic utopia is not possible on this side of eternity. Safety nets are in place like Medicaid to help families in need, and I know because I benefited from prenatal care through Medicaid in 1992-93. And by the way, it was top-notch. Yes, we can probably do more.
Like jobs and education, healthy families and hunger-relief, access to health care is something we would love for everyone to have. Which one takes priority? To suggest that health care is a natural right is to reduce rights to consumer goods. Rights cannot be sold or traded or granted, they can only be recognized in that they are inherent to being human. But a non-evolutionary view of humanity is required to agree with that statement. Or maybe it is true that Darwinian theory impacts absolutely everything, including health care policy. Public funds can only go so far and private industry will pass on additional expenses and tax hikes on to consumers because business doesn’t exist primarily for benevolence, and it shouldn’t because then it ceases to be a for-profit entity.
Compassion comes in a variety of forms, some better implemented than others. We might also ask who has the most to gain when compassion is implemented. The dignity of an individual is infringed upon when, in the name of compassion, someone profits from exploiting what others lack. But at this point, compassion is no more.