I would see you unwearied in activity, aglow with the Spirit, waiting like slaves upon the Lord; buoyed up by hope, patient in affliction, persevering in prayer; providing generously for the needs of the saints, striving to show friendliness to strangers. Bestow a blessing on those who persecute you; a blessing not a curse…. Repay no one evil for evil, having in mind what is noble in the sight of all humanity; if it is in your power, be at peace with all people; do not avenge yourselves, brethren, rather give wrath the place for which it is written: “Retribution is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” But if it be that your enemy hungers, feed him. If he thirsts, give him drink. For by doing this, you will heap fire upon his head. Do not let evil win over you; but with good win over evil. (Romans 11-14, 17-21)
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing., so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6: 3-4)
These days some wealthy people make a big show of caring for and helping the needy. Indeed, our nation is probably bankrupt because our politics has become an extension of this self-promoting generosity. It’s gotten so that even the Republicans, who used at least to pretend that they frowned upon this abuse of government power, are given to promising tax cuts the way the ancient Caesars promised liberal donatives to the legions that helped them to power. Many Americans don’t realize how ironic this is. The Caesars bribed their legions with money they derived from confiscating the property of opponents they proscribed. Our elected officials achieve the same effect by gifting people a larger share of what is theirs in the first place.
The underlying premise in both cases is that winning control of the government gives the victors the power to take what they want from whomever they please, and give it to whomever they favor, expecting favors in return. What distinguishes our politics from the tyranny of the Roman Imperators? The victors in our elections expect us to be grateful for the fig leaf of appearing to keep some of our own money; and to show our gratitude at the polls.
Not content with having all our earnings subject to their generous rapine, they aim, like the Biblical Pharaoh, to bring our bodies also under subjection. This is the strategic aim of their similarly “generous” efforts to make sure our entire health care system is made to depend on U.S. government funding. I can understand why people who believe that material life is the “be all and end all” of human existence are blithely falling in line to advance this strategy. But when I read about or listen to people who profess to be followers of Christ, who are now professing to believe that this government takeover is a test of Christian charity and lovingkindness it’s difficult to believe. I almost find myself ready to intone the “fake news” mantra, since no one even slightly familiar with the consequences of the Word Incarnate in Jesus Christ, could rationally pretend that government power is a suitable instrument of Christian love, even when it is deployed for the sake of justice.
That’s because salvation, in the sight of God, was Christ’s mission, and his first concern. As Christ preaches it, love is not love when we find coercion at its heart. From Christ’s perspective, what is done for love is done with a good will, freely, and for the sake of God and God alone. To be sure, we are, in the second place, called to love our neighbor—but as we love ourselves, not as we love God. So, what is the truest love we can have for ourselves? The love that we freely give to God, with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength. Thus we do not love our neighbors for our neighbor’s sake, but for the sake of abiding in God’s will and bearing its fruit, becoming, as it were a vine for others as Christ is the vine nourishing and upholding us.
But the key thing missed by people who pretend that government money and enforcement power are suitable for charitable use, is that the whole relationship with God and Christ requires a free determination of our will. It must not arise from fear or favor. It must be the simple reciprocation of the love God shows to us, preserving and supplying our very existence. This He does before we can know of our own existence in any way. His love continues even though we turn away from Him to sin. And rather than requiting the Love so perfectly, freely given, we abuse the freedom He represents in us, by choosing to transgress the only limit His Love imposes, which is to safeguard the sublime order of Creation by which He especially makes way for our life in Him.
Thus, what we do for the love of God, we also do for love of ourselves, for to love us is the love of God, which our very existence proves, especially when we live in Christ. For Christ makes us what we are, and were forever meant to be, in the intention of God. But if we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, according to that intention, what room is there, in our display of love, for anything but the freedom of God. So our love must be freely given, sourced the Kingdom of God within, and acted out with no trace of worldly coercion, and no motive except the good will of God to preserve and sustains our wholesome existence.
Though these days it seems entirely forgotten, this is the reason liberty matters to one who strive to live in Christ’s way. It is not because of pride in our own freedom, or our own responsibility for what, by dint of our work and will, we achieve. It is because the love we share is not the love of God if fear or desire of some selfish consequence determines our action. The sphere of true liberty is the sphere of voluntary choice, in which we use the freedom God instills in our nature to serve the love by which that nature comes to be.
But the whole purpose of government is to organize coercion, so as to constrain, with force and fear, people whose love of power, money or prideful pleasure, impels them to transgress the limits God has prescribed for the good of all. With this in mind, any socialist scheme for health care, (or for anything else) infringes the meaning of Christian love. That said, what sense does it make for Christians to promote it?