A Biblical Welfare State?

A welfare state is defined as a system whereby the government undertakes to protect the health and well-being of its citizens, especially those in financial or social need, by means of grants, pensions, and other benefits.

For this system to work, you need three components:
1. Taxpayers or some other source of revenue.
2. Government Officials
3. Beneficiaries, those who receive the money.

The system is only sustainable as long as people are able and willing to pay into the system, and both government officials and beneficiaries do not demand and take more than the system can handle.

Venezuela built their social services of subsidized food, education, and welfare on profits from oil prices. Government officials were relatively faithful in their responsibilities in allocating money into their proper departments. The common people, for a while, benefited from these programs.

But when oil prices fell, the whole system collapsed and the people of Venezuela suffered from starvation and poverty. The money left in the system were seized by President Maduro, and distributed amongst himself, military officials, and political allies. All at the expense of the people that the programs were initially built for.

Social Security is where people have been paying into the system in their younger years and reap benefits from it in their retirement years, starting at around 66 years old, at least on paper. Because there is such a large number of potential retirement-age beneficiaries and few young taxpayers paying into the system, there is a danger that the system could collapse. To save the system, young people would have to pay more through higher taxes, or beneficiaries have to receive less money than promised, or the minimal eligibility age would have to be raised. There is also the concern that the government officials overseeing this program may have been pocketing money for themselves on the side at the expense of the expected beneficiaries.

In a nationalized healthcare system, everyone would have to pay more money than now through taxes, higher premiums, or health care plans covering services that they have no use for. Even if taxes are placed initially on companies making a lot of revenue, they may eventually have to cut costs elsewhere by closing down branches, letting go of employees, or providing low-quality goods and services.

The beneficiaries of a nationalized healthcare system are hospitals and doctors but if the government only agrees to pay a certain amount of money below market value in an attempt to make healthcare affordable, that policy effectively becomes a price ceiling. The overall outcome would be medical services demanded will exceed medical services supplied. In other words: an overburdened medical system.

Hospitals, doctors, and nurses would have triages to determine patient priority. Patients would have to wait long periods of times from months to years to see a family doctor. Basically, in an attempt to keep healthcare costs to a minimum, there will inevitably be rationing. There will be a shortage of medical services.

Now naturally if the government paid more money into the healthcare system, hospitals and doctors would be able to provide better services, but the government has the authority and power to withhold money from us even when it is needed. Instead of giving taxpayers’ money to the hospitals that need them, government officials could be pocketing that money for themselves.

Even as hospitals may suffer from inefficiency because of being underfunded, the government could take advantage of this situationto ask the public for more money by raising taxes to help out. More money may go into the system, but still not help hospitals out, because the money just went to further enrich the government officials.

Additionally, precisely because the government is in charge of the payments and have the power and authority to punish dissenters, the hospitals and doctors would essentially have to tailor their services to government standards.

For example, you might have a doctor that only gets paid by the government if he performs abortions, performs euthanasia on an unwilling patient, or prescribe some other treatment that goes against patient wishes. The government could potentially authorize all of this in the name of saving healthcare costs. Ideally, we would have a government that would not do this, but I doubt we live in such an optimistic world.

As I mentioned before, a welfare state comprises of the following:
1. A source of revenue.
2. Government Officials
3. Beneficiaries

Biblically speaking, we do have an idealized version of this.

1. A source of revenue: voluntary donors

“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

“Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me.” (Exodus 25:2)

“You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.” (Deuteronomy 15:10)

“For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.” (2 Corinthians 8:12)

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

From the above passages, you can see that rich people should donate money to help the poor out, but this money given into the welfare system is a willing gift and not an exaction. Not only that, but they are able to give according to what they have, not according to what they do not have. Taxes, then, contradict the biblical model. Taxes are money given under compulsion. If you do not pay them, you get thrown into jail. Also, they may be set at a rate that exceeds the taypayer’s ability to pay them.

Should the super-rich pay their fair share? They are certainly encouraged to do so, but the government should not force them to do so. Ideally, the Holy Spirit would work in the hearts of the super-rich and give them a heart of generosity so that they would decide to give to the poor on their own. Barring that, they should still cultivate a culture of philanthropy where they invest in helping pay people’s medical bills, building more hospitals, and renovating existing ones.

Taxes would completely undermine this process, as the super-rich would be giving money under compulsion and sometimes at a rate greater than what they have available. If too much money is taken from them through high taxes, a super-rich individual would not be able to invest in philanthropy and even have to close up successful businesses, let go of employees, or provide low-quality goods and services.

2. Government officials

“Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.” (Exodus 18:21)

“Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.” (Acts 6:3)

“Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:12-14)

From the above passages, government officials can and should play a role in the efficient redistribution of wealth to their appropriate beneficiaries. They should be trustworthy, hate bribes, be full of the Spirit and of wisdom, and collect no more than needed. They should not abuse the system and thus extort money from the common people.

Maduro abused the system and essentially extorted the people of Venezuela, enriching himself, military officials, and political allies at the expense of the people. The American government through Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans Affairs could also potentially do the same. The issue of corrupt officials is where Republicans and other conservatives have issues, and for historically good reasons.

When government officials simply keep tax money for themselves, then the beneficiaries the programs were designed for will suffer from poor or absent services.

Government officials should be content with their wages, but unregenerate human nature is greedy and will demand more. It is as true today as it was back in the days of John the Baptist with the Roman government through tax collectors and Roman soldiers.

3. Beneficiaries

“If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.” (1 Timothy 5:16)

Beneficiaries ideally should be people who truly need the help that the program is designed for. They would be people who did not lie about their need for help, and are content with the money they receive.

Since we are talking about free money, it is easy for people to lie to government officials in an attempt to qualify for money that they do not deserve. In addition, beneficiaries may ask for more money than they actually need, thus putting pressure on the source of revenue, such as voluntary donors and taxpayers. For example, hospitals and other subsidized businesses may negotiate with the government to give them more money than needed at the expense of another hospital that provides higher quality services at lower costs. Another way pressure can be placed on the source of revenue is when the number of beneficiaries outnumber the number of people paying into the system, as seen in Social Security.

In conclusion a biblical model of a welfare state would comprise of the following:
1. Voluntary donors, including rich individuals, who are generous and give according to what they have.
2. Government officials or other leaders are trustworthy individuals, who do not exploit the system to take more money for themselves than needed, manage the money well, and actually give the money to benefit their intended beneficiaries.
3. Beneficiaries are those who actually need the money, and generally do not ask for more than necessary, and receive the money promised to them.

Perhaps social services programs, like Medicare for All, could work like the biblical model where taxpayers are in place of voluntary donors if tax rates approximate what taxpayers such as large corporations are able and willing to give. They could work if government officials use the money well and think like a consumer to seek low cost and high quality healthcare services. They could work if hospitals receive money close to market value, and use that money to improve services.

But Medicare for All would fail because it is difficult and undesirable for people to pay a lot of money into the system at a constant rate, government officials could take more money than they need for themselves, and use their authority and power to go against market forces and force hospitals and doctors into undesirable positions, and hospitals and doctors could take advantage of the system to obtain money that does not actually go into lowering costs and improving quality.

Ultimately, I feel a welfare programs can work if morally upright and effective individuals are in power. They can help a lot of people if used well. Otherwise, a lot of people can suffer. The programs are not inherently wrong, excluding the use of taxes, where people are forced to pay and sometimes at rates beyond their means. Right now, I am wary about taking a gamble and giving the government that much control over healthcare which could do a lot of good or cause a lot of harm for everyone. My thoughts could be concluded by this proverb:

When the righteous increase, the people rejoice,
but when the wicked rule, the people groan.
(Proverbs 29:2)

Preparing for Good Friday

If you were to ask me what I think about Good Friday, I would say that Good Friday is the most outrageous event in human history.

At the center of the day is this event: The God, who created the cosmos that Stephen Hawkings admired, died at the hands of the people He created.
What a tragedy when creation does not recognize and even kills its own Creator.
“But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life” (Acts 3:14-15a).

We know from our reality such saddening events as the following:
-Lupus and other autoimmune diseases are when the human body attacks itself.
-Civil wars are tragic because you have brother pitted against brother, or a government attacking its own citizens.
Perhaps we recognize the unimaginable moral ugliness and offensiveness of such events precisely because they ultimately point us to our failure to recognize our Creator, even to the point of killing Him.

Now what makes the death of Jesus, God the Son in the flesh, even more outrageous is that He willingly gave up His life on our behalf.  He knew that He would be killed by His own people and He gave His life up so that He could secure their reconciliation to Himself.

We humans are mere specks compared to God, and even more than that, we committed high treason against Him. For all intents and purposes, God could have left us alone since we were the party that broke off our agreement with Him.  We have forsaken the LORD, we have despised the Holy One of Israel, and we are utterly estranged from Him.

But God on His own initiative went to the trouble of securing the means of our forgiveness and reconciliation.

The significance of Good Friday would make headlines that you would not see any time soon:
-King dies for traitorous rebels.
-Husband dies for a wife that cheated on him.
-Father dies for a son that hated him and ran away from home.
-Man takes the place of someone on death row who was guilty of killing his family.

In essence: we have a holy God dying for sinful mankind.

Given that we have a Creator that gave His life up for our sake to bring us back to Him when we forfeited that right to His presence, how much more should leaders at every level of society use their authority in a manner that seeks the good of the people in their care even if it comes at their own expense.

World leaders such as Xi Jinping, Kim Jung-un, Bashar al-Assad, Putin, and Trump are all in a position of authority, and they have a moral responsibility to use that authority for the good of their people and of their neighbors.  Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Wayne LaPierre are both people who have used their authority and influence in ways that have caused people a lot of harm and destruction.  They both propagated a narrative that has led to the deaths of innocent people. The police, military, and other law enforcement officers have a moral responsibility to exercise their authority in a responsible manner and not put to death innocent people even as they do what they can to bring guilty individuals to justice.

In our country, we hope our lawmakers would find sense in creating legislation that can bring justice and accountability to such things as immigration, gun safety, environmental issues, sexual identity, police brutality, abortion, opioids, Syrian refugees, and the like.  With a proper understanding of force of law, and doing our best to wield that authority properly, we have to do what we can to find common ground and put forth measures that will benefit us all.

Good Friday is also a picture of forgiveness.
Forgiveness builds bridges, but it is costly.

Note also that Jesus did not wait for us to apologize before He came and took the initiative to set out measures needed to secure our forgiveness and reconciliation. We were the guilty party and by all intents and purposes, we should have been the ones to ask God for forgiveness. God already secured the means of our reconciliation before we even asked for it.  How much more should we adopt the same gracious attitude towards one another?

Both sides, the right and the left, have to swallow their prides for forgiveness to happen.
The right have been called racists, fascists, and bigots and the left have been called “libtards,” snowflakes, and commies.  Both sides have members that are quick to demonize the others, but there are also those who do not dive into such extremes, and they are just not as vocal and public as the more outrageous, outspoken individuals.

This past presidential election has done a lot in dividing this country.  Perhaps it is time that we do what we can to heal the divide before it gets worse.  I would love to see more conversation happen between the two sides of this country.  I would like to see bridges built instead of burnt.

Both sides should not have to wait for the other side to apologize to start having a civil discourse about the things we need to do to help our country pursue justice and the public good.  Once one side calls the other side names, that just shuts the conversation down and we would not get anywhere productive. My proposal is to ask both sides to see the best in others even when they fail to give it back to you.

In other words, be gracious with your opponent.

Take some time to hear from the other side, and do not immediately shut their arguments down by calling it “bigoted” or “socialist”, but at least take some time to explain why you think such and such an argument is unsound and unhelpful.  Also it is far too easy to make a straw man of the other side, so at least actively look for the best arguments put forth by the other side and work with the people who have nuanced, thoughtful opinions instead of those who dive into an all or nothing mentality.

To conclude my thoughts:
-Good Friday is the most outrageous event in human history:
God became human and gave up His life on behalf of people who wanted nothing to do with Him.
Some implications for us:
-ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior so you can be reconciled to God
-if reconciled to God, you should now behave in a manner befitting of your renewed allegiance
Some things that Jesus modeled for us to imitate:
-authority is at its best when it seeks the good of others even at its own cost, so seek self-sacrificial leadership
-forgiveness is costly but it builds bridges and is proactive, seeking to respect others even before respect is received, so be gracious to your opponent for the sake of unity

Slavery in the Bible

Image result for slavery

Food for thought:

Slavery has been around in human history for a long time, and even here in America, we did not get rid of the ‘peculiar institution’ until 1864 with the addition of our 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments.

We see slavery during Abraham’s time (Gen 12:16), and Abraham had to rescue his nephew Lot from slavery (Gen 14:12).  Joseph was sold into slavery (Gen 37:28). Moses worked in a time when his whole people were enslaved by the Egyptians (Exodus 1: 13-14).  Even when Israel became an empire, they were eventually separated into two kingdoms, Israel to the north and Judah to the south, with each one being taken into captivity by the Assyrian and the Babylonians respectively (2 Kings 17:6; 2 Kings 25:11).
Even in the New Testament, the times of the Roman Empire, slavery was still alive and well, which is why Paul addresses bondservants in his letters, because that was the sociocultural-historical context of the time.

So from at least Abraham’s time in about 2000 BC to America’s emancipation of slaves around 1864 AD, we have nearly a 4000 year history of slavery.  With that in mind, why would the Bible not talk about slavery, since it is a prevalent institution that was so ingrained into the social fabric of human society in both the ancient world and the modern world?  If the Bible did not talk about the issue at all, I would be suspect of its ability to address historical realities.  If God wrote humanity a book in our very particular universe, that book would naturally have to deal with the historical realities of slavery since it existed for much of our history.  If that same book did not talk about slavery, it would be out of touch with our painful reality of sin, misery, and death.  The Bible cannot offer a solution if it does not even address the problem first.

Sometimes I hear why didn’t God just outlaw slavery during the times of Moses?  Well, perhaps, God was treating slavery like cancer.  When you are treating someone with cancer, those cancerous cells are still very much a part of the individual as the normal cells.  So the question becomes, how do you treat someone with an affliction that has become intimately connected to the host without killing the host?  It would be one thing if the cancerous cells localized to an easily resectable portion of the body, but in the case I am discussing, it is as if the cancerous cells have effectively spread throughout the body.  You end up with a situation where killing the cancer would kill the person because the two have become so connected to one another.  Slavery became so intwined into human society, that destroying it would come at a heavy price.  Consider how America itself erupted into a civil war over the issue (an oversimplification, but still serves my point).

Actually now that I think about it, perhaps the reason why slavery has been mostly done away in our modern times, is because of the power of the gospel to transform hearts.  Going along with my cancer analogy, if the ancient world is a patient whose cancer diffused throughout the body, then the modern world is a patient whose cancer then became more localized and thus more easily resectable because the gospel transformed some of the cancerous cells into healthy ones.  So instead of having an entire society engrained into the cultural framework of slavery, you only had a section of society supporting it, which was the case for America.

But before the gospel arrived with its ability to transform hearts, God gave regulatory laws about slavery to the Israelites through Moses (Exodus 21:7-11).  If you cannot get rid of a cancer that has spread throughout a body, the next best thing to do would be to regulate the cancer so it does not spread any further than it already has and to limit its ability to damage the host.  Perhaps this is what God had in mind when He gave laws regarding slavery through Moses.

Even when the apostle Paul writes to slaves to obey their masters (Ephesians 6:5), he is essentially encouraging them to make the best of the social structure that they find themselves in.  Also the instructions to slaves is supported by the instruction to masters to stop their threatening to slaves, in light of the fact that they are accountable to Christ (Ephesians 6:9).  Again, if the institution of slavery is not challenged outright, the next best thing is to regulate the institution to minimize the probabilities of abuse from both parties.  This approach is in stark contrast to a slave rebellion, like the one Spartacus led, where you have a large loss of lives of both slaves and masters.  Generally speaking, God seeks the preservation of life, not their perishing.

Then I sometimes hear that since the Bible talks about slavery, then I should not listen to it.  The problem with this statement is that it sounds like “Since the Constitution had clauses regarding slavery, then I should not listen to it.”  Why do Americans still hold true to the Constitution, in spite of its use in supporting slavery?  One key word: authority.  The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution establishes that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land.  Now authority, on its own terms, is morally neutral.  What matters more is how is it used.

Authority is a good organizing principle to have.  We can build a safe, stable society when authority is used to promote the public good.  The phrase, “law and order,” captures this sentiment well.  Even when authority is abused for malicious purposes, you would not find many advocating for pure anarchy.  The answer to bad authority is not so much to get rid of all authority, but to reform and correct the bad authority so it becomes good authority.  This is precisely the approach that the Constitution used.

The Constitution once had the Three-Fifths Clause and the Fugitive Slave Clause codified into its text, but we removed those clauses with the addition of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments.  Thus when the Constitution exercised authority in a wrongful manner, we did not abolish the Constitution, but we reformed it to better align itself with moral good.

Likewise, the Bible is an authoritative text.  It discussed slavery in the historical contexts that the institution was found in.  For those cultural instances of slavery, the Bible exercises its authority to regulate the excessive abuses that could happen from the institution, until a more opportune time when people would no longer demand the institution.

Looking at slavery from an economic perspective, it follows the laws of supply and demand.  If you want to effectively get rid of the institution, you would have to challenge the demand for the product.  Part of that demand comes from a failure to see your neighbor as a fellow human being.  That’s where the gospel works the best.  You challenge the institution not from the outside in with a law that outlaws it or a slave rebellion, but from the inside out, where both the slave and the master see each other as fellow humans.  This ability to see the humanity in one another is the moral strength behind the abolition movement in America.

Thus we can see that the Bible exercises its authority regarding slavery in a manner that actually promotes liberation and accountability.  If it is able to exercise its authority in this way, we can trust its ability to do the same for other moral instructions.  Also even if the Bible was found to have mistakes much like the Constitution had, why would we disregard it entirely?  Even if it was a purely human product, does not the Bible still offer much timeless wisdom for our world?

To conclude my thoughts:
-the Bible discusses slavery since it was a historical human reality for at least 4000 years; if it did not, that is a long period of time for a topic to be silent on.
-perhaps God did not outlaw slavery in the ancient world outright because that would be like trying to cure someone who had a cancer that diffused throughout the body; killing the cancer would kill the person.
-the next best thing for God to do would be to regulate slavery so excessive abuses from both slaves and masters are minimized and to promote the gospel which encourages both parties to see each other as fellow human beings
-to challenge slavery, you need to challenge the demand portion of a supply-demand curve, and part of the demand behind slavery comes from a failure to recognize the humanity of your neighbor, and the gospel challenges this presupposition
-letting the gospel transform hearts creates a greater threshold of individuals who are willing to challenge slavery and acts like a therapy where a diffuse cancer becomes a more localized and subsequently more easily resectable tumor.
-the Bible is an authoritative text much like the Constitution is, and if we are willing to obey the Constitution even when it exercised authority regarding slavery wrongly, how much more should we obey the Bible when it exercises its authority for good.