Last week on the 5th of July, the UK celebrated seventy-five years since the creation of the National Health Service (NHS). Its creation in 1948 marked a radical change in health care provision to millions of people across Britain.
Despite it not being explicit in the founding principles of the NHS, we can see a Christian ethos throughout. We see throughout scripture that God cares about provision for the poor and the sick and the healing of physical illness is documented throughout much of Jesus’ ministry in the gospels.
Despite all its challenges and problems, we can thank God for the NHS and the free provision of healthcare offered to millions. Yet sometimes I feel that the NHS is spoken about as an almost ‘sacred’ institution, as if we couldn’t survive without it.
Politicians across all parties agree that the NHS is one of the defining features of Britain. Looking back on the 2012 London Olympics, the NHS played a central role in the opening ceremony. Staff at the NHS are invited to almost all significant occasions; the Queens funeral, the Kings coronation, and a special service was held in Westminster Abbey to commemorate its seventy-five years.
Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying, I don’t disagree with any of this, and I genuinely believe that God uses medicine and health care professionals to heal today, but the NHS is not an ‘ultimate’ or ‘sacred’ institution.
As I’ve been reflecting, I think it is right, as I have already said that we are thankful to God for the NHS and the wonderful, albeit imperfect role that in plays in our national life. But just as physical healing in scripture is meant to point beyond itself to the Healer, I think we should view the NHS in the same way.
God is Healer and He uses both miraculous and gracious ways of healing, but we also see in scripture that it is not until glory that we will see ultimate freedom from pain, suffering, and physical illness. Revelation 21:4 says, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” This is the hope that we have as believers, that one day we will be with Christ in a physically restored creation, and we will worship Him forever.
The NHS cannot ultimately save people, but so many of us speak about it as if it can, both non-Christian and Christian. As I’ve said the grace gifts of God always point beyond themselves to God Himself.
This feeds into a wider conversation about healing and one that I have wrestled with for some time. I do believe that God heals today as I’ve already said through both miraculous and ‘ordinary’ means, but I have also seen the pain caused when too much faith has been put in the healing and not the Healer.
We have a Saviour who is grieved by illness and death (as we see with Lazarus) and who Himself knows what it is to suffer physically, and so we can take real comfort and trust that God will ultimately heal those in Christ physically, as well as spiritually.
Although, this doesn’t mean that we will necessarily see healing in every instance this side of glory. I don’t say this lightly or flippantly as I know this is very real for many people who long to be free from ill health themselves or for a loved one.
Rather, we must remember as it says in Isaiah 55:8-9 that, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We can take hope and comfort in this truth, that when things don’t work out the way we think they should, that we have a God who is in control and who is good.
We can share the sentiment of Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
As I reflect on the commemoration of seventy-five years of the NHS, I give thanks to God. As we think of those who have been healed through it as well as through miraculous means, our praise should go to the Lord.
For those in the midst of pain and suffering and indeed for all believers, including myself, my prayer is that we could look beyond the healing of this life to the God who promises restoration in the next and that deep down within us we would “know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)