15 December 2015
Why the NHS needs Christians
How can Christian healthcare workers be salt, light and yeast within a system that is close to being broken? This is a question the Christian Medical Fellowship is exploring.
John Swinton, who holds a chair in Divinity and Religious Studies at the University of Aberdeen, asks three key questions: what has gone wrong with the health care system, what is health and what is it for, and what difference can healthcare workers make?
Swinton points to the importance of observing the Sabbath – taking time out to rest in God amid speed-driven work cultures.
Referring to Walter Bruggemann's book Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, Swinton points out that we are driven by time pressures, league tables, quotas and a desire to succeed at all costs.
Swinton says: "It's easy to forget that the healthcare system, like the Sabbath, was created for the benefit of human beings; human beings were not created for the benefit of the healthcare system.
"Perhaps the most radical and transformative thing that Christians can do is to create non-anxious Sabbath spaces within our daily work lives where we can slow down and find God in the apparently relentless flow of anxiety and activity that surrounds us. Where are the Sabbath moments in our working lives? If there are none then we probably haven't heard God's command."
In asking the question what health is, Swinton argues that health is not the absence of something - illness, distress, suffering, but is the presence of someone – God.
He believes it's shalom, peace, which stems from wholeness, completeness and well-being.
This shalom comes from being in a right relationship with God.
"It's not what we have or how we feel that makes us healthy; it's who we are," he writes.
"It's therefore possible to be dying, psychotic, deeply depressed or in pain and to be healthy. It follows that faithful medical practice finds its primary focus in ensuring that people are given the opportunity to connect and remain connected with the Divine, even in the midst of the most difficult storms.
"Administering pain killers, for example, can be an agent of God's shalom. Since pain is the enemy of shalom, offering pain medication is a deep form of spiritual healing because it not only takes away the unpleasantness of pain, but it creates a context for healing connection with God."
So how can Christian healthcare workers make a difference?
"The difference Christian healthcare workers are supposed to make is completely up to God," says Swinton.
"Christians working within the NHS are called to bear witness to the truth that has been given to them. It is not their task to single-handedly transform the health care system, but rather to signal the kingdom through small, faithful gestures which have great power.
"Jesus is often found in the small things. The NHS needs Christians because the world needs Jesus."