The Gospel According To The NHS
You’ve probably already seen this graph, with the accompanying mantra for why social distancing is so important: ‘flatten the curve.’ As we are already seeing in Italy, one of the biggest issues with the spread of the coronavirus is the impact it has on a nation’s health care system. Health care system’s already have a lot to deal with in terms of national health care issues — people need organ transplants, surgery, medicine, blood, and so on. When you add a global pandemic due to an incredible infectious disease, there will quickly be a strain on a nation’s healthcare system.
As I am currently living in St. Louis, I have begun to closely follow the national developments of the United Kingdom (UK), especially London, in response to COVID-19. I have been keeping a track of government statements (specifically by Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock), epidemiological observations (e.g. Imperial College’s ongoing research), and the words of everyday brits on social media. The strain on the National Health Service (NHS) is growing as the healthcare system nears full capacity. In response to that the UK Government has started to put measures in place to increase the healthcare system capacity of the NHS — which is a welcomed action for all.
On Saturday, Matthew Hancock announced that within the first 48 hours of the call, 4000 nurses and 500 doctors signed up to return to the NHS from retirement to help. On Monday, it was also announced yesterday that a new (temporary) 4000 bed NHS Hospital (Nightingale Hospital) would be opened at the Excel centre in East London specifically to treat coronavirus patients. Yesterday Mr Hancock made an additional request for 250,000 NHS volunteers and already 170,000 people have signed up to be volunteers. The healthcare system capacity is increasing in England and while I’m not an expert to say whether this will be enough, or if much more needs to be done, I’m glad to see these actions taking place.
In the midst of the panic, healthcare system capacity concerns, and governmental announcements, one thing that has stuck out to me is the way in which healthcare professionals in the NHS have gone over and beyond in seeking to meet the needs of coronavirus patients. For many doctors and nurses, they have served patients with less than ideal personal protective equipment, and others have contracted coronavirus in the process of serving their patients. One ex-NHS doctor, who accepted the call to return and serve the nation in this crisis, called it their ‘moral duty’ saying:
I would rather catch the virus doing something good and trying to actively help people than skulk away in a corner and pick it up going to the supermarket, so I’m meeting it head-on really.*
It is no surprise that all NHS staff have been/are being praised for their selfless sacrificial service for the sake of others and the health of the nation. It is beyond admirable! In an era of Marvel and DC, not all heroes wear capes. Most are wearing face masks and medical gloves. Without a doubt, the NHS is an embodiment of what service means in the United Kingdom. Throughout this outbreak, globally, there is only admiration for healthcare professionals and their endeavour to fight the virus for the sake of the life of others.
NHS staff, and healthcare professionals globally, are serving others selflessly and sacrificially for the life of any and all who come under their care. As such, the NHS is a natural means through which we see the beauty of the gospel. Healthcare professional are image bearers of God, and in their vocation of seeking the physical and mental health of others they image the healing hand of God. It is in this way that all healthcare professionals become pointers towards the gospel. As healthcare professionals, imaging the healing hand of God, they point us to the ultimate embodiment of God’s healing provision: Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
In the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) we are shown, in his miracles, the centrality of healing in the life, ministry, and work of Jesus Christ. Albert Walters, in his book Creation Regained, writes:
In connection with our these of re-creation it is particularly striking that all of Jesus’ miracles (with the one exception of the cursing of the fig tree) are miracles of restoration — restoration to health, restoration to life, restoration to freedom from demonic possession. Jesus’ miracles provide us with a sample of the meaning of redemption: a freeing of creation from the shackles of sin and evil and a reinstatement of creaturely living as intended by God.
What is demonstrated in the life and ministry of Jesus — restoration — is enacted by His death and resurrection. Albert Walters later says, in Creation Regained:
Redemption, then, is the recovery of creational goodness through the annulment of sin and the effort toward the progressive removal of its effects everywhere. We return to creation through the cross, because only the atonement deals with sin and evil effectively at their root.
The sickness beneath all sickness is sin itself, and the healing that all acts of healing (whether miraculous or medical) point to is salvation by grace through faith in the work of Jesus Christ. This is perfectly encapsulated in the Old Testament Book of Isaiah, in chapter 53 verse 5:
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (NIV)
As I observe, from afar, the tireless work of the NHS, my heart is thankful for the selfless sacrifice of service for the health of the nation. And in seeing that selfless sacrifice of the NHS my spirit is moved with gratitude for the selfless sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross for his people, and for the redemption and healing of the world. Indeed, His blood is the balm that heals our wounds of sin.
There is balm in Gilead, to make the wounded whole;
There’s power enough in heaven, to cure a sin-sick soul.
– African-American Spiritual
* https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/mar/24/its-my-moral-duty-ex-nhs-staff-returning-fight-coronavirus [Accessed 25th March, 2020]