Easter Day. Our Leader rose, out from under death’s very shadow. His story somehow summing up our collective story, his deliverance spelling hope for us all, he proclaimed the good news. The very same Power that brought him through the darkness will, if we remain faithful, deliver us all. ‘We will win because our NHS is the beating heart of our country …’ said Boris, ‘It is unconquerable. It is powered by love.’
I have long thought that there is something religious about our devotion to the NHS. It’s an observation that can sit alongside a genuine gratitude for all that is good about it. All idolatry turns a ‘good thing’ into a ‘god thing,’ disconnecting the gift from the true Giver. This means a key part of a Christian response to such idolatry is genuine gratitude for the gift. Thank God for the healthcare resources we have! Thank God especially for the Doctors, Nurses, Midwives, Paramedics, Cleaners, and many others, who work in the NHS! We have a number of such in our church family, and they have been particularly in our family prayers these last few weeks. Ingratitude for these gifts is not an appropriate strategy for avoiding idolising them.
But our national relationship with the NHS is a touchpoint for many of our most cherished beliefs and many of our idols. Often our confidence in our NHS is inseparable from our confidence in ourselves, individually and collectively, to meet our greatest challenges – our own frailty and even our mortality.
This is something that the call to ‘Protect the NHS’ brings into focus. Can we not hear, lurking in the background behind this slogan, the sound of our own desperation to maintain faith that we can control life and even death? Is it not the case that somewhere in the collective psychology underpinning the thousands of rainbows blu-tacked to windows up and down the land, lies a deep need to sustain the narrative that science, or love, or something else within us, can conquer all?
In modern Britain, our love for the NHS is tied up with the prevailing humanistic religion, in which we have deified humanity, and with the way that this finds expression in our idolatry of the State. We can endure, it seems, all sorts of hardship, the erosion of our liberties, financial costs, and risk our mental and social well-being, in order to ensure that our healthcare system will deliver us. We rely on the State to safeguard our lives, to save us and give us life, and these are the sacrifices needed if our god is to answer our prayers.
However, when you have to protect your gods, it is telling you one thing loud and clear. They are not really very good gods. True and ultimate hope does not lie in our own sacrifices, forming ‘a human shield around this country’s greatest national asset,’ but in the sacrifice our Lord made to protect us, in the God who is himself our Strength and Shield.
I think this can (and must) be said while obeying the authorities and taking action to help hospitals cope with Covid-19. Doctors, Nurses, ventilators – these things really do save lives. But whatever we do to protect the NHS, and however hard our Doctors and Nurses work, and even if our healthcare system sails through the current crisis unscathed, we will still all eventually die. Only the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Lamb that was slain, is unconquerable in the face of that foe.