1759) Meeting the Great Physician (part two of two)

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From “A Critical Care Surgeon Meets the Great Physician,” by Kathryn Butler, February 17, 2017 in Christianity Today magazine, posted athttp://www.christianitytoday.com  Butler is a trauma and critical care surgeon.  Her book on end-of-life medical care through a Christian lens is anticipated in 2019 (Crossway).  She writes at Oceans Rise.

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     (…continued)   Some time later, I transitioned to work in the ICU.  Among my patients was Ron (not his real name), a middle-aged man who suffered cardiac arrest after a hip replacement.  He had severe brain injury from lack of oxygen during the arrest, and depended upon a mechanical ventilator to breathe.  In a vegetative state, Ron would open his eyes, but showed no awareness of his surroundings.  Neurologists predicted he would never recover.

     Ron’s wife and daughters hovered at his bedside daily and prayed for a miracle.  They could not accept that the boisterous, football-loving, pizza-dough-tossing, belly-laughing man they cherished would never acknowledge them again.

     One morning, the ICU suddenly resounded with off-key renditions of cheesy 1980s tunes.  I found Ron’s wife at his bedside, singing as she cradled his hand beneath her chin.  She beamed when I approached her.

     “I was praying and praying last night, and when I woke up, I knew everything would be fine,” she declared.  “God told me he’s going to be just fine.”  I admired her conviction and her hope, especially as I had neither.  Yet her husband’s clinical data promised that everything would not be fine.

     For the next week, every day, she clung to him and crooned songs they both loved.  She prayed aloud.  She shouted blessings to everyone in the unit.  My colleagues and I struggled to conceal our worry.  We would shake our heads and cast each other glances that said, “This is heartbreaking.”

     One afternoon, she and her daughters shouted for me. I shuffled into the room, dreading the conversation.  “He moved his toe when we asked,” Ron’s wife said.

     I leaned within inches of Ron’s ear, and called his name.  I urged him to move.  Nothing.  “I’m so sorry.  It was probably just a reflex,” I said.

     “No,” his wife insisted.  “Watch.”  She put a hand on his shoulder, and shouted into his ear for him to wiggle his right big toe.  He did.

     The next day, he turned his head toward them.  Then, he blinked to command.  In two weeks, he was awake.  In three, he sat in a chair.

     At best, our neurologists had anticipated he might occasionally track moving objects.  No one expected that his condition would so dramatically resolve.  Medical science could not explain his recovery.

     I suspected I had witnessed a miracle.  Yet I still wrestled with God.  How could he bestow such blessings, yet allow suffering?

     Scottie encouraged me to read the Bible.  I started with the Gospels, then continued with Romans.  The words felt familiar, but with my newly opened heart, the reading unveiled Christ’s love in brushstrokes I had never fathomed.  The agony he suffered for our sake left me breathless.  He, too, had endured heartache and had confronted the face of evil.  And he bore such affliction—our affliction—for us.  Romans 5:1–8 revealed the awesome magnitude of God’s love for us.  He knows suffering.

     The Lord took my despair and fashioned a canvas for his perfect work.  Just as Christ raised Lazarus so that others might believe, so he redeems suffering—the gunshot wounds, the mourning, the lost jobs, the despondency beside bridge railings—for his glory.  In his mercy, he descends to buoy us up, and to complete miracles we cannot yet comprehend.  He pours blessings upon us every day—the jewel tones in autumn, but also the hard nights, and every breath in between.

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Matthew 14:14  —  When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Luke 4:40  —   At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them.

Romans 5:1-8  —  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

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Help me, O Lord, to make a true use of all disappointments and calamities in this life, in such a way that they may unite my heart more closely with you.  Cause them to separate my affections from worldly things and inspire my soul with more vigor in the pursuit of true happiness.  Amen.

–Susanna Wesley (1669-1742), mother of John and Charles Wesley and 17 other children