The Hardest Thing About Medicine

     If you ever wonder about a patient’s prognosis, you can make use of the “Niceness” test. Is your patient a really sweet lady with a breast lump who has young kids and volunteers in her free time? It probably is a malignant cancer. Is your patient a selfish jerk who has made poor decisions resulting in a decline of his health? He’ll probably be fine for awhile. It seems like more often than not, the nicer your patient is, the poorer his or her outcome will be.
     Obviously I’m being facetious, but there’s an element of truth in that jest that hits a little too close to home. You don’t have to go to medical school to be hit with the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” You’ll just get it a lot during your training. Sure residency is physically challenging with the ungodly work hours, but I actually think the hardest thing about being a doctor is the emotional toll of seeing suffering firsthand day after day.
     And if you believe in God, nothing shakes your faith more than struggling personally with suffering. Sadly, many have walked away from their faith because they are not able to reconcile the idea of a loving God with the existence of evil. It’s hard to tell someone that God loves them when they just found out they had cancer, or when their loved one passed away. But God does love us, and His existence actually gives meaning to suffering. If God doesn’t exist, the reality is that suffering still does, and hardships that come would then just be a matter of bad luck. [1]
     I don’t know why some people get better, but some people die from their illness. I don’t know why kids are born with disabilities, or why some don’t make it at all. But I do know that if God did not exist, that all the suffering I see from day to day is the result of random chance, then I wouldn’t want to be a doctor.
     The promise of the resurrection is that there is more to this life than random chance and bad luck. There is a God who is sovereign over all evil and even uses it ultimately for the good of those who love Him. There is a God who entered into our suffering in order to restore our relationship with Him so that one day we can enjoy life as it was intended, without tears, pain, shame, sin, and death. Happy Easter everyone!
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5


[1] For a great treatment of the problem of evil, see this article by Stand to Reason.

 

When it is Hard to Give Thanks

It’s almost Thanksgiving! This usually means good food (hot pot if you are Chinese), family, friends coming back, more food, movie vegging during days off, and more food. Plus Christmas is around the corner and that means more days off. I was up in Idyllwild last weekend and there was some early snowfall action; looks like it’ll be a good snowboarding season.

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not sure who made this little guy

It’s a time where we are supposed to count our blessings and make a list of all the things we are thankful for. But what if it’s not so easy to give thanks? Maybe things are hard financially or someone lost a job. Perhaps you have lost a loved one, or this time reminds you of a loss in the past. Sometimes it is hard to give thanks, even though we know we have many things to be thankful for.

I think sometimes well-meaning Christians do more harm when we “look on the bright side” that in Christ we have eternal life, love, peace, etc and try to ignore the very real suffering that one is experiencing. While it is true that our struggles here are “not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed” (Romans 8:18) and our “light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory” (2 Cor 4:17), God does not call us to deceive ourselves and stuff away how we really feel.

I’ll share more about this during our Thanksgiving program, but for now, if you are in that place, I hope you can find encouragement in the psalms. When I read the honest expressions of the psalmists, I am reminded that our sadness, anger, and even doubts can exist side-by-side with our faith in God, and we can bring all of that to God.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

Psalm 13

Why God Doesn’t Just Heal Everyone

One of the most difficult things for me is seeing all the sick people in the hospital and wondering why God doesn’t cure people anymore. It’s tough.

This is a recent comment I got from a medical student. Thanks for your honesty, it certainly is tough. For me, it was especially tough seeing kids with terrible diseases. I remember being present at the still-born deliveries of twins and thinking, “God, how can you let stuff like this happen?” The question I was really asking was, “God, if you are good, why do you allow suffering to happen?” The follow-up to that question is, “God, if you are good and all-powerful, why don’t you do something about it?”

This is a hard one. I think the best answer I’ve heard was from a sermon by John Piper who said that suffering and tragedies ought to remind us of our initial rebellion against God.  It is a reminder that the world as it is was not the way it was created, but what we see now are consequences of our sin against God. I mentioned this in a previous post that because of Adam and Eve’s sin, not only was our relationship with God broken, but the whole natural order was corrupted (Romans 8:19-21).  That means diseases (as well as natural disasters) are as much a result of sin as all the terrible things that people do to one another.

But knowing that suffering is ultimately the result of our separation from God, while true, isn’t very helpful when we come face-to-face with the ugly realities of this world.  We can kill ourselves asking the why’s but, often times, God doesn’t give us the answers.  Instead He says, “Look to my Son.”

I don’t think we’ll ever figure that out why God created the world knowing all the suffering that was going to result. But, somehow because of His love, it was worth it to create despite knowing that we would fall into sin.  But God didn’t just create and run away.  No, God was here. God entered into this world of suffering and sin in the person of Jesus, the incarnate Son.

When Jesus came into this world, yes He did heal the sick and make the lame walk.  He even raised the dead.  But there were multitudes that were not healed and even more who remained dead.  God was here at one time, but He was not here to end all suffering.  God was here, shared in our brokenness and suffering, and died on the cross to meet our ultimate need: to be reconciled with our creator God. Jesus’ healings and other miracles merely backed up His divinity and His ability to forgive our sins.

The story doesn’t end there. Not only was God here, but God is also near: Jesus is going to return.  While He didn’t come the first time to end all sickness, poverty and natural disasters, when He returns, that’s exactly what He will do.

I don’t want to minimize the sufferings we encounter because the pain we experience is real. We should care. God cares. While we may be angry with God, without God there is no good answer for the problem of suffering. Without God, tragedies ultimately have no meaning; they just happen. But we have a God who took on the ultimate suffering, bearing the burden of our sins on the cross.

So back to the question, why doesn’t God just cure everyone?  He actually still does heal (worthwhile read), but miraculous healings are the exception rather than the rule because there’s a spiritual reality that our sufferings point us to. More often, God uses ordinary people to be his hands and feet in order to love someone in their time of suffering to help them see their ultimate need for God, pointing them to Christ.

For future healers, this is not an easy calling to battle against the consequences of sin. In my next post I’ll write about some ways to process through these difficult experiences. For starters, let us remember the words of Revelation 21:4-5 that one day God “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.  He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’  Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’” 

For those of you in the medical field (or any field for that matter), how do you deal with the suffering that you see? Please feel free to comment.

Adapted from a previous post in response to the Sandy Hook shooting

3/30/13 Found this video that has some good insights