Friday, January 14, 2005

On The Other Side

I recently heard about the death of a young medical
student from a rare form of cancer. He spent the
last year of his life alternating between spending
weeks in the hospital as a patient undergoing
radiation and spending weeks in the hospital
doing his clinical rotations. The rare health
professional knows what it is like to be in the
hospital bed, not just the one filling out the charts.

It is extremely difficult to imagine how vulnerable
and dependent you feel when you put your life and
dignity in another's hands, unless you or someone
you love has had to do it. Doctors who have been
patients have a unique ability to empathize with those
whose treatment they oversee.

As I was thinking about this student's story, I began
to see some parallels for our calling to spread the
Gospel. I recognize that the doctor/patient relationship
is not a very good metaphor for our relationship to those
who need to hear the Gospel of Truth. If anything, we
are less like the doctor and more like one who urges
the sick person to receive medical care. However, just
as doctors need to know or imagine what it feels like to
be a patient, we need to remember what it feels like to
be without God. If we forget what it is like to be sick,
we will not be very compelling when we invite others
to receive healing.

According to Scripture, before we were born anew in
Christ, we were worse than sick; we were dead. The
apostle Paul writes, "All of us also lived among them
at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature
and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest,
we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of
his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made
us alive with Christ even when we were dead in
transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved"
(Ephesians 2:3-5).

When we forget how far we have come-or rather,
how far we have been brought-we become arrogant,
callous healers. The temptation arises to practice a
sledgehammer apologetic that obliterates your ideo-
logical enemies rather than wins them over. We
must not give in to this temptation; we must speak
the truth in love. Love for other sinners flows out
of the awareness that on your own you are no
better off than they are.

Hospitals become cold, cruel places when patients
are treated as mere bodies rather than souls. We
make an even graver mistake when we treat people
as mere minds without hearts, as intellects without
emotions, as numbers rather than as those created
in the image of God. Remember what it is like to
be on the other side of the veil, to walk in darkness.
May the memory stir you to compassion as you
introduce others to the one who came not for the
healthy ones, but for the sick. Betsy Childs


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