Monday, July 30, 2007

My understanding

When tragedy strikes the aftermath is a void that begs to be filled. In what should be a holy silence many voices compete. One voice always seems to claim knowledge of God's purpose in such events. I call this the voice of cause/effect theology. It is the way scientists are trained. You remember in physics, "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction."

As a physician, I am often tempted to participate in cause/effect theology. Patients and their families are quick to accept it. This explains why they are sick. "He got hepatitis because of his alcohol abuse." "She has lung cancer because of her cigarette smoking." Kneeling before the altar of knowledge and reason patients want to believe that science and good clean living can offer them eternal life.

Yet, what about the man who has never tasted alcohol only to find out that he has abdominal pain because his liver is eaten up with cirrhosis? Or the woman who is dying of an aggressive lung cancer but she never touched a cigarette? The logic of cause and effect says nothing in these situations. Using this theology where are words for the parents of a child with leukemia or the mother whose baby is stillborn? I have taken an oath to strive to alleviate suffering where ever I encounter it. Realizing that pain and death are inevitable, I struggle along side my patients to find hope.

In the wake of the death of a close friend's son last week, a Proverb I memorized in my youth helped fill the void. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.1"

Sitting with my friend in the wake of this tragedy, the ancient Hebrew writer silenced all other voices. The power of the moment is not in what I am able to understand. In the face of such grief my understanding is paltry. Even my ability to trust is often as weak as my understanding. Strength in these situations does not come from inside myself. Strength comes from the object of my trust named "Lord" by this ancient writer. For me this "Lord" binds us, patient, friend, sufferer, and caregiver together in such a way as to make hope possible.

1. Proverbs 3:5 The Hebrew Bible
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