When a vibrant, healthy 20-year-old man suddenly finds himself in the emergency department of a local hospital, it forces him to reflect on the big theological and philosophical questions of […]
When a vibrant, healthy 20-year-old man suddenly finds himself in the emergency department of a local hospital, it forces him to reflect on the big theological and philosophical questions of life in the most personal way. I was that man. With only one functional lung due to a spontaneous large pneumothorax (that is, a collapsed lung), I swiftly underwent keyhole surgery to re-inflate my left lung. In the interval between my diagnosis and operation, my mind was filled with reflections on the sovereignty, faithfulness, and goodness of God. Passages such as Matthew 6:25-34 came to mind, where Jesus poetically uses the creation—the lilies of the field and the birds of the air—to exhort us not to be anxious. Jesus shifts our gaze from our worries to our heavenly Father who knows our needs.
Other passages like 1 Peter 5:6-7 came to mind: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” Those verses were of significant comfort as I contemplated the uncertainty of my circumstances. Moreover, the words of the apostle Paul in Philippians 1:21, “to live is Christ and to die is gain”, reminded me that my hope in Christ was rooted in the eternal glory that we await, which is far better than what we can ever have in this fallen world. In the words of Dr Ligon Duncan: “the promises of God do not exempt us from suffering and calamity; instead, they enable us to suffer with hope.”
Yet amid such glorious hope which deals with our most fundamental problem of sin, there is an alternative object that competes for our attention, a potent anaesthetic that temporarily numbs the pain of suffering but is devoid of the power to heal: our technological devices. Our devices can manufacture spectacles that turn our gaze away from Christ and delay our pain by inundating any feeling of discomfort by the sheer power of distraction. Technology is not inherently sinful, and there is a multitude of good uses; however, it can be a widespread medium by which many are amusing themselves to death. But no amount of technological anaesthetic can ever heal the wounds of the heart; on the contrary, it often deceives us into thinking that we do not need to deal with our hardness of heart (see Hebrews 3:12-13).
I felt the impulse to find comfort in distractions. I often gravitated to my phone before my bible, to entertainment before prayer. Despite reflecting on, telling others about, and even writing an article focused on the hope that the gospel provides, these distractions are still present and extremely enticing. This inclination is widespread as every hospital ward had a TV, and almost all patients were glued to their devices. In contrast, I did not see a single Bible apart from the one I brought. I imagine (though I am not entirely certain) that every hospital a few generations ago in this country would have had lots of Bibles, accompanied by chaplains, pastors and fellow church members ministering to the sick. My four days at one hospital in NSW is not a large enough sample size to make any conclusions about the Christian influence in Australia’s medical centres; however, the point remains that the means to distract ourselves are readily more available than the means to grasp the hope of the gospel.
How, then, should we live in the midst of suffering? Will we be content with distracting ourselves in our pain? Or are we going to find our hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ, wrestling with the remaining sin in us as we persevere to our final home where we will eternally dwell with the Triune God and our fellow believers? Is it possible that even those of us who call ourselves Reformed—who espouse a high view of God’s sovereignty—to forget the biblical God when circumstances seem out of control? We must remember this central truth: it is God’s prerogative to give; it is God’s prerogative to take; in all things, God acts in accordance with his character and promises.
Our best response is the most simple and basic, but one that is so difficult: faith. We must believe and trust in God’s character and promises despite dire circumstances and unknown outcomes. We must sensitively apply God’s Word to God’s people with grace, meekness, and tenderness. As for my physical condition, I should make a full recovery in 6 to 8 weeks notwithstanding the 30% chance of my lungs collapsing again. On the hypothetical supposition that my health further degrades, I can trust God’s Word that although outwardly I am wasting away, inwardly I am being renewed day by day. For my light and momentary afflictions is preparing for me an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as I look not to the transient things that are seen but to the eternal things that are unseen (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
If I am unable to function at my previous capacity prior to my health complications, the most important question is not: “how can I return to where I was before?”, but rather: “how can I be faithful with what I have?”—for the “one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much” (Luke 16:10). Therefore, amid our suffering, our singular goal should be faithfulness: having the assurance of the things hoped for and the conviction of things yet unseen (Hebrews 11:1). How, then, should we live? May we live as the people of God who suffer with hope for an eternal inheritance, trusting the God who is faithful and will love us to the end.
- Koh Saito