19.5.08

Faith in Medicine: Thoughts from Dr. Chang

The miniseries at Knox Presbyterian goes on, and last week, the venerable Dr. Robert Chang, hospitalist extraordinnaire, gave a rockin' talk on what he's learned from his work at the hospital. And he did so on a minimal night's sleep, having just come back from a Honduran hospital early in the a.m. He's in internal medicine, and likes these long, sleepless runs.

There were a lot of great points that he made, but I'll focus on one. There's an old testament story (2 Sam 12) that I've heard for many years. King David, after committing adultery with the wife of one of his soldiers and getting her pregnant, he indirectly murders the husband and marries the woman himself. Through the prophet Nathan, David learns that God is going to punish his actions by the baby dying. That such a renowned hero of the Bible as David was guilty of such heinous actions, and that God took the life of the innocent, are both parts of the story that deserve long conversations not to be found here.

Here's the focal point: David hears this, and fasts and prays and lays prostrate on the ground for days and days, imploring God to change his mind. He was so desparate that, when the infant did die, his men were afraid to tell him this news, not knowing what he might do. But he senses their hesitation, and they tell him the truth. He gets up, bathes, changes clothes, goes and worships in the temple, and then eats. They ask him how he could act like this. He answered, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.' But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me."

Here is a solemn model for the physician. Ardent striving to save, ardent sacrifice on behalf of the sick and dying that we love. And then, peaceful recognition of the limits of our efforts. Acceptance, and the ability to move on and continue to live as God desires. We sense this tension in which we live. Robert, thanks for using this illustration to acknowledge the tension and instruct in the midst of it.

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