Behold, I make all things new.
(Revelation 21:5, KJV)
She was 73 years old but had an incredible vibrancy, a sharp wit, and a light in her eyes that made her seem younger. We laughed together in the intensive care unit. I was fascinated and enriched by the stories she told. No patient had ever touched my heart like this woman (we’ll call her Mrs. Wagner).
Following a routine pancreatic biopsy, she developed severe pancreatitis. We did everything we could, but she slowly deteriorated. In horror, I watched this amazing woman—once full of humor and wisdom and life— gradually lose her ability to communicate. Two days before her death, however, the long squeeze she gave my hand said more than any words could have.
As a doctor, you enter medicine with a sense of awe at the power of modern technology. You learn pharmaceutical mechanisms of action, watch delicate surgery performed under a microscope, see astonishing anatomic detail on imaging studies, and start to think there is nothing you cannot diagnose and then cure or control.
Then you learn the truth. The hospital is a very different place than you imagined. Suffering happens. Bacteria develop antibiotic resistance. Some disease remain incurable. People fight bravely but still lose their battles with illness.
I was bitter after Mrs. Wagner died. I questioned the goodness of God and even His very existence. I had prayed for her healing— how could He allow this flagrant injustice?
Over time, God, in His mercy, has led me to a better understanding of suffering. I would like to share two thoughts. First, in our accusation that God is not fair, we may assume an unfair stance toward God. We are quick to blame God for the bad but then give Him no credit for the good. We can recognize evil only because good exists as a frame of reference. Thoreau touches on this thought when he writes, “There is no odor as bad as that which arises from goodness tainted.” The most terrible tragedies are those that damage the truest, purest, and most innocent.
Second, we are too preoccupied with this life. Our time here is given for one main purpose: to allow us the opportunity to accept the gift of Jesus— the gift of forgiveness and atonement that allows us to experience eternal life. It is about the choice, not the circumstances under which it is made. If our Lord, utterly sinless, suffered pain and untimely death here on earth, how can sinners demand comfort— especially when comfort often leads us away from God?
The healing my friend receives will go far beyond the narrow constraints of my original prayer. When we meet again, I will encounter the consummation of the unique perfection God planned for her from before her birth— a heavenly being of whom I knew only a hint in that intensive care unit.
-Robert Vaughan, LLUSM class of 1990