One of the things that has always, always bothered me as a physician (who is a devout Christian) is that there always seems to be a kind of litmus test to be ‘legitimate’ to other believers. And the litmus test always seemed to be phrased something like: ‘Have you done foreign missions? Do you intend to do foreign missions? Do you wish you were doing foreign missions? Don’t you feel like you’d be better if you were engaged in foreign missions?’
I have absolute respect and admiration for those who practice medicine in the world’s remote locations, those swarmed by mosquitos, imperiled by terrorists, frozen, baked, attacked, sick and enduring various afflictions. They do great work for the Kingdom of God. I’m certainly not interested in belittling their work.
But what about those of us who don’t feel that calling? Maybe not now, maybe not ever? Do we count? Are we good Christian physicians? Well, I certainly think we are. Because being a physician in the post-modern, materialist, culturally and socially engineered world that is modern medicine is challenging. And that suggests that we probably should be there too. I would go so far as to say that the clinics and exam rooms, emergency departments, medical floors, intensive care units and operating rooms of modern medicine are a vast, highly contested mission field all their own. And not just because they are filled with the injured, sick and dying.
What I want to point out to you, brothers and sisters who believe in Jesus Christ, is that we carry with us the comfort and hope that the world so desperately needs, but which is consistently denied it. We are in this place ‘for such a time as this,’ not only because we know the complexities and managment of mankind’s various innumerable pathologies. We are here to bring them a new vision, of this time and of the time to come.
All our physical therapies will ultimately fail. Dear, kind doctor, with your incredible diagnostics, your laser-like focus on saving lives, your incredible facility with the tools of surgery, your profound compassion: all your patients, all my patients, will die. In an odd way, this mission we are on, this mission of comfort and healing, is both our ministry and our cover. It takes us to the side of the wounded, the hopeless, the ghost-haunted, sorrow-ridden, remorse poisoned men and women, boys and girls of the world. And as we bring them the comfort that lasts a lifetime, we can offer them the hope that lasts an eternity.
But this is difficult. Because there’s another litmus test that the world of medicine quietly wants us to pass. It goes something like this: ‘this life is all, correct? You don’t believe in any sort of mumbo jumbo spiritual nonsense do you? There’s evolution, and the body and DNA, there’s science and research and evidence. There are surgeries and pills and some counseling, but all of it is connected to chemicals and genetics. But the soul? The stupid rules of a stupid ancient book? The resurrection? God? What are you, a fundamentalist nut? You want to be one of us, right? Then don’t talk crazy.’
Physicians write to me and ask if it’s even possible to keep your faith, much less practice it, in the fiery furnace of this age. Not long ago a medical student asked how to do it, in a setting where she is expected to acknowledge the creed of secularism. Where she cannot question abortion or gender reassignment surgery; where she cannot ask if assisted suicide is really a good thing.
But you see, these impediments, these ‘light and momentary troubles’ are the cost, the trial, the price of taking Jesus to the world in our work. For even if you don’t speak an explicit word, He goes with you and that love shines onto the people you treat and the coworkers who realize you are trustworthy, ethical, kind and good at your work.
You needn’t travel the world to struggle as a Christian in modern medicine. The harshness of this life, the cruelty and randomn death, the abuse of the weak, the power of addiction, the murders, the accidents, these make even the most devout question their faith. But taken in conjunction with the implication that you must be quiet because your faith isn’t adequately ‘scientific,’ and this mission field suddenly doesn’t seem so easy. It’s especially hard when you know that you could, you can, offer patients something that will transcend their suffering and give them hope in ways the never imagined. But that thing is considered ridiculous. And we too easily shrink from the healing we could offer because we have been lied to, and told that it isn’t ‘proper medicine.’ Even if it’s the right medicine.
So keep the faith my brothers and sisters! I’ll write more on this soon. Because I want to encourage you that your work in the midst of the modern world of medicine is the calling God has placed upon you. Around the world or across the street, in sweltering jungles or morbitity and mortality conference, struggle comes with the turf.
But so does Christ.