Some time ago, I saw a patient who was incarcerated for attacking a child.  My patient had been severely beaten in jail, obviously as some sort of vigilante justice for the alleged crime.

Of course, in America, we are ‘innocent until proven guilty.’  But not really.  We like assumptions of guilt.  And we like to see people punished when we think they should be punished.

I wondered, as I looked at my patient’s wounds, should I feel compassion?  Should I be kind or gruff?  Should I give anything for pain, or make my patient suffer  a bit more, in implicit approval of his beating?

I fear that we too easily convict.  That even in medicine, we like to see punishment meted out when we believe it should be.  That we constrain our compassion when our anger rises high enough, when our indignation is great enough.

I tried to be kind to my patient, whose actions (if they occurred as reported) were reprenhensible, cruel, evil, sinful.  I tried to do the right evaluation, taking my patient seriously, ordering the correct tests and making the correct disposition.

Later, though I was stricken by the terrible thing my patient had done, I couldn’t help but pray for that patient, for the child who was the original victim, and for all those involved.  I prayed for justice to be done.  I prayed for no more assaults, since they really amount to torture when there’s nowhere to go for escape.

It’s hard to treat some patients with love.  But then, love isn’t just an emotion, it’s an action.  Love is the best supporting structure for our professionalism.  ‘Love, and do the right thing in love.’  Love does not mean acceptance or tolerance of an action, a lifestyle, a bad choice, an immoral activity.  It does mean acceptance of the human being beneath all that as a creation of God. Love requires us to love despite the un-loveliness of our patients.

The Word says:  ‘God demonstrates his love for us in this; while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’

While we were yet child abusers and drunks, murderers and adulterers, liars and thiefs, cheats and scoundrels, pimps and prostitutes, addicts and dealers, doctors and lawyers and politicians and all the rest.

In our sinfulness, in our fallenness, we are loved.

Who am I to deny that to anyone?


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