Recently I spent four days in the hospital. I was admitted from the emergency room after my wife took me in for severe abdominal pain. It was basically a time of tests and consultations with doctors, more about heart than abdominal issues. Some of the test results were a bit encouraging and others were inconclusive. I came home with three new medications—just what I wanted! I also have more major tests and doctor visits in the weeks ahead concerning my heart. I left quite bewildered over the whole ordeal.
Chronic problems are difficult to deal with. Whether they are physical, mental, financial, spiritual, relational or some other kind of difficulty, if they are long-lasting they become tough to handle. There is a very real wearing-down effect of chronic trials. I have experienced this effect for many years, especially since my heart transplant in 2003, and especially in 2009. At the present time I am experiencing significant problems with breathing.
In the hospital, and in the days since I’ve returned home, I have been thinking about many things. Here are two of them.
1. It is good to have your Bible with you in the hospital. I did not have mine when I went into ER, but my wife brought it to me after I was admitted. I was greatly helped by the apostle Paul’s last recorded words in 2 Timothy 4: “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength,” and “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.” I also read: “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship.” This last exhortation did not come across to me as harsh and unfeeling, but simply as God telling me what I needed to do. The text, rather than stressing me, actually strengthened me and enabled me to get through the hospital stay. I know that God truly does care.
2. Yielding, not fighting, is the way to peace. By yielding I mean accepting from God. Over the years I have struggled, as a theology professor and in my own life, concerning the origin of troubles. Are they from Satan and his cohorts? Are they from human beings primarily? Are they from my own mistakes and sins? Are they basically due to the reality that we are natural and fallen beings, living in a natural and fallen world? Or are they from God?
I will not be looking into each of these five possibilities, but I believe that troubles may come from any of these categories, and often from a combination of two or more of them. The biggest question to me concerns the matter of God’s involvement. Does God send us troubles directly? Does he simply allow them? Or is it that God is powerless to prevent them or to deal with them?
I totally reject the last possibility, even though I have read so-called theologians who hold to it. The real issue to me is how much God is involved in sending and/or permitting the trouble. My study of God’s word leads me to believe that, while God at times may directly send troubles to people (for example, causing a tree limb to fall on one’s head) for their good (to knock sense into them, perhaps), most of our problems come from the other sources listed above. Yet there is no doubt that God knows about them before they happen, and he allows them. Job’s trials and Paul’s thorn in the flesh are examples of this.
Concerning my own health matters, I accept them from God in this sense. I yield to God and to my God-allowed troubles. I no longer fight the health problems. Some may see this as a cop-out, and that I am giving up the battle in order to attain a false sense of contentment. Where is the fight to get better? Since Buddhists consider desire to be the root of all unhappiness, am I not capitulating to this Buddhist philosophy of life?
I admit that I have sometimes lowered my expectations or tossed them out entirely regarding some matters, so that I will not continue to be disappointed. Too much desire can be destructive. But this is not the kind of yielding or acceptance I am experiencing. I am not passively waiting for the next body-blow. I don’t want to be a punching bag. My yielding (in my better moments, at least) is a positive, active, robust trust in God’s wisdom and goodness. While he has all power, he allows difficulties so that I may be conformed to the likeness of Christ and may be of most use in expanding God’s reign in the earth. In the long run, this does the most good for people and the most good for me. God care for me, and for you!
I close with one verse from the Psalms that came to me over and over in the hospital. I offer it to you with grace: “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for him.”