Theology in a Hospital

I went to help a family who has a special needs US citizen child in the cardiac intensive care ward at the local children’s hospital. It was the first time I actually met someone in their hospital room to do paperwork. It was very strange to talk about immigration legal matters with respiratory therapists, nurses, doctors, etc. coming and going.

The baby is a precious little down syndrome girl who was born without one of the tubes that gets blood from the heart to the lungs (the non-medical description I was given). While I am scanning documents and looking through papers another mother in a similar situation comes into the room. You can tell the two moms are close, bonded over the same stress and heartache.

I finish up the visit as I do with all our clients by explaining that we are a ministry, and I am a pastor. That- if it wouldn’t make anyone uncomfortable – I would love to pray for them. The client mom says yes, if a little guarded.

The visiting mom says, “Before we pray, can I ask a question?”

“Absolutely,” I reply.

“First, I love God. I know that somehow and some way His glory will be displayed in all of this. But I just want to know how a good God can allow this to these innocent babies?” The client mom turns toward me with a very intense look of anticipation. Even the nurse working the baby’s tubes and wires, looks across at us.

I actually get this question a lot in different forms. But never from someone holding back tears next to a baby fighting for all she is worth.

“There are two ways I have found to answer the question,” I respond. “There is the pastoral way, which is what we do in the face of suffering and evil. It has a lot to do with our own broken hearts and confusion. And there is the theological answer. Which is a lot more jagged and hard.”

“I would like to hear the theological answer, please,” she says.

“We are not living on a level playing field where kindness, goodness, right, and justice are the norm. The scriptures teach us that humanity made the decision (and keeps making the decision) to break the world morally, ethically, socially, even physically. We keep making the same decisions to not love God or others. We don’t want God or his ways. We are not good and innocent people doing loving acts of kindness who are suddenly blindsided by inexplicable acts of horror and suffering.

“It is into this brokenness that the Lord comes to us to call us to a new way of wholeness and life. We are not pulled out of the brokenness, but we are remade in the middle of it. It is in the heartache of our world and our lives that the Spirit of the Lord sends his grace and hope to heal and make new. It is in our confusion and agony that God in Christ offers his peace and comfort.

“I know this is no comfort when it is your suffering or your beautiful children fighting for their lives. But I think it puts responsibility in the right place, and helps align our hearts better in dark days.”

Visitor mom is silent for half a breath. She closes her eyes and says, “This makes sense to me.”

All I can do is say, “I’m sorry for this trial you have to bear. Can I pray for you? Can I ask the God-who-sent-his-son-to-make-a-way-for-all-children to bring healing to yours?” She nods as she cries silent tears.

Making the long walk to the parking deck feels out of body. My mind is miles away as my theology echoes in my own heart. At the time of the visit my wife was going through medical testing because they suspected lymphoma. At the time of this writing, lymphoma is confirmed.

My mind, similar to these amazing moms I think, is balancing out the theology and the reality in a numb kind of ache. This is not a theology that transforms darkness into unicorns and rainbows. There is no triumphal exertion of will for positive thinking to overcome negative thoughts. I cannot fill the silence with enough noise or activity to make it go away. In these moments of groping for God, the silence of numbness is not emptiness. It is not nothingness.

Something I cannot put into words is happening. I don’t know what it is, but I have a vague sense that it is cruciform in shape. For my wife, my sons, and myself there is a place of meeting God… a wilderness outside of our very blessed lives… where he wants to walk with us.

I don’t want this journey, and I tell him so.

At the same time, I do. Because I know that I know that I know that it will be a journey with Him. He will come to us in this very human reality of despair and fragility and redeem it. He has in every trial I have ever had to endure.  I feel deep down in my being that my wife will beat this. Honestly, however, thinking that you know the outcome doesn’t change the fact that you have to walk a long, hard road. And we have months of walking before we are done.

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