The following diary entry comes from page 185 of my book A Dirty Old Man Goes Bad (www.bluefishbooks.info); I wrote this on September 28, 2005.
My friend, Ginger, a nurse in an area hospital, often tends to dying patients. After her shift this morning, she called inviting me to breakfast. She’s run into a situation which upsets her.
The patient, a man in his mid 90s, was a preacher. He’s suffered a stroke with many medical complications. Heart problems. Kidney failure. Diabetes. And a host of other age related ailments. When he is lucid, he appears to be at peace and ready for death.
As the Bible puts it, he is full of days and ready to be gathered to his fathers.
But his daughter insists on every possible medical intervention to keep him going.
This daughter, a deeply religious person, wants the hospital to get the old man well enough to travel. Then she plans can carry him to a faith-healing meeting conducted by one of the television preachers she watches. There, she feels, the old man will be cured.
The lady sits by her dying father’s bedside continually with a huge black Bible open in her lap. The room’s television blares out religious programming. And the lady loudly proclaims to any and all passers-by that she expects God to perform a miracle and heal her father.
Several things about this situation upset Ginger.
“John, she’s going to be devastated when the old man dies,” she said. “I think she’s going to just lose it and come apart”.
Ginger thinks this lady feels so desperate for hope that she’s relying on religious fantasy instead of realistic faith.
Jesus never cured anybody of old age.
Ginger, a dedicated Christian who wants to live as a testimony to Christ among her coworkers, is also concerned about the effect this woman’s stance has on the hospital staff.
When skeptics see this Christian lady’s frantic clinging, how can they take what we Christians say about our belief in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come?
Does our own behavior belie our own words?
This dear lady proclaims that she expects a miracle, for God to make a sick 90-year-old man healthy and young again.
Can God perform such a miracle?
Is that likely?
There’s a reason they’re called miracles.
Once I had a toothache. An abscessed tooth. I did not have money enough to see a dentist. I could not get into a charity clinic. I suffered and suffered and suffered.
I prayed for God to heal me, to ease my agony, to make my pain go away.
Nobody home in Heaven that week.
Finally I boiled a pair of pliers, rinsed my mouth out with alcohol and pulled my own tooth.
I do not recommend this.
Did my faith in a loving God fail?
Damn right it did!
Nothing like a good toothache to turn this particular Christian into a practicing atheist.
Why did God let me suffer in agony like that?
I have no idea.
I do know that He himself suffered anxiety:
“Father, if it is at all possible, let this cup pass from me…”
I do know that He himself felt abandoned in pain:
“My God! My God! Why hast Thou forsaken me”?
I do know that He himself cared about the family of the dying.
“Woman, behold thy son…”
I do know that the life Christ offers us is based on physical reality:
No fantasy about it.
Under dirt buried in a tomb for three days Christ, like a visitor in a burn unit walking out with a validated parking ticket in hand, headed back Home.
He once said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions… I go to prepare a place for you so that where I am, there you may be also”.
I grieve for Ginger. This is the third big hit she’s taken this week.
I grieve for the lady clinging to her Dad because I think this is more about her than about him.
I wonder how much of my own faith is fantasy and how much is reality.
My experience teaches me to view the world as a pretty screwed up place, and it seems that Jesus holds that same view; He said he came to save the utterly lost in the worst possible situations (the incarnation did not take place in Disneyland).
But this world ain’t the whole show.
We live in a staging area.
Dorm rooms for the semester.
Resurrection and Home lie ahead.