Aaron W. Calhoun on Calvary’s Answer to Suffering
I write this in the aftermath of a difficult week. I am a pediatric critical care physician, and in my line of work, “difficult” typically means that someone has died. Over the past nine days, two children have died during my watch.
One had a diseased heart, his valves unable to properly direct the flow of blood, the veins in his lungs overworked by the stress. He entered the emergency room with difficulty breathing, and despite the great technological achievements that were brought to bear for his recovery, his heart gave out before he even left the examining room. The last words of his family were, “He was going to be Batman for Halloween.”
Seven days later, despite fervent prayer that things might proceed otherwise, I found myself standing over the body of a four-year-old girl. Suffering from kidney disease, she had been placed in my care after her respirations had become too labored for the general ward. Within hours, her heart was failing, her blood filled with lactic acid, the byproduct of a process that we could not identify. And soon, after forty-five minutes of chest compressions, epinephrine, and bicarbonate, she was declared dead for reasons that we still do not understand.
We said that we did all we could, and comforted the grieving families through the process of letting go of a loved one. It is never easy, this work; for to be truly present to another human being facing the ultimate things of life is only possible if you face them yourself.
A Pastoral Task
In my initiation into the medical profession, I learned that, in past days, doctors and priests shared much, indeed, were often the same person, and how their fields diverged due to scientific and technological advances. Yet I cannot help but believe that the practice of medicine remains at its core a pastoral task.
For it is not science that defines the task of a physician, although the insights of biology and chemistry have enabled us to work wonders that only fifty years ago would have seemed the stuff of fantasy. Nor is it simply the privilege of serving men and women from all walks of life, though this is indeed one of the great pleasures of the field. Medicine, like the ministry, is one of the great arenas in which human beings daily pit themselves against physical and spiritual suffering, the so-called natural evil that suffuses our world.
Many would see this evil as prime evidence of the ruthless indifference of our universe. “There is no God,” they say, “for how could God allow such suffering in those he claims to love? If he were truly real, then he would split the sky in anger, reaching into the world to alter these painful realities.” Others approach it differently. “Even if there is a God, he must be weak, for how can Good, Omnipotence, and Evil co-exist?”
And thus, to the atheist, the argument is over. There is no answer to the problem of natural evil because there is no question, just the sheer fact of waste and meaninglessness repeated over and over through the pages of cosmic history.
Aaron W. Calhoun received his MD from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 2001. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Pediatric Critical Care at the University of Louisville. He is a member of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations (www.cmda.org) and worships with his wife Jamie and son Noah at Grace Evangelical Free Church in Louisville, Kentucky.
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