Tag Archives: thoughts

I enjoy tests because I’m prideful

Essentially, I enjoy tests because I love knowing things. C.S. Lewis would rebuke me for this. In his lecture, “Learning in War Time,” he stated that it’s dangerous to love the fact that we know something, rather than being intrinsically interested in the thing itself. To Lewis, loving the fact that we know something is the beginning of arrogance.

I’m inclined to agree with him. Still, I enjoy the gradual accumulation of knowledge culminating in a test. Pride is one of my vices. But I wish I’d been writing last year, and I wish I’d told you how frustrating my first year of school was. It was full of small facts without context. Only at the end of the year did I realize we had systematically surveyed all the intricacies of the human body. I may have forgotten 60% of what I learned, but the fact that I recall 40% means I know quite a lot.

But knowing something is morally dangerous. In whatever we do, we need to ensure our motives are pure. To be interested in science is to glorify God. To be interested in acquiring more knowledge is to glorify myself.

Perhaps this is one of the things that makes Christianity unique. The actions we take are important, but our intent is more important. God commands us to love him and to love people, but love is an emotion. God commands us to change our attitudes and our way of thinking. Once we do this, our actions will change. Enjoying the fact that I know something is arrogant. If I don’t recognize that, I may waste a lot of time trying to acquire knowledge so that I become greater. Instead, I should love science because nature displays God’s glory, and I should use the education he’s blessed me with to help others in any way I can.

“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV)

 

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Behold, I am of small account

I’m way behind in my studies, so I woke up at six this morning before church to get some work done and catch up. Instead, I ended up reading several chapters of Job. I sat with my coffee for about an hour with the Lord, reading about Job–confused, broken, and ruined Job. This morning, I was feeling a little confused myself. If you scroll to some of my recent posts you’ll see what’s been on my mind–I’ve written about debt, my doubts, and the church’s failures.

Needless to say, reading Job sounded better than choking down more pharmacology. The passage was about men mining into the “gloom and deep darkness” of the earth, scraping the flinty rock, making slow progress, and perhaps emerging from a shaft with a few grains of gold, but with no wisdom and no answers to Job’s burning questions. I stopped when I had to leave for church, about midway through chapter 28, with man groping in the dark.

We went to church, then came home for a quick lunch, and I left to go climbing with some friends. When I got home and showered, I again sat down to study, but I got distracted and read the rest of Job, with his timeless and disturbing questions.

Why do the evil prosper?
Why do people suffer?
Why is God so distant?

The questions are phrased in poetry that somehow sounds beautiful even in modern English. Eventually God speaks, but without answering any of Job’s questions.

“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements–surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?'” (Job 38:1-4)

God overwhelms him, answering Job with more questions, almost as if to say, “Why are you confused about this? There are so many other questions you also don’t understand.” Over the pages at the end of the book, the Lord dazzles Job out of his confusion, and Job can only answer God with silence:

“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but I will proceed no further.” (Job 40:3-5)

By the time I finished Job, it was time to visit friends again, and my wife and I had a wonderful time with them. My books sat stacked on my desk–I still haven’t even cracked them open yet. I don’t usually have so much trouble focusing, but today I couldn’t get away from Job. I’m quite sure God was overwhelming me also. My confusion faded away, because who can understand God? If God is real, shouldn’t he be complicated, and even confusing at times? If I ever think I understand God perfectly, I hope I’ll have enough sense to realize that I must be making some terrible mistake in reasoning. God is confusing because he’s real. There will always be some unanswered questions. “Behold, I am of small account.”

Cocaine

At first I thought he was alive.

His swollen, bloodshot eyes looked sad.

The photograph was taken at a strange angle, looking up toward the nose, so that a line of white powder could be seen plastered to the inside of his nostril. The point of the picture was to show all us students that the man had died while snorting cocaine, but the only thing I could think was, “I don’t understand this.”

Cocaine causes hypertension, lethal cardiac arrhythmias, heart attacks, seizures, renal failure. One picture our professor showed us was of a brain covered in thick, partly gelatinous blood. Normally the brain is clean and grayish-white post-mortem, but this person had died of massive intra-cranial bleeding caused by a cocaine-induced spike in blood pressure that ripped through one of his arteries.

The lecture was about chemical injury to the human body, but the fact that a chemical had damaged this man’s body seemed so far from the root of the problem as to be almost comical.

The world is broken.

Things are not right here, and this is not where we’re meant to be.

Why I believe, though I’m not certain of God or his existence

Uncertainty is difficult to accept, and I’m uncertain of two enormous things. First, I cannot, with absolute and complete certainty, tell you God exists, or that I’ve seen him logically proven. Second, I’m uncertain of God’s thoughts and plans. God tells us hard things. Take up my cross and follow him? Lose my life and it will be saved?

The definition of “certain” is this: “known or proved to be true; indisputable” (from Merriam-Webster’s 11th ed. Collegiate Dictionary). I’ll admit to you that I’m not 100 % certain of anything. Everything can be doubted, and to a certain extent, everything should be doubted. How do you know you’re awake right now, rather than dreaming or in a coma?

I’m not certain God exists, but I am convinced he exists. With some thought and reading, I’ve decided that it’s exceedingly more likely that God does exist than that he doesn’t exist. So let’s say I’m 80% certain. What do I do with the other 20% of uncertainty?

This is why faith is essential to being a disciple of Jesus. Faith is not a blind acceptance of an unsupported fact. Faith is a wise and necessary assumption that something likely to be true is true. If God does exist, then this fact is terribly important, and I need to do something about it. Because so much hangs on God’s existence, we can’t afford to waver back and forth for very long. We need to decide. By faith, I’ve decided God exists, but my faith isn’t without reason.

My second uncertainty came after I decided God exists. This second uncertainty centers on the challenging commands in the Bible. Love my enemies? Rejoice when I’m persecuted? I still don’t understand these extreme acts of self-denial. I also don’t know how I can ever do them. I’m a selfish, broken person, and I’m not sure how God will use me even if I can take up my cross and follow him.

But this is where I need to continue having faith. I need to have faith that God is wise, that he will give me the ability to deny myself and follow him, and that at the end of time, he’ll make everything right again.

Faith is necessary both to believe in Jesus and to follow him. I find it hard to accept uncertainty, and I sometimes doubt the most fundamental aspects of my beliefs. But these doubts motivate me to think harder about what I believe, and by faith I can set my doubts aside and press forward. Without accepting uncertainty, I would never accomplish anything for the kingdom of heaven. We need to be convinced of God before we can take action, and we need faith to be convinced.

The Kingdom of Heaven Ain’t for Sissies

“The kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.”

-Matthew 11:12 (ESV)

I’ve always loved this verse, while at the same time been confused about what exactly it means. I like it because it’s edgy. Jesus is a little abrasive here, and you can be certain this kingdom of heaven stuff is only for tough guys.

In the chapter before this one, Jesus the Messiah is instructing his disciples about how to take the message of grace and renewal to Israel. However, Jesus’ advice to his disciples isn’t exactly rosy. They were to take no provisions. They would be rejected. They would find that their own households were divided. And they would need to lose their lives before they could find the true life that the Messiah offers.

The immediate context of the verse is in reference to John the Baptist, who Jesus describes as a man not dressed in fine clothes, a man who wasn’t “swayed by the wind.” John was a rough man who ushered in the Messiah with truthful preaching and frank words. (He called the religious hypocrites of his day “a brood of vipers,” and he rebuked Herod–the king–for marital misconduct.) The kingdom of heaven was and is “forcefully advancing” (the NIV translation of “suffered violence”), and God uses men like John the Baptist to do the dirty work.

Incidentally, the only reward John the Baptist ever received was a beheading.

So when I think about all of this, I can’t help but wonder if I’m just a little too comfortable and complacent in this temporary life. Now that I’ve written this post, I can’t help but wonder if perhaps I understood that verse before, but was afraid to consider the implications. Maybe I need to be more bold in doing good, in declaring to others that Jesus can save them from their sins and imperfections, and in taking up my cross to follow the Messiah.

Married young?

[Note: I posted this earlier, but when I read it over again a few days later, I decided it was a terrible post and didn’t at all say what I meant it to say. This is a revised version that’s a little more on target–my apologies to whoever read the first one!]

I was married at age 22, and marrying my wife was the best decision of my life. I haven’t once regretted it, and I don’t anticipate that I ever will regret marrying my wife. This is in contrast to what people seem to expect when they say things like, “Congratulations, but you look like you’re about 15.” (And yes, that was a comment someone actually made to us–on our honeymoon of all places.)

I imagine that’s the type of person who wrote this New York Times article. It’s a very long article, and rather poorly argued, so don’t read it unless you’re bored. The argument was this: In our current society, people aged 20 to 30 are going through an identity crisis, and they just can’t make up their minds about what they want to do. “Kids” these days are living at home longer, changing jobs madly, getting more education because they can’t find anything else to do, getting married later, etc. Because of this, goes the argument, we should consider 20-something-ness to be a sort of second adolescence, and we should find ways as a society to make it possible for them to travel, explore jobs, stay a little under their parent’s wing, etc. That might be the sentiment people have when they remark that I got married young–my brain just wasn’t well developed enough to make those sorts of decisions!

Now, I think finding ways to further prolong adolescence is a terrible idea. My generation is getting married later, and we’re getting more educated and living at home longer and whatever else. However, this isn’t because we need more time to grow up or develop further. Most of my friends who are living at home don’t want to live at home–they just can’t find a job. And all of my friends who can’t find a job desperately wish they could find a job. Before I started medical school, I worked in the food industry, which isn’t a bad job, but it’s a bad job when you have a college degree. Young adults who move from job to job aren’t doing so by choice; it’s just a little hard to make ends meet.

As for getting married older? Well, most of us are responsible people, and we wouldn’t get married until we can support ourselves, until we’re satisfied enough with our future to be able to plan ahead a bit, and until we’ve met the person we want to spend our life with. (As an aside, I know plenty of people who were married younger than I was, and 22 doesn’t seem young to me at all.) This is something everybody wants to do eventually, but we can’t get married if none of us have jobs. If anything, society needs to make the transition to adulthood easier and quicker, rather than drawing it out longer–the article was just terrible. I sincerely hope you didn’t read it.

For me, marriage has been a way to become more mature and to understand another person in a profound way. Marriage has made me a wiser person, and it continues to make me a wiser person. Things have gone the same way in other parts of my life also–getting a job, paying bills, making a budget work, etc. It’s not that I needed to grow up before I got a job–it’s that I needed to get a job in order to grow up.

I got married because I met the woman I love more than anyone else in the world. I went into it knowing that there would be hard times, and that everything wouldn’t be rosy and happy like it was when we were dating. Armed with the knowledge that arguments, money problems, and even worse things will come, my wife and I are doing just fine. But I certainly have learned a lot. In fact, I think I wouldn’t have learned these lessons unless I got married, meaning that if I waited until I was 35, I would still need to learn the same lessons without being any wiser to begin with.

The Art of Death

Awhile ago there was a display at my medical school titled “The Art of Pathology”. On display were pictures of human flesh–perhaps a microscope slide of a liver with fatty deposits, a section of a lung destroyed by smoking, or a heart with a large infarction.

I spent most of this morning looking at slides of diseased organs, and probably the last thing that might have gone through my head is “What a beautiful image.” Each organ had caused someone great pain. Then it had killed them. I don’t know much about art, but if art is something beautiful, then pathology slides and sections are most definitely not art. Pathology is death, and death is not beautiful.

Looking at pictures of dying organs is an impersonal way to learn medicine.I study alone, and while I’m studying things that are relevant to all of us, I don’t actually get to interact with any people. One image I saw this morning was of a massive infarct in the temporal lobe of a brain. I don’t get to comfort this person–I only get to see the aftermath. And the aftermath is gruesome. Whatever used to be in the infarcted section of the brain has been replaced by a huge, gaping hole. Even if, by some method, we could extract memories and thoughts from the connections and organization of neurons in a brain, we couldn’t extract any memories from this brain. There was just no structure left. Perhaps she lost function slowly as successive parts of her brain succumbed. Perhaps her memories blinked out of existence one by one, like in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Studying pathology is impersonal because each of us is more than just the sum of our parts. I am different from my body, because I am a soul, and God has blessed me with a body to interact with others and experience life. The difference between staring at books all day and seeing patients on the wards is that patients have souls. Patients can smile, cry, and express their concerns. But the world is tainted by sin, and our bodies–vessels for our souls–are dying. Pathology is happening in each of us, and eventually, one of our pathologies will kill us.

“By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
-Genesis 3:19 (ESV)

If pathology is art (I still have serious doubts), it’s because it reveals us as we really are–as dust. Slowly, imperceptibly, we’re broken down into dust, and eventually, we’ll return to dust. If we’re followers of the Lord, dust isn’t the end of us. As our bodies decay, our souls are perfected.

In Ephesians, Paul talks about our “old self.” If we’ve been renewed as Christians, we are new. The part of us that makes mistakes, that hurts people we love, that desires comfort more than service to God–that part of us is old, and God is working in us to destroy the old and build up the new. Just like our bodies, the “old self” is being destroyed. Death and pathology is God’s judgement on sin, and each of us will die. But this judgement is out of love. The parts of us we hate are falling away, and as we grow in closeness to the Lord, the new self grows in vitality. Once we’ve finally died and been made new, what more could we want? We’ll be with God, and in God’s presence “is fullness of joy; in [his] right hand there are pleasures forever.” (Psalm 16:11)

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
-1 Corinthians 15:50-57 (ESV)

1 Corinthians 2:10-11

“The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit within? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”
1 Corinthians 2:10-11 (TNIV)

In the past, I have worried about getting bored in heaven. School is in full-swing now, and I’m loving it. I love the challenge of trying to solve problems and assimilate new information. But when I get to heaven, won’t I be bored? Won’t God tell me everything he knows, leaving nothing more to be learned? I don’t think so. God’s mind and thoughts are infinite, but my mind is (very obviously) finite. I’m confident that when I meet God, I’ll spend eternity learning and being amazed by “the deep things of God.”

With Confidence

Today I’m writing about Hebrews 4:16, but I’ll begin with an aside. For the past few posts, when I’ve written about Scripture, it’s because I couldn’t think of anything else to write. I try to spend at least a few minutes each day reading and thinking about Scripture, so it’s easier for me to write about Scripture than to try to think of some creative way to talk about medical school or being married (as those seem to be emerging as the other two topics of this blog). But this is probably the wrong attitude entirely. Scripture is more profound than anything I could ever come up with on my own, and it’s probably more beneficial for someone to find a Scripture verse than to find me blabbering about something I find interesting. Today I’ll write about Hebrews 4:16.

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
-Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)

I think people tend to think of God as being either powerful or personal. Either we treat God as our best friend, or we treat him as the feared Ruler and Creator of the universe. The strange thing about Christianity is that it insists God is both powerful and personal. We often focus on only one or the other of these aspects of God.

I grew up in various Western states, surrounded by the mountains and wilderness around me. Perhaps because of this, I’ve usually thought of God as being big, powerful, and distant. But in Hebrews, the author insists that Jesus is a personal God. He came to earth as a man, and he died as a man. He felt temptation to sin, sorrow at the loss of friends, and he even felt profound guilt and failure when he hung on a cross and took the sins of the world on himself. Jesus’ ministry is profound because somehow, he allows us a personal relationship with the Creator. He is the Ruler on a throne, but his throne is a throne of grace, and he gives us help in time of need. Because he’s our friend, we can approach him with confidence in prayer.