Death and Suffering: Reflections from a Medical Student

“Lord, what are human beings that you care for them, mere mortals that you think of them? They are like a breath; their days are like a fleeting shadow.” Psalms 144:3-4

I once read a post that said the walls of hospitals have heard more fervent prayers than the walls of churches. In the four years since I started medical school, I’ve certainly found this to be true. I’ve seen the first breath of a child, the agony of the dying and the untimely demise of souls.

In times like this, I find myself in turmoil as I try to reconcile my experiences with the God I know. This world, filled with so much joy and happiness, is also marred by suffering and inevitable death. We praise God for the good times, but blame him when things go wrong. Sometimes, when everything within me screams injustice, the only response I can manage is to weep in the presence of God, confessing my inadequacy and asking him to justify his injustice.

One such instance was during my Pediatrics posting. A child is wheeled in with giddiness and headache. In hours, he is fighting for his life with a massive bleed in his brain, his skull removed and his airway intubated. If he makes it, he is unlikely to ever walk or talk again. I watch as his mother walks in, having said goodbye to the child as he left for school earlier that day. Little did she know that it might be the last conversation they would have.

My heart and mind go numb. Everything within me screams foul play. Evil. Injustice. Unfairness. Crime. Straight from the depths of stinking hell. How can a loving God allow such injustice?

I remember sitting in the rain, huddled up tight, tears freely flowing before God. Watching such suffering ripped my heart to pieces. I could but manage a fleeting whimper of a prayer to Father God.

Sterile gown worn before operating on child

In my tussle with death and suffering I am reminded of the story of Job – a man who went through unspeakable suffering in this world. In his lament he points his finger directly at God. He demands that God justifies himself for allowing this unfathomable calamity in his life: “let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing”.

And God does not even dignify Job’s accusation with a direct answer. Instead, he asks Job which puny human dares to question his plans with words without knowledge? Where was Job when God laid the foundations of the earth? Where was he when the universe was made? Is Job the one who creates and sustains all things? And God says to him: how dare you discredit my justice? How dare you condemn me to justify yourself?

And the response of Job is this: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

One glimpse of God’s power and Job was too busy repenting in dust and ashes to question God’s authority.

And so when everything within me screams injustice, when the only feeble prayer I can pray is “why?”, it’s in these moments that I flee into the arms of Adonai. As sure as I am weak, God is strong. As sure as I am blind, my God sees it all. My humanity is as sure as my God’s sovereignty. The only appropriate response is to clap my hand over my mouth and repent, for who am I to approach the God of unapproachable light and call Him to account? Can the dust of humanity stand and cogitate before the Ancient of Days? How can the finite endeavour to reason with the infinite?

To the unsearchable and inscrutable God (Rom 11:33), may our ignorance never lead us to accuse you of injustice. Help us not to ask for a better fate, but for a stronger faith. May we find rest in your sovereign hand, for you know the future and are working all things for our good (Rom 8:28). Help us to step out in faith and find peace in the God who helps us to walk upon the deep waters (Matt 14:29). Amen.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” Isaiah 40:28

Written by: Christoph, Medicine year 4, Giant Grapes SG

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