This was my ninth project in Bolivia. Each time I go, I do roughly the same thing in the same towns and with many of the same people. I even wear the same clothes. One would think this would become boring after a while, yet to date I regret to inform you that I have not found any evidence to uphold the law of diminishing returns. I am blessed to be on the receiving end of new friendships and new lessons each time. God has taught me much, and still has much yet to teach me. So what was in His lesson plan for me this time?
If you’ve read my past blogs, you know that I find that the surgeon-patient relationship often serves as a metaphor for our relationship with God. I promise this is not borne of some surgeon “god-complex,” – it is far too humbling a discipline for anything like that to be held for long. Rather, it’s just the context in which I live, and while I would prefer to learn most lessons in the quiet of my study with a good cup (or three) of coffee, it is the ones I learn in the crucible of challenging experiences that tend to stick. The good Teacher knows this, so field-trips abound. This time, the lesson would be about pain; not what I experience, but rather what I inflict.
If you haven’t read my previous blogpost (Lazaro Rises) here, you’ll need to do that in order to follow my logic. If you have already, then be my guest and read on.
Surgeons are somewhat of a walking contradiction. We being our training by taking an oath to “first do no harm,” only to start each operation by doing just that. It’s not that we want to inflict pain. If an illness can be cured without surgery, that’s usually the route we take. Some illnesses however do not afford us this luxury. They are too severe, too dangerous, or have progressed too far to be managed with anything less than an operation. It is then that the surgeon is tasked with first doing harm so that in the end the patient can heal. We are purveyors of a necessary evil. This often puts a strain on our relationship with our patients. Most understand our benevolent intentions and manage to maintain their trust in us in spite of the pain we inflict. Others, especially children, perceive us differently. Unable to associate their pain to their healing, they focus on the immediate, the pain, and in this respect we are seen as their assailant, and as such, they do not trust us.
If it were just about us surgeons, our own sense of worth or satisfaction, this really wouldn’t be that big of a deal. We’d get over it. We would find our satisfaction in knowing we had helped our patient to heal and live a longer and better life. We don’t need to be thanked, hugged, or liked by everyone. But it’s not just about us. The job isn’t finished. Patients still need to heal after their operation. Depending on the procedure or condition, this can take a lot of time and work. Ultimately, the patient will benefit from having a fresh face, unassociated with their pain, in which they are capable of placing their trust. Often this is a nurse or a therapist.
Just a surgeons hurt their patients, God too hurts us at times. He does so in order to heal us from a greater, longer, or deadlier suffering. If he waited for our consent, we might never get around to granting it. He instead accepts permission granted by our older, wiser guardian – for he is not just our healer, but also our Father. (Now this may look like a convenient arrangement rife with conflict of interest, but I assure you that his interests as our healer and our perfect father are one and the same.) He whisks us briskly to the operating room, struggling with us to the extent that we fight back. He does his deed, inflicts his wound, and does what God only knows is necessary to extirpate our disease. But when we awake, all we know is that we have been wounded. Our surgeon leaves the room for a while and maybe that’s all for the better right now – we really don’t feel like chatting with him. A trust has been violated – how could he do that to us?
The wound has been created, the infection or cancer has been defeated, but now the healing must begin. If it doesn’t, we may find ourselves crippled permanently, or may succumb to other opportunistic ailments. But who can we trust to help us through it? Certainly not the God who just wounded us or “let this suffering happen.” We need a fresh face. Can’t he send someone else?
The God we know through the Old Testament, for better or for worse, is often known more for his wrath and his exacting standards than he is for his mercy and compassion. Jesus, on the other hand, is known for healing, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. Now if you believe as I do, you know that these are one and the same God. The Scriptures state that Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s nature (Hebrews 1:3), the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). In spite of their disparate reputations, they are one in the same (John 10:30). While God the Father is worthy of our trust, sometimes we ourselves are incapable of trusting him. He has hurt us, hasn’t he? That’s why he sent Jesus to a deeply wounded humanity. Though the same in nature, Jesus’ face is one which we, in our wounded weakness, are still capable of trusting. He can heal us, if only we will listen when he says “rise and walk” (Luke 5:23).
Lazaro never gave me a smile or trusted me enough to walk with me. Thankfully, he trusted others on my team who were known more for their warmth and tenderness than for their scalpels. We have received word that he is home now, infection resolved, and walking without a limp. Maybe someday he will realize that I didn’t want to hurt him, but that he needed me to do so. Maybe he’ll come back to a future project, just to smile, talk, or show off what he can do with his healed leg. I would cherish that. Maybe someday, all God’s people, hurt and healed, will do the same with Him. He would cherish that.