Monday, March 16, 2009

Healing - and limiting God

This current bout with the gall bladder has brought on a series of ruminations (a word I love to use now, since Jon Boyd at Westpointe talked about ruminating on Scripture and went into great detail in describing what "ruminating" meant) about healing.

Rumination 1: when I learned I had gallstones, I wanted to pray them out of existence -- turn the whole thing over to God and call on Him to heal me without surgical intervention. After all, there was an experience a couple of years ago, when a friend of mine had kidney stones and there was talk of surgery: I laid hands on him and he reported a few days later that the tests showed there were no kidney stones and that surgery would not be required. There was also the time when my first mother-in-law had been praying that her brother in Idaho would qualify for Medicare to pay for a pacemaker; she then realized she had been limiting God with her prayer and prayed that He would create a new heart in her brother. Two days later, she found out that (a) her brother's income was too high for him to qualify for Medicare, but (b) his doctor had re-examined him and found that he didn't need the pacemaker because it looked like he had a new heart.

But the painful episode which led to the ERCP -- the procedure where they thread a little video camera and bucket down my throat and hoist the gallstones and other offending matter out of my bile duct -- made me re-think my position. Alright, already, I said: let's go with the surgery and remove the bladder.

Rumination 2: the gall bladder is regarded as an "optional" part of our body. It stores additional bile produced by the liver, and squirts it into our digestive system if needed. Apparently, in the days when mankind's diet had more raw fruits and vegetables and less processed stuff, we needed that extra bile. Now, it's not so necessary. This seems to me to be a pretty big kick in the teeth to evolutionists: why wouldn't the gall bladder have evolved out of our anatomies over the centuries?

Rumination 3: why didn't God respond immediately to the prayers of others and me, for the gallstones to be blasted out of there, the way the kidney stones were removed? Jesus says, "whatsoever ye shall ask in My Name, believe that ye receive, and ye shall have". How does that fit in?

Ruminations 1 & 3 can be dealt with together. If we remember that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose, then we start to look for God's Will over our will. Does "ask in My Name" mean we declare our own desires and attach "in Jesus' Name" to it, as though those were the magic words that will make something happen? Or does "in My Name" mean "in accordance with God's Will"? Would Jesus sign His Name to something that was not in accordance with the Will of God? Of course not.

But wouldn't God love to have some kind of spectacular, attention-getting miracle to bring a fresh revelation of Himself to the doctors and nurses involved? Wouldn't the total destruction, by faith, of a whole whack of gallstones be just such a miracle?

A couple of answers here. First, St Paul's Hospital and Mount St Joseph Hospital are part of the Providence Health Care organization -- a Catholic organization "dedicated to the healing ministry of Jesus Christ". There are framed prints on the waiting room walls at MSJ, showing Jesus healing people -- including a particularly poignant one of Him standing in the operating room with His hands on the surgeon's shoulders. I'll take a wild guess the PHC gang don't need to know about healing miracles!

Second, we need to remember here that removing the gallstones is the cure for the situation, while God is about healing. Sometimes, healing appears to be disconnected from the situation at hand -- witness Jesus' healing of the paralytic who was lowered into His house through the roof. Jesus didn't go on and on about "every bone, every muscle, every nerve shall come into alignment": instead, He said, "thy sins be forgiven thee".

So if we step back from the situation with the gall bladder, we see a bigger picture. The gall bladder may be "useless", but the fact that it had built up a whole whack of gallstones, which had begun slipping into the bile duct, was a warning sign, because gallstones are created by fat and salt. Evidently, I was consuming too much of both. A canary in a coal mine may not have a direct operational function for the mining of coal, but when it croaks instead of tweets, you can avert a problem before it becomes a problem.

(That deals with Rumination 2, by the way.)

So we sacrifice the "useless" gall bladder before issues with fat and salt start hitting the really important parts, like the heart and liver. I've already dropped more than 20 pounds in the past two months, am feeling great and already enjoying a leaner diet. Prior to the wedding, I was weighed at Black and Lee, where I rented my tuxedo, and thought the scales were going to run away and hide. I came in at 225 lb -- which is great if you're 6'4", but not 5'10". Looking at the wedding pictures kept reminding me of David Letterman's famous twit at former Atlanta Braves pitcher Terry Forster -- "OMG, what a fat tub of goo!" When I went for surgery on Friday, I weighed 206. Still nowhere near my best weight (175, when I was 22), but a whole lot better.

So what was God's Will? For my gallstones to disappear? No. For me to be healed. My sins of overindulgence and the spirit of poverty that led to my overconsuming are forgiven and bound and under the Blood. Now I can get on with life as He wants it.

(Why were those kidney stones in my friend blasted out of there? Because that's a different case -- can't compare it with the gallstones.)

Our problem with healing -- as with so many of our prayers -- is that we try to ask God for what we want, thereby limiting Him. Isaiah 45:11 tells us, "concerning the work of My hands, command ye Me". That's in KJV, the Hebrew, the Vulgate and pretty much every English version up till the middle of the 20th Century. It's a particularly super-charged "faith verse", and I often wonder why it would be suppressed or altered in more recent versions, just when we really need that faith charge. Truly, God is not telling us we can order Him around, but He's calling on us to make our case boldly in prayer for Him to provide us with the things we need. It's good to go before Him and seek His Will specifically -- as Geri did, praying that God would create a new heart in her brother, thereby averting the invasive surgery to implant a pacemaker -- but knowing that His promise is ours for the claiming and thanking Him for that is usually all we need to do.

Now, if you want to talk about God intervening in the "cure" process in this gall bladder episode, consider this. On Saturday, the day after the surgery, we went back to hospital because I started running a fever, which spiked at 103 (38.7 C). We had been told to go to Emergency if my temperature hit 38.5. It had dropped to about 37.9 -- .4 higher than normal -- by the time they took my temperature at St Paul's, and as I sat in the waiting room, I started thanking Jesus for my healing. A battery of blood tests and a consultation with the surgical resident (who's becoming an all-too-familiar face to Amelia and me now) later, I was told everything was fine and I could go home. By the time I got home, I was in considerably less pain, a much better frame of mind, and wondering what all the fuss had been about. I believe that, quietly, God stepped in and eased that whole situation.

This whole episode has also given me a first-hand look at health care, and I keep coming back to the conclusion that we are truly blessed in this province. I can't think of anyone who was not kind and compassionate, upbeat and professional in their approach. At St Paul's Emergency, I did see some toughness in dealing with some of the "street people" who came in after falling while drunk or stoned (compassion does not equate to sympathy), and yet one man who was evidently going through a nasty spell of alcohol poisoning -- retching and throwing up in the emergency stretcher next to me on the day when I went through several hours of testing -- received precisely the care he needed, even though some would describe him as a "frequent flyer". I've had a chance to talk with and meet all sorts of people, praying with some or just chatting with others. As in everything, if you keep looking for God in everything, He'll show Himself.

Because God handed over dominion of the earth to mankind, we are required to call Him into a situation to help us. For God to step in and fix things without our asking Him to would be to renege on His Word and make Him a liar. That's why Jesus tells us, in the Lord's Prayer, to declare "Thy Will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven". In His way, God does that to require us to stay close to Him, know His Will, know what to expect of Him and what He expects of us.

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