Among self-described “gym rats” there is a common phrase: “No Pain, No Gain.”
Several years ago in a Houston hospital, I met one such rat who sought to bypass his pain through the use of steroids. He was a sharing kind of guy who liked to share his needles — now he would share his pain with his family.
He had come to our ICU suffering from pneumonia. In young men, this type of pneumonia is one telltale sign of AIDS. A quick blood test confirmed the diagnosis. The patient asked the doctor and me to share this news with his wife.
We found her in the waiting room and invited her into the consultation room. These rooms don’t often contain good news. But here we were, just the three of us. How do you tell someone something like that?
This particular doctor had a reputation for blurting out bad news, but he found a clinical explanation, that third person voice that made it sound as if this was happening to someone else, but not to her. He told her she would need to be tested.
For several moments she just stared at us. Finally she broke the silence.
“I’m pregnant. Twins!”
Yes, chaplains can swear — mostly under their breath — and this was one of those occasions.
I’m sure she must have thought how unfair this was. Perhaps even uttering, “Why is God doing this to me?”
It is much harder to answer the “God-isn’t-fair” question when it really seems like God is not fair. There was nothing that seemed remotely fair about this. Was this to be the reward for this woman’s fidelity to her husband? Were the “sins of the father” to fall upon the mother and his children? The answer seemed a likely, “yes.”
“Is this what God is like?” she might have wondered.
It was the same question C.S. Lewis had after the painful death of his wife. He said he was not worried about suddenly becoming an atheist. He was worried that his despair might lead him to conclude, “So, this is what God is really like.”
The “Is God fair?” question is really one I like to defer to the CEO Himself. I’d like to tell people that I’m only in sales, not management, much higher pay grade than I, but I find some solace in the response given by C.S. Lewis to that fairness question.
While writing the book, “The Problem of Pain,” he waged a losing argument with his publishers to entitle the book “God’s Megaphone.” His case for the title was that God does not cause our pain, but, if we allowed it, he would shape our pain into a megaphone through which he would speak to us.
His challenge to people was to encourage them to ask, “What can God say to me through the pain?”
The woman’s initial tests turned out negative, and since chaplaincy is a bit like pastoring a parade, I never saw her again.
You can be assured that in the coming months, her question would go deeper than the surface question of “Why me?”
The task of those involved in ministry with this woman would be to redirect her question in the coming months so that she was asking not “why” but “where to from here?”
The question “Where to from here?” leads us to hear the voice of God calling us out of the darkness and into the healing and the purpose that can only be known in a deeper faith.