On God and health

Posted on March 14, 2011 at 10:09 am,

A year ago last Friday, I was woken up at 4am by severe pain that I hadn’t had when I went to bed the previous night. By the end of the day, I’d had a major operation, and I spent the next few weeks in hospital, and wasn’t properly back to work full time for months. Because it’s a year on, over the weekend, I’ve been thinking about what I learned from that experience.

The first thing regular readers of this blog are likely to be interested in (since I’ve been focusing almost entirely on the politics side of things for a while) is that I’m grateful to be living in Britain, and to have the NHS. If I’d lived in the US, I might have been in financial trouble because I’d have had to pay the medical fees myself. If I’d lived in rural Africa, I might not have had access to proper healthcare at all. I guess it also makes me even more despairing at the current government’s plans to privatise the health service ā€“ the only staff I encountered who weren’t aiming to meet the patients’ best interests were those who worked for the private finance initiative company that runs a lot of hospital services.

The second thing is that for the first few days, I was pretty helpless ā€“ I had various tubes coming out of me, and couldn’t do anything for myself. I had to take a dose of morphine in order to be able to cough, and was seriously tired out by an hour or so of light conversation. Not only does that put the things we take for granted every day in perspective, it also reminds me of something Jesus said about how his followers are to live:

I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

I certainly have a better understanding of that passage now than I did before, and I hope and pray that I live it out more as a result.

The third (and probably most important) thing is about how God is still great even when I’m going through a hard time. Despite the fact that I had as good a reason as anybody to be mad at God for letting me go through this, I actually kept praising Him. And that actually ended up giving me the strength to get through it it all. Later on during my time in hospital, when I was getting better, I really enjoyed spending time praying and worshipping in a way I don’t normally do, because of all the other things (both good and bad) that distract me when I’m at home.

Finally, because we baptised some people last night, I’m reminded of a prophecy* that was given to me at my own baptism, and is very relevant to what I went through a year ago (even if I didn’t recall it until afterwards).

Today in the coldness of that water you felt a little of the pain and cut of the cross. It is a pain you have felt somewhat before, and a pain you will feel again and again. But in it there is joy and unity with Christ and with his body.

That was certainly my experience this time. My pain fed my relationship with God, and the support I had from my church was fantastic. The one place in the Bible which uses the analogy of Christ’s body to mean the church (as is the meaning in that prophecy) includes this verse:

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together (1 Corinthians 12:26)

And I definitely felt that’s what happened then. The couple of dozen people who visited me whilst I was in hospital shared in my suffering, but also to some extent in the rejoicing I was doing thanks to the time I was spending in prayer and worship.

*A Christian understanding of prophecy is not, as popular usage has it, a prediction of the future. Prophecy is, essentially, when somebody believes that God has told them something for the benefit of another person, or a group of people, and shares it. Most prophecies are just reminders of things that are already in the Bible.