Some people see a hospital as a place where one is sent to die. Those of us who believe in God believe he is there looking over both those who will die and those who will be discharged to go home.
We recently dispatched our neighbor to the emergency room via ambulance. We spent a eleven hours with her in the emergency room before she was admitted to the hospital. Her pain was severe enough she thought she was dying or should be dying.
A close friend of ours lay, at that moment, in the hospice unit of the same hospital. The neighbor did not need our constant attention so we made short visits to our friend in hospice. The friend lay there sleeping. Every now and then she would wake and talk with us before drifting back to sleep for a short while. After all, her oxygen saturation was low and she was on pain medications, but she appreciated our visits.
Her husband was there most of the day. He does not understand why this has happened. Of course, no one does. A week earlier, he had been very angry at the doctors and at God, but eventually he resolved all of this except for his questions of why. He was thankful that the hospital can keep her comfortable.
Husband and wife are Christians. They believe that they are both being maintained in the hand of God. They believe that one day each of them will pass from this life into heaven. His expectation is distant, hers is soon. He was enjoying her companionship for as long as she continued to live. She was enjoying her husband and visits from family and friends.
At one point the nurse came in with pain medication. The nurse asked our friend for a pain number from one to ten. The patient answered, “Six.” Certainly she was not being medicated to insensitivity, but she could manage the pain. I am sure both husband and wife would appreciate a miraculous healing, but they are not panicked. As St. Paul talking about his own life and impending execution wrote, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21). With God watching over them, life with Jesus is good, even in the hospice unit, and death will be even better.
Meanwhile down in the emergency room, our neighbor was screaming in pain. I will not question that she was in pain, but what ever her true level of pain, she was not handling it. Orders were for morphine every 4 hours. She complained that each shot did not ease the pain soon enough and within 30 minutes she was demanding more.
You see, the neighbor is an atheist. She grew up in a family that went to church but she chooses to reject God. Thus, she lay on that gurney alone except for what little companionship we could give her. She had no hope beyond the medical treatments the doctors and nurses could render.
Practically all religions believe in some form of an afterlife with rewards of a paradise or reincarnation to a higher form of life and punishments of an inferno or demotion by reincarnation as a lower form of life. If the neighbor believed in any god, she would have some level of expectation, but, as an atheist, the best she can hope for is that, at death, she will simply cease to exist free of pain and pleasure. Perhaps, if she believed in any god, she would also have some comfort from her deity in life, but she has rejected God and is alone. All she could do in the emergency room was lie there and complain of unmanageable pain. Even our presence was of minimal comfort to her.
As I write, both women are still alive. The friend grows progressively weaker, but she and her husband are sustained by their faith. The neighbor is being treated for her medical conditions. Furthermore, the doctors have put her on a pain control protocol that has eased her pain. Over the next few days, they plan to optimize the pain management protocol as they treat her medical problems. She will be discharged in a few days.
One woman recognizes that God is in the room with her and accepts comfort from him. As a Christian, she is confident she will go to heaven on the basis of God’s grace. The other woman suffers in the absence of God. Surely he is there, but how can he help her if she does not even believe he exists?
I saw God at work in both hospital rooms, but in the absence of faith, there was little god could do for the atheist in the absence of faith.