An Open Letter to Those Suffering in the Hospital

This article is part of the Open Letters series.

Dear Friend,

You’ve leaned into your faith so many times before. When fears have stirred you to wakefulness, you’ve turned to Scripture for assurance of God’s love. When anxiety has troubled you, you’ve sung hymns, recited the liturgy, and prayed with your brothers and sisters in Christ. You’ve learned to run to the Lord when life assails you.

Yet now, as you lie in a hospital bed and watch the clock turn its slow grind, doubts swamp you. Procedures and needles, aches, and questions crowd out your moments of devotion. The sun rises on Sunday to find you not in church, but bed-bound and tethered to a tree of intravenous pumps. You try to read the Bible, but can’t comprehend the text. You try to pray, but can’t find the words. The spiritual disciplines upon which you’ve depended seem oceans away. Meanwhile, when you wait for more pain medicine or worry about your family or stare into the dark in the early hours of the morning, questions haunt you: Where is God in all this? you ask. What is he doing? Then, in your darkest moments, you echo the cry of the psalmist: How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? (Ps. 13:1)

Friend, you are not alone. When illness tears us from our routines of worship, and the medical system steeps us in strange terminology, God’s love can feel remote. Assurances of his goodness elude us when another treatment fails, another test heralds bad news, and another diagnosis threatens all we hold dear. The pain grips us, and our prayers, once so heartfelt and elaborate, dwindle to monosyllables. Help me, Lord, is all we manage. In the deepening dark, with nothing but the moan of a roommate or the beep of a monitor to break the quiet, we wonder why God doesn’t seem to answer.

Glimmers of Grace

Kathryn Butler, MD

In Glimmers of Grace, Christian physician Kathryn Butler draws from her experience as a trauma surgeon and a Bible teacher to reflect upon how God’s word remains living, active, and trustworthy in the midst of illness.

No euphemisms or pat answers can temper our anguish in such moments. No slogans or greeting card phrases can paper over the doubts. We can only lament, as David does in Psalm 13: “How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” (Ps. 13:2)

And yet, like David, we too can glean hope. Such hope springs not from circumstances or good outcomes, not even from a discernible answer to prayers, but instead from the truths of who God is, and what he’s done: “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” (Ps. 13:5–6)

Dear brother or sister, when the days march out in a weary procession, remember what you know to be true about the Lord: he is faithful. Remember how he has been faithful in your own life, during all the storms you’ve weathered before. Remember, especially, how his faithfulness sings out from every book of the Bible.

“The LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations,” Moses declares in Deuteronomy 7:9. God remembers his beloved, and in his abiding, covenantal, perfect love, he provides for them, even when they don’t deserve it. He was faithful to Noah when the floodwaters reached their zenith (Gen. 8:1). In the garden, when sin sullied his creation, God banished Adam and Eve, but not before he lovingly clothed them (Gen. 3:21). When all the world writhed in wickedness, he protected Noah and provided a means for life to flourish after the flood (Gen. 8:1–2).

God remembers his beloved, and in his abiding, covenantal, perfect love, he provides for them, even when they don’t deserve it.

He supplied manna from heaven for his people in the wilderness (Ex. 16:11–12). He closed the mouths of lions for Daniel (Dan. 6:22), appointed a fish to rescue Jonah (Jonah 1:17), and commanded ravens to feed Elijah (1 Kings 17:4). He sealed his covenant with Abraham by walking, himself, among the torn animal sacrifices, invoking a curse upon himself should he break his promise (Gen. 15:17). He remained faithful to his covenant people when they groaned beneath the oppression of slavery (Ex. 2:25). In the most exquisite example of all, when we were dead in our sins and trespasses, “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us . . . made us alive together with Christ.” (Eph. 2:4–5).

When your soul bows down in grief, cling to the truth that God is faithful. His steadfast love never ceases. The wounds of our flesh leave scars, and the wounds of our soul gnaw us from within, but Christ’s wounds heal everything. What our own meager hands could not accomplish, his wounds have already achieved.

Trials in the hospital drive us to our knees. They plunge us into despair and churn up questions about God’s love that leave us aching for help. Yet, thanks be to God, because of the great love with which he loved us, whatever trials we endure now, Christ has already “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4). He has already overcome the world (John 16:33). He has already won you as a beloved child of God (1 John 3:1) and claimed for his own.

Whatever fears you face now, whatever procedures await you, and whatever dark days unfold before you, remember that God, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, remains with you even now (Isa. 43:1–3). He will remain with you, until the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). And because of the great love with which he loves you, you endure your sufferings not as one cast away and alone, but as a child of God, clothed in Christ (Gal. 3:27), beautiful in his sight.

Kathryn Butler, MD is the author of Glimmers of Grace: A Doctor's Reflections on Faith, Suffering, and the Goodness of God.

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