It's been a tough week recently. I've been called out to three different hospital ICUs to visit church members in really difficult situations. It's one thing to visit someone in the hospital; it's another to visit them in an ICU. The tension is ratcheted up considerably and the stakes are higher. It's a vulnerable place where our frail humanity is graphically displayed. In all three of these cases, it isn't certain when (or even if) the people will get better. The issue for the family who gather around their loved ones in the room is the maintenance of hope. It's so natural for them to cling to each test result or specialist visit or numerical reading on one of the machines. "Is (s)he getting better?!" "Maybe we've turned a corner!" Hope hinges on medical results. Or so it seems.
What is real hope? Of course, we long for our loved ones to recover fully and quickly. But is this kind of hope big enough? Is it durable enough? How does our Christian faith speak in the uncertainties of the ICU? I go back to my foreground/background post below: hope in the foreground is physical recovery and restoration to health. Hope in the background is ultimate health in the resurrection to come. As someone watching a loved one once said, "I'm praying for healing and it may be that God will grant them total healing in the life to come." That balance of the present and future, of the physical and spiritual, is tough to get right--but that's a true view of hope, it seems to me. What are your thoughts?
At a funeral recently, I encouraged our congregation to engage in what I might call "double vision." Now, by that, I don't mean a blurred focus, but rather, a twin focus: the ability to see and acknowledge both a foreground and a background to the problem of human grief. As people of faith, we need to hold in tension that which is immediately before us (the suffering and death of someone we love) and that which lies off in the background, and may be only dimly visible at the moment (the resurrection of Jesus Christ). If we see only the foreground (a spiritual near-sightedness, if you will), then grief will dominate our horizon, and, along with it despair. By contrast, if we fix our eyes only on the background, considering the hope of resurrection, we can slip into a spiritualized denial system, which can make us "too heavenly minded to be any earthly good" as the saying goes. What's needed is to hold onto both horizons, looking hard at both the reality of our pain and loss and at the same time glimpsing the backdrop of our great hope in Christ's resurrection and the assurance of life after death for all who die in him. What we need are the bifocals of faith!