By Sarah Heynemann, reprinted from the Salt & Light Australia Daily Devotional.
The path forward would seem obvious, if only I knew how many months or years I had left. Tell me three months, I’d just spend time with family. Tell me one year, I’d have a plan (write that book). Give me 10 years, I’d get back to treating diseases. The pedestrian truth that you live one day at a time didn’t help: What I was supposed to do with that day? My oncologist would say only: “I can’t tell you a time. You’ve got to find what matters most to you.”…
What patients seek is not scientific knowledge doctors hide, but existential authenticity each must find on her own. Getting too deep into statistics is like trying to quench a thirst with salty water. The angst of facing mortality has no remedy in probability”
When released in 2016, Dr Paul Kalanithi’s autobiographical work When Breath Becomes Air spent 68 weeks on the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list and was subsequently shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize. At the time of writing, Paul Kalanithi was 36 years old, a doctor finishing his training in neurosurgery, a husband and soon-to-be father, and a non-smoker. Then the physician-patient relationship flipped, and doctor became patient with newly diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.
Dr Kalanithi’s book is a beautiful piece of writing reflecting on a terribly difficult topic (“how long have I got, doc?”) and has been lauded by both the medical and non-medical community alike. Of course it is such a reasonable and understandable question to ask – as described in the quote above, this is a piece of information that has implications; it weighs into decision-making. But in practice, it is so difficult to answer – and the medical profession often gets it wrong (only the great physician knows the number of any one of our days)!
I am re-reading Acts at the moment, and have been struck this week by Jesus’ interaction with the disciples shortly before his ascension when they question him regarding the timing of the restoration of his kingdom on earth. On the one hand it seems a reasonable question to ask – the full realization of God’s kingdom on earth is something they (and we all) await with eager expectation, the time when all things are set right. Notice however that the answer Jesus gives is to re-orient the disciples’ focus – to present times and the work set out before them: “You will be my witnesses…to the end of the earth.”
I am reminded in reading this passage of how many questions we can have regarding future uncertainties in the workplace and other aspects of life. In some scenarios, God will see fit to enlighten us; in others we must choose to place our trust in him regardless (conscious of John 16:12: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now”).
The scene described in Acts 1 is a momentous one – the disciples have been entrusted with the Great Commission, and there is a whole world out there waiting for the good news of the gospel. They have just seen Christ raised to life and now they are promised “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…” We have the benefit, as post-Pentecost Christians, of seeing the promise made here having come to fulfillment. Let us be reminded and convicted again today that the Great Commission still stands for us now – and that God will not fail to equip us in the appointed work he has tasked us with for his kingdom!
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”