Last night I watched Episode 13, Season 2 of the NBC program “New Amsterdam. The title of the episode is “In the Graveyard”, with the byline “The doctors stop at nothing to help their patients, following a shocking realization that prompts a change in the hospital.” The realization is that hospitals, New Amsterdam included, were “dumping” patients who were soon to die – in order to be able to report low mortality rates in their statistics. Dr. Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold), the show’s star and the medical director at New Amsterdam, reverses this policy and creates a palliative care ward (The Graveyard) by bringing in terminal patients who had been dumped from other facilities.
What struck me was the way the TV show portrayed the attitudes and behaviors of the patients and doctors as they dealt with death. Spirituality, faith and Christ were never a part of the conversation, except for a mathematics professor saying, “I believe in numbers.” The theme was one of being lost, without hope and in questions that had no answers. It was a dilemma for both patients and doctors alike. I saw no evidence of chaplains or prayers depicted anywhere.
Now, I am not about to say that today’s doctors (or all terminal patients) are ill-prepared to face death, or that faith and Christianity are devoid in hospital settings. In fact, my experience has been the exact opposite (have I ever told you of my time with pediatric palliative care?). What caught my attention was the need – the opportunity (I am not sure that I like that word here) – for the Gospel to connect to our culture in this area. Death – which the mathematician agreed is an absolute – and grief are issues that touch every human. And there is a huge portion of today’s population that faces these issues with the same uncertainty … the same unanswered questions and lack of hope … as I saw portrayed last night.
And Jesus, who assures us, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11.25-26) is the only true answer and the only certain hope. If there ever is a time when people sense their need for hope … and realize that the world has no answer … it is when facing grief and death. But God’s messianic people way back in the day of Job (likely a contemporary of Abraham in 2,000 B.C.) lived with the assurance, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” (Job 19.25-26) And we today continue to live with that same assurance.
Do doubts and questions haunt us still at times? Yes, of course … Christians remain humans who live in this death saturated existence. Do we still grieve? Yes, but we do “not grieve as others who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. … the dead in Christ will rise … Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4.13-17) There is the answer … here is our hope! His name is Jesus – and the promise is that we will all be together with him throughout eternity, in a new creation that knows nothing of death or grief.
I wish I could rewrite the ending to Episode 13. I would have one of the patients saying, “This perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ … The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15.53-57) We might not have access to NBC, but we do have access to a world full of people living with no hope and unanswered questions … and we know that this hope is accessible through us is the One, Jesus, who is the living hope of the world. Through the living Word of Christ their stories can be rewritten!
I just noticed that the definition of opportunity is “a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.” Perhaps I do like that word after all!