The patient was not in bed. There were flowers and greeting cards on the window ledge, the coffee—certainly cold—seemed like it had been there for a while and a few papers and magazines were strewn on the bed. As I approached I saw the patient sitting on a chair in the corner beside the wardrobe. She looked frail, weak, skinny but had a welcoming and joyful smile on her face that remained as I introduced myself and asked her permission to sit down for a conversation. She was more than welcoming as she asked me to sit down. She started off saying, “I wasn’t a religious person all my life. I didn’t believe in God until I was hospitalised here six days ago.”
I was fascinated to hear this lady speak with enthusiasm and a joyful ecstasy. She was full of life and her face had a radiant gleam as she continued. “I didn’t believe in God, but the past three days of my stay here have proved me wrong. I am forced to believe that indeed there is a God . . . (a few moments of silence as she paused) when I see the love and care I receive from these people who look after me I am forced to think about God. I was helpless when I came in. The compassionate care they provide . . . (more silence) certainly there is something divine here.”
Spellbound I sat in silence for a while. Before long she asked me, “Steve, how is this possible? How is it that they love and care for me? Is everyone trained to be like they are? This is not humanly possible . . .” She was shaking her head as she spoke softly, slowly, clearly with emotion on her face. As I continued to listen, I noticed tears welling in her eyes. She was trying to speak but words were not coming out. With much struggle she let go of her tears and said, “I don’t remember the last time I was loved and cared for. I think it’s God . . . (silence as she continued in tears). I think God is a combination of love and mathematics.”
Walking out of that room, I didn’t want to continue my visitations for the day. I went to my office and sat down, contemplating the words she spoke: “I think God is a combination of love and mathematics.” If that’s what she had experienced at the Sydney Adventist Hospital (the San), then it must be true!!! I wondered how she came to that conclusion.
“God is love” is a commonly used phrase. Songs sung, sermons preached, conversations unfold on this theme. But how often do we hear one say, “Yes, I experienced the love of God”? “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1,2).
But mathematics was beyond my mind’s comprehension. I sat in my office with eyes closed replaying those words the lady had spoken . . . “What happens at the San is a combination of love and mathematics.” It was an eye-opener for me to reflect on what happens at the San.
As I often do, when I find no answers in life’s quest, I search the Scriptures. Therefore, I took the Scriptures and asked the Holy Spirit to show me the mathematical formula that this lady had experienced in her sick bed. Lo and behold, the good Lord revealed an arithmetic formula in the Scriptures which I believe is being practised at the San.
“For this very reason, make every effort to ADD to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love” (2 Peter 1:5-7). Scripture is asking us to embrace and practise addition. Faith is progressive! The degree of faith varies from one individual to another. To the faith that is in us, we need to bring in the formula of addition. Goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. Isn’t this what the lady sitting in the corner of the room was talking about? Isn’t this the arithmetic formula that’s working so beautifully at the San?
A multicultural group of people working different shifts, an interdisciplinary body that works together, busy schedules, various demands by most patients, but, irrespective of all of this, the common ground for all individuals involved in the hospital is the patient. Christianity in action—caring for the body, mind and spirit of the patient.
The other day as I walked through the wards, I met a nurse in tears and she told me that she tried her best to help the patient but the patient was very angry, irritated and unhappy with her. The patient spoke harsh words, but the nurse was willing to shed her tears outside the room and determined to go back into the room to continue caring for the needs of the patient. She had a spirit of goodness and knowledge. She knew she was not the reason the patient was behaving rudely. It was the agony the patient was going through. Bidding me goodbye, the nurse said, “This patient has gone through a lot in life, I need to be by her side.”
Christian author Bill Crowder writes, “It is the Spirit that matures us into the image of Christ so that we can give glory to the Lord Jesus Christ“ (Galatians 3:1-3). We are called to be submissive to His control in our lives. That is our responsibility. But the Holy Spirit is the One who produces the image and likeness of Christ in us. Remember that the work Christ accomplished for us, His Spirit now completes in us as we “cooperate“ with Him!
“Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind” (1 Peter 2:1). In other words, SUBTRACT yourself of all malice and deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind.
Theologian Wayne Grudem feels the “therefore“ refers to the command to “love one another“ in 1 Peter 1:22. This verse explains in more detail what is involved in loving one another “earnestly“: one must put away (give up, get rid of, subtract). How? As we are enabled to do so by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13). He gives us the desire and power to cast off these attitudes and actions, but we must still carry out the “casting off” for that is our responsibility. We cast them off because we now have the desire and power to do so. Genuine love requires subtracting one’s life of all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind.
All of the habits and attitudes in this vice list represent violations of the fundamental command “love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 5:43; 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31,33; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14) and are not to be retained by a disciple of Jesus. We are to imitate Jesus’ example, which was love for others regardless of their response.
That’s exactly what happens at the San. We might have differences of opinion or ideas within the workforce but are never to hold something within that could harm the other. Thus, the harmonious work environment, the selfless commitment to patient care, the philosophy of putting the patient first brings about the subtraction into each of our lives.
The way we treat one another has a direct impact on our relationship with God. You can treat people unkindly and gossip about them and harbour bitterness, you can have a sharp tongue and a critical spirit, and you can look down your nose at people who are not like you. As long as you do that, you will never grow spiritually. Those relational sins will choke off the Word of God in your life. That explains why you see growth spiritually and wholly. For the eradication of self and the emancipation of self is an everyday affair in the life of the San family.
“Grace and Peace be MULTIPLIED unto you through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2). It is multiplication at work. When the first two steps of the formula—addition and subtraction—are at work, multiplication takes place. Wasn’t it the grace of God and the peace of God the lady sitting on that chair in the corner of the room was experiencing?
I believe this arithmetical formula is the Divine design for every institution that exists for the cause of the Cross. For every person living at the most momentous hours of earth’s history, at a time when the uncertainties of life are like never before, when it’s unprecedented in all forms, and they’re wondering where the world is heading to. Economic crisis, moral crisis, social crisis, political crisis. Isn’t it the Grace of God and the Peace of God we long for and that can carry us through? In fact, the Grace of God and the Peace of God seem to be the greatest gift one can give to a patient in hospital.
“Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). The last step in this arithmetical formula is “DIVISION”. The life that San staff live out in the wards daily is the division of the gospel. One does not have to sit down and preach from Genesis to Revelation to touch lives. The care that our staff exhibit is a reflection of Christ and His gospel.
Pastor Michael P Green wrote of an illustration of God’s part and man’s part. Some years ago, a study was done by an agricultural school in Iowa. It reported that production of a hundred bushels of corn from one acre of land required 4,000,000 Ibs of water, 6800 lbs of oxygen, 5200 lbs of carbon, 160 lbs of nitrogen, 125 lbs of potassium, 75 lbs of yellow sulphur, and other elements too numerous to list. In addition to these ingredients rain and sunshine are required at the right times. Although many hours of the farmer’s labour are also needed, it was estimated that only five per cent of the produce of a farm can be attributed to the efforts of man. So it is in the spiritual realms: God causes the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6,7).
The gospel of the soon-coming King is lived out at the San. The confession of the lady in the corner of the room was the recognition of the gospel truth lived out in the lives of staff members. Yes, dear woman, you are right: “God is a combination of love and mathematics.” For He is the greatest mathematician the world has ever known, and He holds the San/us/every institution of our Church in the palm of His hand.
This arithmetical formula can be the secret trump card of success for every institution, every church and every family.
Stenoy (Steve) Stephenson is Adventist HealthCare spiritual care services manager.