Monday, August 23, 2010

Content To Be Palliated?

Palliation: to make a disease or its symptoms less severe or unpleasant without removing the cause.
Cure: to eliminate with medical treatment.

In discussing the Church in Christianity and Liberalism, J Gresham Machen makes the following assertions about the role of human institutions as a hope for societal change. He also states that Christians should see the value of these institutions as negligible in comparison to the power of the Gospel.
It is upon this brotherhood of twice born sinners, this brotherhood of the redeemed that the Christian founds the hope of society. He finds no solid hope in the improvement of earthly conditions, or the molding of human institutions under the influence of the Golden Rule. These things are to be welcomed. They may so palliate the symptoms of sin that there may be time to apply the true remedy; they may serve to produce conditions upon the earth favourable to the gospel message; they are even valuable for their own sake. But in themselves their value, to the Christian is certainly small. A solid building cannot be made when all the materials are faulty; a blessed society cannot be formed out of men who are still under the curse of sin. Human institutions are really to be molded, not by Christian principles accepted by the unsaved , but by Christian men; the true transformation of society will come by the influence of those who have themselves been redeemed.
I remembered as a child driving by hospitals, seeing ambulances in the loading bay and thinking to myself, ‘If I were really sick and made it to the hospital everything would be okay’. Now as a physician working in a major trauma center I frequently see that same thought in individuals desperately clinging to life. Their adrenal glands churning out epinephrine and norepinephrine maximally until they arrive at the hospital where they ‘relax’ because of a belief that ‘everything will be okay’. In some cases that ‘relaxation from relief’ can be dangerous. After exposure to numerous hours of clinical work, significant amounts of sleep deprivation and seeing many, many, many different patients, I now know differently about the society I had joined as a healthcare provider. There are some things the medical institution cannot fix - even if you do make it to the hospital. It is an institution filled with dedicated, hard working human beings practicing, researching and driven to cure disease of all kinds but by and large we are unsuccessful. We frequently deal with palliation rather than cure.

Machen made me consider how optimistically juvenile my thoughts remain regarding other social institutions in which I lack personal insight. As an inhabitant of Canada I am blessed with a plethora of social supports that produce favourable conditions for me(freedom of speech, freedom of worship, social services and welfare systems, robust financial institutions, exceptional infrastructure, advance telecommunications providing services that are allowing you to read this blog) It is painfully challenging to look through the ‘superficial goodness’ of all of this and realize that this is still social palliation if the centrality of the gospel of Christ is omitted. The encouragement of this circumstance is that I am afforded more time to “apply the true remedy”. The decision is whether I am willing to apply the true remedy or I am content for others to be unnecessarily palliated. In medical terms, that would be malpractice. I think it’s much worse in spiritual terms.

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