Few people I know have delved into the darknesses of life both personally and professionally as Dr. Lee Warren—and few point me to God’s light so beautifully. As a surgeon, Dr. Warren knows what it’s like to see the end of a patient who was just diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor. As a father, Dr. Warren knows what it’s like to lose a son. As a Christian, Dr. Warren knows that the reality of God’s goodness is not dependent on circumstances or even on our belief….and that faith is a way to see what was there all the time. It’s a privilege to welcome Dr. Warren to the front porch today…
In pondering the twenty-plus years I’ve walked among the sick and broken and the several years I’ve been the father of a lost son, I’ve come to realize the difference between survivors (even those who perish) and the dying (even those who live):
the survivors have a prism—faith—that allows them to see through the pain and hardship to the hope and purpose and beauty in their lives.
Two common responses to life’s troubles are (1) a belief that we’re alone in the cold and random universe and (2) a belief that God is real but either is against us or doesn’t care.
The problem with the first response is this: When you hear me, as your doctor, say “glioblastoma” or “terminal” or “We did everything we could for her,” you have no rational basis for hope.
The second response—the belief that God doesn’t care or that He is actually against us, mad at us, or punishing us—produces feelings on a spectrum from shame and regret on one end to anger and hostility on the other.
In this paradigm you hear me give you a diagnosis with a poor prognosis, and you respond by blaming yourself or God, withdrawing into yourself and becoming an empty person, or lashing out and becoming a grade IV cancer in the world regardless of your ultimate physical outcome.
But there is a third response.
This response requires bending the light of our current circumstances in such a way that we can see God’s presence in the moment, despite the outcome.
That’s what faith is, after all: It does not magically change our circumstances and make everything happy, it merely bends the light to show us what’s really there.
Faith is the prism we need to see hope when all seems lost, to survive the furnace of suffering, to grow despite the pain.
Faith allows us to see that it’s okay to have doubt, but we doubt the doubt more than the promise of the One who never breaks his word. It allows us to hold on and even grow into better people during and despite the troubles of this life.
Faith doesn’t keep us from having problems. It just gives a clearer view of how God is responding to them.
So what happens when our messy lives mess with what we think we believe?
I faced the greatest surgical challenge of my life after my son died and I tried to stitch together Christian clichés to heal the faith I’d lost.
Over time I realized a truth I still cling to: There has to be something that is always right, always true, even when life seems to say otherwise.
In other words, the ground beneath us is always going to present wrong turns, potholes, and opportunities to get lost. We need something better to reference, something that will actually guide us when the ground is difficult and confusing.
We need a map that is always right, no matter what the ground seems to say.
The map that’s always right is faith in a God who loves us, in the good news that someone loved us enough to die for us although we didn’t deserve it, in the truth that this God is present in our lives even when circumstances make us doubt it, and in the knowledge that all His promises hold, all the time.
So many things in life can plunge us into such darkness that seeing is impossible.
And my answer to how to survive those times—the tumors, the traumas, the terminal nature of life—is to somehow see anyway.
We must be able to reach a place where, when the ground doesn’t agree with the map, we believe—we know—that the map is still right.
When we see the cluster of tumor with its malignancy and certain death, faith gives us the eyes to see that the map will lead us through it.
I’m not downplaying the devastation and pain these things bring us. I’m still living with the crushing weight of losing my son and the frequent nightmares from my time in Iraq.
But I am saying that the map will lead us to a place of shelter where those things cannot destroy us.
Faith, my friend, is being able to look for hope even when it seems impossible to find.
I’ve been waiting for it since the night I received the worst news of my life. I’ve been trying to show it to my patients, even moments after I’ve given them their worst news ever.
Sometimes it’s right there and it’s everything.
Sometimes it’s so far away that all I can hold on to is the memory of the map, God’s promises, the touch of my wife’s hand.
But I must believe in the map so deeply that I can know even when I cannot see.
Because there is an important difference between faith and knowledge: if you have to lay eyes on everything to believe it or put your fingers in the holes of it like doubting Thomas, you won’t know what to believe when it’s too far away to see or touch.
That’s why Jesus said those folks who believe even when they can’t see are more blessed:
because we humans spend a good bit of our lives in places where it’s too dark for knowledge and only the candle of faith can light our way.
Lee Warren, M.D. is a brain surgeon, inventor, Iraq War veteran, and the author of No Place to Hide. In his latest book, I’ve Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon’s Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know, Dr. Warren eloquently explores the tension between faith and science, death and hope, our doubt and God’s presence.
Page-turning medical stories serve as the backdrop for a raw, honest look at how we can remain on solid ground when everything goes wrong and how we can find light in the darkest hours of life.
I’ve Seen the End of You is the rare book that offers tender empathy and tangible hope for those who are suffering. No matter what you’re facing, this doesn’t have to be the end. Even when nothing seems to makes sense, God can transform your circumstances and your life. And He can offer a new beginning.
This gripping inspirational memoir grapples with the tension between faith and science—and between death and hope—as a seasoned neurosurgeon faces insurmountable odds and grief both in the office and at home.
[ Our humble thanks to Waterbrook for their partnership in today’s devotion ]