Our Royal Positions
By: Blake Baer
April 7, 2020
The advance of COVID-19 interrupted the education of medical students across the country. I was pulled from third year rotations. Although I’m not qualified to speak about medicine with much credibility, I think it is significant that as just a third year medical student I’ve already felt how the practice of medicine can gradually become something less than what God intends it to be, and how that may negatively affect our families, our personal identity and our relationship with God. In my quarantine period, I’ve been reading Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller. It has profoundly changed how I understand medicine as my vocation, and I want to share two insights that punched me particularly hard, in the hopes they may be convicting, inspiring and, most of all, sanctifying for you who are reading. As Coronavirus continues to “climb the curve,” it will put more and more strain on already burned-out healthcare professionals. I hope Keller has salient words of encouragement for you in this time, so I’ll let Tim Keller do most of the talking for me.
First, we must beware of medicine becoming our identity. Before he became the notable British preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones worked as an extremely successful physician under Lord Thomas Horder in London, England. In one of his lectures to medical students, he identified “the greatest danger which confronts the [medical professional] is that he may become lost in his profession… this is the special temptation for a doctor.” In expanding on this, Keller adds that there is a subtle temptation for medicine to take over our lives with an enslaving power. Giving so much kindness, hours, responsibility and the stress to do so much good for others is a kind of “moral ego massage,” a self-justifying idol. “It is easier to feel morally superior as a doctor than an entrepreneur,” said another British doctor. The “need to be needed” is a dangerous force that may produce good results, but it twists and changes the physician’s identity in the process. Keller responds by saying, “Only if Jesus stays real to the heart can you be consistently joyful enough in him to avoid making medicine your whole self-worth.” As just a medical student, it’s amazing how much of my identity I already feel medicine occupying. The long hours of studying, the title and its accompanying reputation, and the creeping of pride have all been battles for me since I began medical school, and I shouldn’t wonder that many of you experience this as well. I pray Jesus would for all of us be our Rock and our Redeemer, so medicine cannot supplant Him.
Second, we must beware of medicine robbing us of grace. The story of Esther is not so much the story of her becoming the Queen of Persia as much as it is the story of God’s grace to the nation of Israel through Esther. God positioned her to be in the right spot with precisely the right skills (or should I say appearance) at exactly the right time. Her heritage, the vacancy of the position of queen, her exceptional charm, the king choosing her and the king granting her request all were from God. Even her bold step of faith to approach the king had to be prompted by her Uncle Mordecai. She lived in a palace because of beauty she did not earn, opportunities she did not make and doors she did not step through. How much of this can be said of us as well? When I first read this chapter, I admit that I instantly became self-righteous. How dare Keller say that I got where I am solely by God’s grace! He doesn’t know how hard I’ve worked while in school or how much I’ve gone through to get here! However, I don’t think I can truly claim that. God gave me my intellect. I worked and I studied, but even then, He is the one who held me steady and blessed me with my opportunities. I am in a position of grace, just like Esther. How does she respond? She boldly and humbly acts because of the grace given to her. When Mordecai was urging her to approach the King, he says in Esther 4:14b, “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (NIV 1984). I wonder how much of that is true for all of us in the medical world right now, particularly with the looming danger of Coronavirus. We are called to act, just as Mordecai calls Esther to act. When we serve, do we do so in guilt of our selfishness? Do we do so in inspiration from Esther’s example? Keller submits that to have our work inspired by God’s grace to us is by saying, “God created us, gave us everything we have, and he sustains our life every moment; therefore, we owe him everything.”
Esther saved her people through identification as a Jew and mediation on their behalf. Doesn’t that remind us of someone? She is an icon of Jesus. Jesus identified as a human, and then He mediated on our behalf as well. As Christians, we are all called to be like Jesus, to identify ourselves with Him and then to mediate on behalf of those who are suffering. As Coronavirus grows, it will continue to put strain on your work and on your lives. I pray that God would allow you through this difficult and trying time to first ground your identity solely in Him, and second serve in grace because of the immeasurable grace God has given to you in Christ.