Most of us at some point in life have suffered an injury or an illness that left us feeling compromised and vulnerable. Possessing a sense of independence is important to being a productive and positive person. It is this independence that is the essence of who we are and how we perceive ourselves. When we are dependent, we are still the same person whom God created, but we may think differently of ourselves. There is nothing inherently negative in the need to depend on others, and humility is a valuable lesson. There are however degrees of dependence and being in control of one’s mobility and decision-making which is important to our well-being.
When we have a surgical procedure, we are most often anesthetized to the point of absolute vulnerability. We are dependent on the surgeon and the team to breathe for us and monitor our heartbeat and respiration. Although we are unable to take care of our own basic needs, we are not alone. Similarly, Christians living with Alzheimer’s may not be aware of their surroundings, and they may no longer perceive God in the way they did prior to their illness. Nonetheless, God is still present with them, and is aware of the challenges that they face.
There is clarity on this point in Psalm 139:8 in which we read: “If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.” God is with us and imbues His children with talents and abilities, and while our physical state can impact those skills, we may still be aware and present. People who are in a coma are treated by their caregivers with the belief that the person can still hear and will have memories if he or she eventually awaken from this state.
The ability to heal the brain and body is strongly dependent on a person’s connection with God and to those around them. In 1 Samuel 2, and in verse 6, we read: “The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up.” Even when we are seemingly so dependent on medicines and machines, we are still solely dependent on God for our life and recovery. God is aware of all that we face. Even as we lie still and perhaps unconscious, He is in control.
For the baptized member of God’s Family, we know that God’s Holy Spirit of power is with and in us as an extra measure of strength even as we undergo various trials, including illness and surgery. We pray for sick brethren for healing and God’s mighty intervention. We are in God’s care, and we are subject to His Will.
The first use of anesthesia for surgery was back in 1846. Despite progress in the use of such medicines, much about the brain’s activity while under anesthesia is still a mystery. We know that our brain does not turn off under anesthesia, but the connectivity between parts of the brain is heavily impacted. A study with the Harvard Medical School illustrated that under anesthesia the brain quiets, and the segments no longer communicate with each other. In such a state, a person cannot be conscious or functional. Christians in that state however are still connected with God, even if they are incapable of prayer at that moment. Family, friends, and the brethren pray for the person and God is fully aware that His son or daughter is undergoing a trial. The lack of consciousness does not mean that the person is alone.
In Romans 8, and in verses 26, and 27, we learn how Jesus Christ, through His Spirit, assists us when we are vulnerable: “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” In those moments when we are ill, or in an altered state of consciousness such as in a coma, or under anesthesia, when we are physically at our weakest, God is there, and Christ, through the Holy Spirit, intercedes for us. We long for the future Kingdom of God when we can be with Him and His Son. In the meantime, we are subject to the limitations of our mortal existence.
Our relationship with God however is not altered by illness or consciousness. We may feel lost and alone, but we are not. In Jeremiah 32, and verse 40, we see the explicit promise that God has made with His people: “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me.” God will not leave us, and He intends that we never leave His care. It can be difficult to remember this when we lie in a hospital bed, or are confined to our homes or even within our minds. We may lose hope, but need to remember that we can ask for God’s intervention and pray for one another.
It may help us to remember that even Jesus Christ agonized that the Father had forsaken Him (compare Matthew 27:46). He did suffer unspeakable pain for us as He accepted the sins of mankind. God however had not abandoned Jesus, except for that brief moment on the cross, and He resides for eternity with the Father. Likewise, we are not hopeless; we have God’s promise and the Sacrifice of His Son to rely on. We may lament our physical reality in this lifetime, but we can trust that God hears our prayers, and He will do what is best for us.