11/09/2013 08:17 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Struggling to Find Answers

As those of you know who read what I write on a regular basis, I spent the last several days at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. I was there for my annual physical examination, something I have done faithfully following cancer surgery exactly 20 years ago. I am pleased to relate that my tests all turned out good for me, and I can breathe a sigh of relief for another year. But I am sorry to relate that was not the case for many people there.

At the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, one sees children and adults from all over the world seeking answers to, and help for, their various medical problems. I saw far more people in wheelchairs and needing assistance in getting around in just a few days than I will see all the rest of the year.

My heart reached out: to parents, obviously tired and worried, taking care as best they could of their terribly sick children; to older women and men lovingly struggling to push the wheelchairs and otherwise care for their beloved spouses of many years; to those who had to use canes or crutches every step they took; to children and adults who wore assortments of head covers that shielded their heads made bare from chemotherapy; to people who had numerous scars on their heads indicating severe injuries or surgery for brain tumors that left their actions jerky and irregular; to people of all ages whose bodies were supported by braces of one kind or another; and on the list goes. It made me wonder how people deal with such life-changing health problems: circumstances that affect not only the sick persons, but all their family members, as well.

To say that I fully understand would be incorrect, because I don't think any of us can fully understand until we have had to face those same heart-rendering situations. But having been a parish minister and dealing with those matters with families, I have learned from them what truly makes a difference. Initially, most of them have to deal with a great variety of issues, including bewilderment, anger, depression, guilt, fear, and "why did a good God let this happen?" But most of them also tell me that eventually they realize that without faith in God they could not possibly get through it. And I do not know how it would be possible for any individual, for devoted spouses, or for families to go through such life-changing situations without having faith in the God they have come to know through their particular religious faith.

It may surprise some readers that I, a Christian clergyman, would refer to finding understanding and comfort from a God other than the God revealed in the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible. But keep in mind that I am not dealing here in theology; I am talking about people, regardless of what country they come from or the religious faith they practice, and how they are able to cope 24/7 with these terribly difficult medical problems. This is not the time to engage in what can end up being a continuous and divisive debate about theology. This is when we need to put away our differences and reach out in understanding to establish bonds of supportive friendship.

I confess that most of the time I do not think very much about these matters. You know the old saying: "Out of sight, out of mind." But at Mayo Clinic such matters are very much in sight, and it is pretty difficult not to think about them. During these last few days, my life has been temporarily interrupted, as it has been annually for the last twenty years, with having to deal with these unsettling emotions and wonderment--trying to make sense of why people have to go through such things, how they are able to cope, and why God allows such things to happen. When, for several days, you are in constant contact with the same critically ill and severely handicapped people--when you see them in the hallways, sit with them in the waiting rooms, chatter with them in the crowded elevators--you begin to bond with one another. It is difficult for me, a clergyman, to experience what I do at Mayo Clinic and not have more answers. Yes, that's right, I don't have all the answers for them or myself.

Each year as I go through a reawakening to these seemingly tragic situations, I always come back to the same conclusion: although I do not understand why certain things happen, as a man of faith I believe that the world has been created by Almighty God and that he is a kind, benevolent, and all-knowing God. It helps me to read what the Prophet Isaiah wrote: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher that the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Revised Standard Version, 55:8-9) And then I turn to what Paul wrote: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood." (RSV, I Corinthians 13:12) Through faith, I trust that I and, more importantly, those who go through such inflictions, will someday understand.

Is that enough? For the cynic that will definitely not be enough. For me, it has to be enough: for I have nothing more to offer than believing in the goodness and wisdom of the God I have come to know through the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible.