And do this, understanding the hour as already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Romans 13:11
Our Salvation is Nearer Now
When I arrived in Davao City with Len back in 1998, I expected to maybe go with teams on “practical training” as part of the EE course, carry the first aid kit, and maintain a low profile. But then, on the first jet-lagged night there, our host, Pastor Nick, asked each of us team members to speak in front of his church in the morning.
“Me?” I asked, surprised.
“Especially you,” Pastor Nick said. “People will want to know why an American neurosurgeon came all the way to the Philippines for an evangelism mission.”
I wrestled with the question through the night, and the Holy Spirit gave me two stories to tell.
In the first, I was just starting for home one afternoon when I got a call from the St. Luke’s ER about a woman with a head injury. Already in the car, I was there in only a few minutes.
The patient was a thirty-year-old woman on her way home from work at Publix. A car ran a red light and hit her broadside. Initially awake at the scene, she had become drowsy and then comatose. By the time I arrived her examination showed a right-sided dilated pupil and deep coma and the CT scan demonstrated a large blood clot on the surface of her brain.
I called the operating room to prepare for an emergency operation. To save critical time, I shaved her head in the ER while waiting for the OR to be ready. The surgery was tense, but ultimately successful, the clot removed, any bleeding points controlled, and by the time she reached the recovery room she was in stable condition, no longer needing a ventilator. I stayed with her for a while, talked over her brush with death with her mother and husband, then eventually went home after she had been transferred, awake and talking, to the ICU.
In the morning she was comfortable and happy to be alive. Her husband and mother were with her. I felt like a hero, a savior so to speak; this was one who had surely been snatched back from the jaws of death.
Then I decided to changed her bandage. I cut off the large turban-like dressing and was about to put on a lighter, more comfortable wound covering. Before I could do that though, she asked for a mirror. When she saw the wound and her missing hair, she wailed uncontrollably. She couldn’t celebrate her salvation without her hair. The effect was not brief, either. Although her neurologic recovery was immediate and her wound healed quickly and her hair grew back, she suffered from depression and PTSD.
A few months later, I was called to Brooks Rehab to see a patient who had suffered paralysis due to a gunshot wound to the thoracic spine several weeks before, treated at another hospital and subsequently transferred to the Brooks. The question on the consult was whether or not she needed to continue to wear a brace now six weeks after her injury. I looked at the x-rays on my way to Brooks and had already determined that the brace was no longer necessary, and furthermore the question could have been resolved by a phone call to the original treating surgeon. I was irritated about wasting an hour of my precious life filling out a consult so that the the rehab staff didn’t have to spend five minutes making a phone call. But complaining would take more effort than finishing the job. All I had to do was talk to the patient, do a brief exam, and write a note explaining what I already knew. I sighed, quite aware that I could nothing for her, before finding the patient in her room.
“Can you tell me what happened?” I said.
“The best thing in my whole life,” she replied.
I stared at her, a thirty-something year-old woman who looked way older than her stated age. Her face was sallow and wrinkled, her hair prematurely gray, disheveled and greasy from too many weeks in the hospital. She must have misunderstood me.
“No, no,” I said. “I meant about the spinal cord injury, the gunshot wound.”
“Yes, of course,” she said. “The best thing that ever happened to me.”
I realized then that this would not be a normal conversation. She was probably insane.
“Okay, I’ll bite,” I said. “I’ve seen lots of people with spinal cord injuries. Some adjust better than others, some adjust quicker, some slower, but I have never heard anybody say it was the best thing that ever happened to them.”
She smiled. “It was for me. I was an addict working as a prostitute to support my habit,” she said. “A family of Christians lived in my neighborhood. They knew what I was doing. Every day I would walk by their house, and these little children would say something like, ‘Miss JoAnn, won’t you come in?’ or ‘Miss JoAnn, Jesus loves you.’ The last time it was the little boy. He said, ‘Miss JoAnn, Jesus loves you and we are praying for you.’
“I remember thinking I’d come and visit the next day, after one more high. But that’s what I told myself every day. A couple hours later I got shot in a drug deal gone bad. I woke up three days later in the hospital unable to move my legs.”
She paused, collecting her thoughts and trying to form an explanation.
“But three great things happened to me that day. The first: I was delivered from 20 years of addiction to crack cocaine. The second: I was delivered from 18 years of prostitution. The third: I found Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I have joy in my heart for the first time since I was a child. So if I never walk again, it’s a pretty good trade.”
Now I have to ask you: The first patient, I performed an operation that snatched her back from the jaws of death, and she was miserable. The second patient, I did nothing for, and she gained eternal life and joy.
You all know by now that I like to be the hero in my own story. Don’t we all? But I’m holding up a couple of little boys who told a drug-addicted prostitute that God loved her. They woke from their precious little slumbers every day and acted with the “Do This” of Romans 13:11. The “Do This,” to fulfill the commandments of God by loving their neighbor. Maybe their salvation was nearer now than when they first believed…I don’t know…but JoAnn’s certainly was.
Time’s up. Some things can’t wait. If you’re a doctor, you wake up to treat a medical emergency.
If you’re a Christian, you wake up to:
1.) “Do this,” by which he means love your neighbor,
2.) “understanding present time:” by which he meant we understand the reality of The Kingdom of God and the illusion of the Kingdom of the World.
3.) “the hour has come for you to awake from you slumber,”meaning that God has put opportunities before you this very moment, to feed the hungry, to heal the sick, to clothe the naked, to visit those in prison, and, most importantly, to tell them that God loves them, would never leave them, has sent His son for them and He is here right now, and if you turn around and reach out, He will hold you forever.
4.) “because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed,” meaning that our salvation is the salvation of the world, it is the Kingdom Come, and it started for each of us the moment we first believed, and it will never end.
We are about to meet our Maker. The Kingdom is right here, sometimes behind the thin screen between Here and There, between Now and Then, maybe a step through the mysterious Higgs field to the place where physicists tell us comes all matter. We are about to slough off the material world and the constraints of time, and return to the ultimate and original reality.
What is beyond the Higgs field is uncertain. But the certainty of that meeting with our Maker is absolute. We will see clearly then, as we are now looking as through a foggy mirror. That is not in question. But what will we see?
I feel like we will see every moment in our life, each opportunity taken and each opportunity missed, and the consequences of every decision we have ever made in this life in the context of the complete physical and spiritual universe–heaven and earth if you will. This is something like the Nirvana that Buddhists work toward and ultimate awareness that Hindus and other Eastern meditation disciplines work towards.
But it is not great.
With our inevitable human weakness so exposed and compared to the beauty of the true universe, we will see clearly each and every one of our failures, the evils of our hearts, the lies we told, and the betrayals we made, and the opportunities we missed. We will wail inconsolably. This is the fulfillment of ultimate awareness, and it will never end. And it is Hell.
Unless you know Jesus.
That will be the moment when unconditional love and forgiveness of sins becomes real. That’s when you can let go of all the opportunities missed and celebrate the few opportunities taken. That’s when Esther gets to be glad she took Uncle Mordecai’s advice: “And who knows that you have come to royal position for just such a time as this?”
Our salvation is near. The moment of ultimate awareness and ultimate forgiveness is here. And we have been put in a royal place for such a time, The Present Times, as we are living right now. Our salvation is near.