As a fourth year medical student, I traveled to Papua, New Guinea to spend two months at Rumginae Rural Hospital, a small facility with two international physicians and twenty staff serving tens of thousands of Melanesians living amidst countless acres of jungle. It was an incredible experience filled with joy, frustration, miracles, hardship, and demonstration after demonstration of God’s control over life and death.

One rainy Saturday God intervened to save the lives of a bleeding pregnant woman and her unborn child through a Herculean effort involving dozens of staff and volunteers, a boat trip, a flight, a car ride, nine hours of surgery, six liters of donated blood, and fourteen liters of IV fluids.[1] Yet, the following Tuesday a seven week-old girl arrived in critical condition with a raging malarial infection. In the middle of my prayers for her health a nurse interrupted to tell me that the girl’s heart had stopped beating.

For physicians, unpredictability is excruciating because we are trained to maintain control. We build shiny hospitals, fill them with educated people, purchase expensive diagnostic equipment, conduct cutting edge research, and develop powerful new therapies to stay in control—to satisfy the desires of our patients. However, one of the truest descriptions of the purpose of medicine is “to cure sometimes, relieve often, and comfort always.”[2] As physicians and patients we often do not get our way, we fail.

Treading the murky waters of disappointment is agonizing, but reveals an important, albeit uncomfortable, truth: namely, that our willingness to do/spend/lose everything in the pursuit of health leaves us wanting. Our failure to secure longevity creates hopelessness and helplessness. We thought we were aiming correctly, but we have missed the mark. Our impotence unveils a greater truth: more than control, we need redemption.

More than healing, we need forgiveness.

On my last Sunday in Papua, New Guinea, one of the missionaries taught about a group of friends who brought a paralytic to where Jesus was staying. The house was so crowded that they could not see past the doorway. So, with great faith, the troupe cut a hole in the roof of the house and lowered the paralytic down to Jesus. “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’” (Mark 5:2). Instead of healing the man, Jesus forgave him. Instead of granting his wants, he attended to his needs.[3]

On Easter, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, his triumph over sin and death, and the new life in Christ we desperately need. However, the action of joining the divine life of Christ forces an equal and opposite reaction: letting go of our desires… losing control. In matters of health, this can be extraordinarily demanding. It’s natural to ask for the bleeding to stop, the cancer to disappear, and the fractures to heal. It’s more difficult to petition for God’s holiness to remake and reshape us, no matter the circumstances.

Ultimately, neither promising physicians, nor powerful drugs, nor precision scalpels can purge the evil from our hearts. Only the One who has died, has risen, and has undone death through life can provide us what we truly need: forgiveness. First.

Josh Williams is a fourth year medical student at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. In June, he will begin a Pediatric Residency training program at The Children’s Hospital of Colorado.

[1]A pregnant female at 36 weeks has roughly six liters of blood in her entire body. That is, the patient hemorrhaged so severely that she bled out her entire blood volume.

[2] Attributed to Dr. Edward Trudeau.

[3] Later, to settle a theological matter with the Pharisees in the home, Jesus also healed the man.