It was a Sunday afternoon, and I had just arrived for my 8-hour evening shift on the neuroscience and epilepsy unit. I worked the “seizure pod” where the majority of seizure and video EEG monitoring occurred. One of my patients was very sick with nonconvulsive status epilepticus—continuous seizure activity seen only on video EEG.
Not long into my shift, the epilepsy physician emerged from the office with a grave expression and approached the nurses' station. “Push 2 milligrams of Ativan now, hang a one-time dose of 1,000 milligrams of Keppra IV, and prepare the patient for admission to the ICU to be put in a medically-induced coma.” After briefly discussing the plan, the medical staff entered the patient's room and talked with the patient's father.
I had taken care of the patient the day before, and the father remembered me. I vividly recall his face as we told him the news. Understanding the seriousness of the situation, he turned to me with tears in his eyes. “Why is this happening? She is a special education teacher, is married, and has two kids. Now she might die. Why is God letting this happen?”
In nursing school, we are told that nurses are there for all parts of life: birth, death, and all the spaces in between. In daily practice, we see some of the worst suffering, pain, and anguish possible. The emergence of COVID-19, with the resulting worldwide pandemic, has claimed the lives of 2.3 million people (Our World Data, 2021). Many nurses are left wondering where God is in the midst of the suffering we see. To answer this question, I turn to the Old Testament book of Job.
Job is a curious biblical book. Over the years, scholars have puzzled over it, mainly regarding how God responded to Job's suffering. At first glance, the divine discourse in Job chapters 38-41 shows God seeming to harshly rebuke Job for questioning God over losing his wealth, family, and health. However, Brown (1996) offers another theory. The “divine rebuke” seen in chapters 38-41 functions to affirm Job and identify his rightful place within the created order. God unveiled common ground between Job and the wild beasts and elements of the cosmos. By displaying the forms of life in the far corners of creation, God indirectly affirmed Job's character in his quest for the meaning of his suffering. As a result, Job realized not only his place within creation, but he also saw for the first time the beauty in the fringes of creation and dignity in the dispossessed. At the end of the story, Job found both reorientation and solace in the presence of God, awesomely displayed in creation.
Job's story and God's response take on new meaning amidst a global pandemic. We, as nurses, sometimes question God as to why good people suffer debilitating illnesses, injuries, and pain. Family members of our patients often look to us for answers when someone dies too soon. There is no simple answer. Despite this, a possible answer to the theology of suffering emerges from the final chapters in Job—and it is powerful.
As Christian nurses, we can find comfort in the divine discourse presented in Job chapters 38-41. We notice that God cares about suffering and wants to restore us to a new moral vision—one that takes into consideration the entire cosmos and how we fit in the created order. God's discourse with Job reminds us of another time in history where we saw the radical presence of God—on the cross, dying for our sins. In the suffering of the cross, we see the final and ultimate move from God as Jesus suffered and was rejected by humanity. Through the death of Jesus, new life was unleashed and vision restored for those who can say with Job, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21, ESV).
Brown W. P. (1996). Character in crisis: A fresh approach to the wisdom literature of the Old Testament
. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Our World Data. (2021). Coronavirus (COVID-19) deaths