Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Learning and Limitation

"When I finished medical school, I thought I had learned a lot," the young cardiologist told me. "We studied hard, digested a huge body of information, really got after it."

"Upon graduation, we were let loose on the world. Ready to heal. Primed to fight human disease with our massive arsenal of medical knowledge. 'Knowledge is power,' someone has said, and we felt invincible."

"Not long into my practice, I was summoned to the hospital emergency room to attend to a man who had just had a heart attack. I rushed to the hospital feeling strong. I was going to save a life, perform a healing!"

"But, after examining my patient I realized I was not going to do anything of the sort. The man's heart had ruptured. There was absolutely nothing I could do. No sophisticated procedure mastered in a medical school clinic was worth a thin dime now. None of the hundreds of medicines I knew like my own name would work. I was helpless to heal."

"My patient was going to die. And did."

"At that moment, I learned just how much I did not know, a medical lesson not routinely taught in my school. For all my training and knowledge, that man died. His heart literally broke, and all I could do was idly watch that muscular pump quit working, as life and breath left him."

My doctor friend reminded me all over again that one of the major objectives of any enterprise of learning is the realization of how much we do not know. Any authentic course of inquiry will put the student squarely in touch with her finitude.

My Old Testament teacher in seminary would open his classes on the first day by looking over his half-glasses to survey silently the fresh faces before him, finally offering the observation, "Ladies and gentlemen, there is a God... and you are not he."

Limitation is a rude awakening for young physicians fresh out of med school, and for young seminarians ready to cut loose on the church.

As well as for a middle-age pastor whose tenure on the planet should have taught him better.

But it comes barging in to bear that rarest, most blessed virtue: humility.

With humility we are kept from indulging the pangs of omniscience that hungrily beckon us to violate our boundaries.

Without it, we suffer, like Pharisees old and new, that untold ignorance of being too sure.


William Meloney said...

As an Emergency Medical Technician I learned that we "practice" our craft. We work and learn and still people die. As a parent I learned that contrary to my best intentions I could not prevent my children from falling off their bicycles. In my ministry I realized that I cannot save anybody. Indeed, "...I am not He."

Thanks for helping us keep a proper perspective...

in His service...

- Bill

lmk4jc said...

charlie,sometime i think when we experience humility thats Gods way of showing Himself to us. linda<><

Ryan said...

Thanks Charlie,
I am always struck in being reminded that I am not God, that I have to be reminded that I am not God. And that it even "strikes" me is evidence that I am not violated by God nearly enough.

Anonymous said...

A good word that I will use on Sunday especially in light of the lectionary texts from Mark 9:30-37 and James 3:13-4:3,7-8. Thanks.