1. Borgman, Dean

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According to the case study, Jerry is dying in a hospital surrounded by nurses who busy themselves with tasks and a clinical specialist in cancer nursing, Deborah, who is very anxious about Jerry's relationship with God. What Jerry probably wants most is someone who is totally just for him-someone whose actions say and whose eyes communicate: "Jerry, I'm all for you in your struggle."


This case study does not ask us to ponder the problem of suffering or to determine how persons in evil circumstances can accept the love of a good God. The problem we are asked to consider is not Jerry's but Deborah's. Nor are we dealing here primarily with the doctrines of salvation, conversion and evangelism-although these are obviously at the heart of the matter.


Christians should be agreed that dying infants, mentally deficient persons, those dying in pain so severe it hinders abstract thought and lucid prayer, and pagans outside the hearing of the gospel can be brought into the kingdom through the only name that saves.


Nurses are called upon to give the sick and dying the best professional nursing care. Beyond that role is the challenge to reflect as much divine love and human sensitivity as possible.

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There is a sense in which our life cycle is like an arch. At the end of life, people return to something like the simplicity of childhood and infancy. To some extent, Christian nurses who care for the terminally ill can communicate the gospel like their colleagues in pediatric wards.


Love is the greatest way to communicate the good news to infants. So also to the dying. Deborah, who wanted to communicate God's mercy and love, could do so best by radiating love and mercy toward Jerry.


The hospital aide who inspired Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her work On Death and Dying can help us all. Since God had been sufficient for her in her own suffering, she did not hesitate before others' pain. Buoyantly, she approached patients in their unique distress with God's grace. It was not so much what this aide said that helped, but the way she lived among the dying and the way she accepted dying as a necessary part of living.


We can understand Jerry's question, "How's it going?" in different ways. It may have been his effort to say more: "You seem to care a little more than the rest, Deborah. I want to relate to you, to know a little something of your life." If Jerry had any such thoughts, he may have interpreted Deborah's "okay" response like this: "That's not really important; let's get on to your condition."


Just a few genuine words about Deborah's own condition might have changed the tone from clinical to personal. "I've had a tough weekend, a misunderstanding, but I'm glad to be back, and I wonder how you're doing?" And she might add this: "It's been tough, hasn't it?"


Jerry's "hanging in there" doesn't need to be taken as self-righteousness, salvation by works or despair. He may have been saying, "I'm doing the best I can."


"I'm doing the best I can apart from God" reflects an answer outside of faith. But people can also be saying, "I'm doing the best I can, God help me"-which bespeaks faith. God honors those who do the best they can according to natural light, and he leads them to his Son.


Deborah felt uneasy about her final words, "We're hanging in with you, too, Jerry."


That uneasy gut reaction is important to note in such situations. What Deborah wanted to say-and perhaps her theology wouldn't let her-was this: "And God's hanging in there with you, too, Jerry."


We model God's saving grace the best we can, but we do our bragging about God. Here was the chance for a natural, unobtrusive verbal witness, and Deborah missed it. There can be no lying when we tell someone, "God's hanging in there with you," for that is exactly why our Lord Jesus Christ hung on the cross.


When Deborah and other Christians pick up the burden of determining the spiritual state of the dying, they're carrying a weight which can only deter them from other duties. We are not to play God, nor to take conversion responsibility from the Holy Spirit.


There will be infrequent occasions when Christian nurses will be asked to explain the way of salvation to the ill. The guideline for determining when this is appropriate comes from St. Peter: "Simply reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have. But give it with courtesy and respect and with a clear conscience" (1 Pet 3:15-16J, B).