Marvelling amidst the mess – Dr Emma Bott

16 MINUTE READ
from Luke’s Journal CMDFA 2020 Vol 25 No 1

Theological Reflection

My name is Emma Bott, and I’m a Christian GP in Newcastle. I trained at Newcastle University, and during that time I was active in local CMDFA events, as well as attending some of the national conferences.

CMDFA was a great introduction to the unique challenges and joys faced by Christian health professionals. I particularly appreciated the teaching and modelling of how, as Christians, our faith is expressed in all of our life, including our work, and also the opportunity to think through some ethically challenging areas of health.

At university, I also appreciated the solid teaching I received through CMDFA events, my church and my Christian university group. That passion for understanding God’s Word took my husband, Dave, and I to SMBC (Sydney Missionary and Bible College) for the two years immediately after finishing my GP fellowship. The time spent studying was deeply enriching for my own faith and walk with God. I was able to dig deep into the Bible, church history, theology and other topics. I also had the opportunity to develop strong relationships with staff and other students and to be encouraged at the way God is using these people, both here in Australia and overseas. In both studies and friendships, I was reminded again and again of the generous and faithful character of our God. I also appreciated the space I had at college to reflect in a more thorough way on some of the trickier issues we face as health professionals.

“We have a God who didn’t leave us to struggle alone, but became like us and met us in these things.”

At the start of this year I returned to work as a GP in Newcastle and am continuing studies at SMBC part-time while my husband works for our local church. My return to work was challenging. In some ways I think that taking time out to study has made me feel more inadequate as a doctor. I had lost some confidence and had to work at getting my knowledge back up-to-date. I’m still feeling the effects of it, almost a year down the track. But the time spent studying God’s faithfulness to his people throughout history has made me more conscious of God’s hand guiding me, even through these feelings of inadequacy and failure. I have been reminded that my primary identity is not ‘Doctor’ but ‘God’s beloved child’, and that God is the one who ultimately determines the sickness or health of my patients in His good purposes. These experiences have also helped me to connect better with patients in their various states of brokenness, whether physically or spiritually, as I know I am broken too!

My studies have also enabled me to participate in some new ministries. Part-way through this year I was asked to join another lady in speaking at our church women’s retreat on the topic of ‘Awesome God.’ My talk was focussed on Hebrews 2, looking at God’s awesome character as revealed in Christ. Following is an amended version of that talk with some more pertinent examples for those working in health. I hope it encourages you, as reflecting on the passage has encouraged me, to marvel at God even in the midst of inadequacy and failure, as we have a God who didn’t leave us to struggle alone, but became like us and met us in these things.

Our Awesome God Hebrews 2:5-18

When I was at University I was a bit of a camp junkie. One year I went along to at least seven different camps. Church camps, Christian university group camps, Bible Study camps, camps, CMDFA camps, you name it and I was there. And I think part of the reason that I was addicted to going to these camps was the environment of intense teaching and fellowship which just allowed me to marvel at God. And I loved it! I felt like I was on such a high! But it didn’t last. The very next week I would be back into the housework, studies, relational conflict and every day mess that is life. And I would be left feeling flat and tired and, at times, even distant from God. Sometimes it didn’t feel like that experience of marvelling at God had any connection to everyday life. And I know this is not a unique experience. I know many of us have a sense that these times of awe are completely at odds with real life.

We know God is worthy of awe, and at times we have that experience of deep and enriching communion with him, of being on a camp where our minds are blown with awesome revelations about God, or of being on a holiday where we have space to sit on a beach, or watch a beautiful sunset, and marvel at the God who made it all. But then we get back into real life, knee-deep in paperwork, needy patients and dirty laundry, where marvelling at God is often the last thing we feel like doing.

When life’s anxieties creep back in, and we’re feeling lonely, or in pain, or completely out of our depth; when we make another mistake, and are acutely aware of our failures and we assume everyone else is too. We know we should be marvelling at God, that He is infinitely glorious, but a lot of days we’re just not feeling it. How do we bridge this gap? What is it about God that enables us to marvel at Him, even in the midst of life’s messiness? What is it about God that meets us in our mess? As we look at Hebrews 2, and gaze at Christ, I believe that He reveals to us a God who is in our morning routines and our anxieties, pain and sin, just as much as in the ocean waves and technicolour sunsets. I’m going to propose four different reasons I think we can marvel at Christ in the midst of life’s mess.

The first reason we can marvel at Jesus is because He is the glorious ruler of everything, and will one day put everything right. Dipping back into Hebrews chapter 1, we can see that Jesus is described as the One through whom God created everything, and the exact image of God. Jesus, the exact image of God was there, at the very beginning of time, calling galaxies into existence! He made everything we see – both the big and the small things. All these things show Jesus’ glory! But even though we can see Jesus’ glory every day, we also see a lot of pain. Our days are often filled with frustrations, disappointments, and heartache. I know so often I come home from work feeling I have made very little difference in the lives of my patients. But as we consider Hebrews chapter 2, we can be reminded of Jesus’ glory even in these things. Because this isn’t the state that the world is going to stay in forever. Hebrews 2:5-9 shows that Jesus is the one to whom the world-to-come, the new heavens and earth, will be subject.

“God … is in our morning routines and our anxieties, pain and sin, just as much as in the ocean waves and technicolour sunsets.”

Quoting Psalm 8, the author of Hebrews sees its fulfillment in Jesus, the One who, by becoming man, was made for a little while lower than the angels, but in the age-to-come will be crowned with glory and honour and will have everything subject to Him. In verse 8, nothing is outside His control.

But verse 8 also acknowledges that it might not feel like Jesus is ruling everything yet. And this seems to fit our experience. There is still a lot that is broken in our world. It is still in God’s control, he is permitting it for a time, but it’s not what he ultimately wants for the world. One day Jesus will return, and God will complete the work of putting everything under His feet. We can look at the good things around us, and marvel that Jesus made them all. But we can also look at the hard things, the broken things, the young patient who gets cancer, the dysfunctional families, the sicknesses and sin in our own lives and the lives of those we love, and know that one day we will see Jesus put these things right. Whatever is broken in your life, whatever is keeping you up at night, even in these things, by faith in what God will one day do, we can marvel at Jesus, because Jesus is the glorious ruler of all, who will one day put all things right.

Yet even knowing that Jesus is this glorious ruler, we still can feel the disconnect between Jesus’ glory and our every day, which is often far from glorious. But our passage offers us a second reason to marvel at Jesus in the midst of life’s mess. Jesus lowered himself to become like us, so that we too could one day rule with him in glory. Verse 6 refers to ‘the son of man’, which in the Old Testament does refer to a Messianic figure, but it was also a generic term referring to humans. This Psalm is referring to Jesus I believe, but I also think it is referring to God’s people, because of what Jesus has done. In verse 10 it says that Jesus’ suffering brought many sons to glory. Jesus became like us, and suffered for us, so that he could bring us to glory. So that we could inherit the world to come too. So that we could also have everything laid at our feet.

There are some parts of our jobs that are not very glorious. All sorts of bodily fluids come to mind. But next time you’re in the middle of a stressful morning, one way you could remind yourself marvel at God is to stop, look down at your feet, and think that one day, instead of seeing a dirty floor or the wheels of your desk chair, you will see the universe. All things laid at your feet, at our feet, together in glory. And this is all because of Jesus. Because although He was the exact image of God, He chose to become like us. In verse 9 He tasted death for us, to bring us to glory. And it is for this very reason, this greatest of sacrifices, that Jesus is even more worthy of being crowned with glory and honour. In verse 9, He was crowned with glory and honour because He suffered death. And in verse 10 this suffering made Him perfect, not in the sense that He was lacking in any way before, but in the sense that His glory was revealed more completely in the sacrifice He made for us, to bring us to glory, to make us co-heirs of the universe with Him. 1 And so, in verse 11, He is now not ashamed to call us brothers. Jesus is not ashamed to be related to us. Let’s marvel in Jesus, because He became like us so we might be co-heirs in glory with Him.

In Hebrews 2:14-17 we see yet another reason to marvel at Jesus. Jesus tackled our biggest enemies, the things that threaten to undermine our ability to have a relationship with God and to cripple our awe in Him. We see that Jesus became like us to break the power of sin, death and Satan. Firstly, we see in verses 14-15 that Jesus tackled our fear of death, and Satan who holds the power of death. Satan’s power over death is the power to accuse us. 2 To remind us of all the reasons we aren’t good enough for Jesus and that we are doomed to face death because of our sin. 3 But now we don’t need to be afraid of death.

Fear of death can be debilitating. In our jobs we often come into contact with people who fear death. I myself have recently struggled with some health anxiety – not a great type of anxiety to have when you know a lot of detail about all the ways you could possibly get sick and die a slow painful death. And I’ve really found it difficult at times. Someone gave me the advice that I just need to come to terms with the fact that I am going to die! And the more I think about this, the more I realise I don’t need to be afraid. Because when I die, I get to be with Jesus, ruling everything, and witnessing His glory face to face.

Maybe you’ve had a similar fear. Maybe you’ve have come face to face with death, whether at work or in your own life or the life of someone close to you. Isn’t it great that Jesus became like us to free us, who, through fear of death, were subject to lifelong slavery? We don’t need to be slaves to this fear anymore. Satan might accuse us, but his lies are powerless now, because, in verse 17, Jesus became like us to be the perfect substitute in our place, the only sufficient sacrifice to pay for our sin. Jesus made propitiation – his sacrifice paid the penalty for our sin. So now, sin, death and Satan, they’ve got nothing. Jesus has conquered them.

“When we look around and think, ‘This isn’t how the world was meant to be,’ we can marvel at Jesus who will one day put everything right.”

So, when you are feeling crippled by fear of death, or feeling paralysed by guilt, when you have done the same sin again or when you are beginning to believe those miserable lies that Satan whispers in your ear, you can shout back at Satan, “No! You have no power over me. You cannot hold me. My sin cannot hold me. Death cannot hold me. Because Christ himself died in my place.” We are forgiven, completely, for all the wrong we have ever done and ever will do when we trust Jesus as our perfect sacrifice. We all have something that we feel guilty about, that can niggle away at our sense of security in Christ. Instead of hiding from Jesus with our guilt, we can run to him, hold our sins up to Him, ask His help, because He became like us for this very reason, to break the hold our sin, Satan and death have on us. So once again, let’s marvel in Jesus, who became like us to set us free.

The final reason the passage gives for why we can marvel at Jesus is in Hebrews 2:18. I think sometimes, despite knowing everything Jesus has done to make us right with Him, we can still feel very distant from Him and find it difficult to worship Him. When we sin we know He will forgive us. But we might think, “Surely He is looking down at me disapprovingly, deeply disappointed that I just can’t get my act together. Because, of course, Jesus was perfect! He never made the dumb decisions I make! He’ll forgive me, but surely He thinks I’m an idiot for falling into the same sin again.”

This is where verse 18 is so powerful. Verse 18 says that Jesus became like us so that He could sympathise with us. He isn’t sitting in heaven with a look of disapproval on His face when He sees us. He sympathises with us. Because although He resisted temptation, He knows full well how hard it is. In fact, He knows more fully than any of us, because He resisted sin for longer than any of us. He sympathises with us. He experienced the suffering of temptation so that He could help us.

So that instead of feeling discouraged when we’ve sinned again and sinking into despair, instead of thinking, ‘God must be so ashamed of me,’ we can remember that Jesus understands why we struggle, and He is there to pick us back up again, and to urge us to keep going. Not that He makes light of our sin. He knew our sin was so serious that the only sufficient price for it was His death! But He also knows how hard it is. He knows how hard it is to live for God amidst the mess of this world – when the pressure on us is so overwhelming that we’re exhausted, and the temptation to lash out is just that much stronger; when we’ve given into temptation, and we are broken over our sin. He is with us, and will cheer us on every step of the way back to Him. Let’s marvel at Jesus, and remind each other of His wonderful character, because He became like us to sympathise with us.

So, as we consider going back to work or family duties or the other stresses and pressures in our lives, how can we marvel at God in midst the of life’s mess? I am convinced that if we look, everything can be a reminder to marvel at Jesus. When we look around and think, “This isn’t how the world was meant to be,” we can marvel at Jesus who will one day put everything right. When we feel distinctly unglorious, we can marvel at Jesus who became like us to make us co-heirs with him in glory. When we are crippled by Satan’s lies and the weight of our sin and fear of death, we can marvel at Jesus, who became like us to set us free and win us forgiveness. And when we struggle under the pain of temptation, or are feeling guilt for giving into temptation, we can marvel at Jesus, who became like us to sympathise with us.

How awesome is Jesus. As we return to work, family life, and whatever other responsibilities we have, let’s keep worshipping our amazing God, who became like us.

1. Westcott notes that the word used for ‘to perfect’ (τελειόω) can also be rendered ‘to complete’, and rather than pointing to any deficiency in Christ this expression is more likely referring to a necessary step for Christ to complete his task of fully identifying with the condition of man. (1 p48). Westcott BF. The epistle to the Hebrews: the Greek text with notes and essays. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans; 1952. 504 p.
2. Schreiner suggests that Satan’s power over death is his power over sin, which I take to mean his power to accuse us of our sin. (2 p104-105). Schreiner TR. Commentary on Hebrews. Nashville, Tenn.: Holman Reference; 2015. 539 p.
3. While some interpret the Psalm as referring to either Jesus or humanity alone, the context of the passage appears to indicate both. For a further exploration of this idea see Hughes’ article. (3 p20) Hughes PE. The christology of Hebrews. Southwestern Journal of Theology. 1985; 28(1):19-27.
Dr Emma Bott
Emma is a Christian GP who is married to David Bott, who works as a pastor in their local church. She trained at Newcastle University and is currently working in Newcastle.
She is also currently part way through studying a Masters of Divinity at SMBC.
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