Leaning on the Everlasting Arms Nothing at All

By | May 4, 2020 | 0 Comments

Check out these news reports. Now tell me how anyone can deny that there is a war against religion ‒ specifically our Judeo-Christian heritage. But if leftists succeed in tearing it down, will anything replace it? Or like a demolished house, will there be only an empty hole remaining, with some bits of debris to remind us of that we have lost?

Facebook bans ad from Christian college because crucifix is “excessively violent.”

Court rules that war memorial cross on Mount Soledad must be removed.

Second-grader sent for psychiatric exam. When asked to make holiday drawing, he drew crucified Jesus, which was thought to be pathological.

NBC and NPR greetings betray profound ignorance of Good Friday and Easter.

Recently my wife and I saw a DVD of the 2010 film “True Grit.” I was struck by the musical score, which made heavy use of hymns. And I was moved during the closing credits, when the hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” was beautifully sung by Iris DeMent. I prefer a more robust version, but hers was touching.

I was familiar with the hymn. My wife and I first saw the film in a theater, and as it was sung, my wife noted me bowing my head. She asked what was going on, and I told her.

Years ago, I was in training as a medical oncology fellow. I had completed my internal medicine residency, and I was subspecializing in this then-new field. I and my two colleagues went to the huge Los Angeles County General Hospital for conferences, but our primary duties were at a small branch of the hospital system, John Wesley County Hospital. The name derives from the fact that the old building was formerly Methodist Hospital, and Wesley was the founder of Methodism.

I often came in on weekends to see my patients, whether I was on call or not. In those days, most of us took the Hippocratic Oath seriously. Now only a minority of medical graduates take the traditional oath. Instead, they take various oaths. Most do not mention abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, or even having sex with patients, all of which were forbidden by the original Oath.

Some medical schools allow graduates to compose their own oath. There is a vast difference between swearing to uphold the 2400-year-old traditions of a noble profession, and swearing to uphold your own ideas. How hard can that be? Now that government-run health care is looming on the horizon, it is no consolation that most doctors are no longer bound by the Hippocratic Oath.

As a young man interested in science, I was not very religious at the time. But when I came in on Sundays, I often saw the weekly church service, which was held for our patients in a small area at the end of the hallway. There was a wooden lectern and a small reed organ. Services were conducted by a Korean American Methodist minister alternating with an African American Baptist minister.

Patients attended sitting in chairs or wheelchairs, or lying on gurneys. I had to squeeze between them to get to my patients’ rooms. As I was doing so, I heard the services, and I felt the emotion of the patients, most of whom had serious or incurable diseases.

And I heard the hymn singing, led by the ministers. What the pastors lacked in musical ability they more than made up for in enthusiasm. I had almost forgotten the black Baptist belting out “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” − that is, until I saw “True Grit” and heard Iris DeMent’s beautiful rendition. It brought back memories of the patients crowding the hallway, singing along with the pastor and following his heavy emphasis on the word leaning.

Leaning on something, or Someone, may seem to be a sign of weakness, but often it is a sign of strength − the honesty to admit that we aren’t all-powerful and all-knowing. Refusing to lean may seem to be a sign of strength, but often it is a sign of a narcissistic belief that we can do everything by ourselves − that is, bravado masking weakness. Even worse, it is a sign that we get our values not from the Bible or other sources of wisdom, but from popular culture − MTV, rap “music,” leftist gurus, and politically correct ingrates who are offended by “Merry Christmas.” That is not a comforting thought.

Life, both personal and national, is filled with trials. As we strive to overcome problems at home and attacks by fanatical believers abroad, we will need true grit. But no matter how much grit we can muster, at our worst moments we will also need something to lean on.

We seem to be doing our best to remove every vestige of that something from our public life. We assume that if we believe in nothing at all, the fanatics who hate us and despise our way of life will become less fanatical. They won’t. They will only be encouraged by the knowledge that spiritual disarmament can be even more deadly than physical disarmament. The first rule of gun fights is bring a gun. The first rule of culture wars is bring a culture.

The New England Journal of Medicine contains two related articles. The first discusses the alarming increase in deaths from drugs, mainly illicit opioids. The second notes that an unknown number of these deaths are suicides. Over 8% of high-school students exhibited suicidal behavior in the past 12 months. A medical approach to these problems is crucial but incomplete.

Why do so many feel a need for drugs, and why do so many see nothing to live for? Could it be, just possibly, that we have given them no Source of transcendent meaning for their lives? Could it be, just possibly, that they were never taught that there are Everlasting Arms to keep them from falling?

Contact: dstol@prodigy.net. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.

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