The Power of Forgiveness

Christine Koch, M.D.

It began as any other day – early morning hours at the hospital, reviewing nursing notes from the previous night, checking recent lab results and stepping into patients’ rooms to reassess their medical condition. One pleasant gentleman, admitted only the day prior, caught me off guard as I walked through his hospital room door with my usual smile and “Good morning” routine.

“Please Doc, please. I just wanna go home!”

The voice seemed anxious, pressured, scared. Extremely different from the gentle, calm man I had welcomed to the hospital less than 24 hours before.

I was quickly informed by a family member at the patient’s bedside that the night had been rough and very long. Apparently, after a hospital room visit from the consulted surgeon the previous evening, the patient’s entire demeanor had changed… for the worst.

The surgeon had notified our patient of his necessity to frequent the operating room sometime this following morning. Could it have been this announcement that caused so much angst through the hours of the night? It seemed the most likely factor to me; nothing else medically had changed. I had witnessed patients fearful before when it came to surgical procedures, but this current encounter surpassed them all. The man couldn’t sit still, couldn’t sleep. The expression on his face was one of deep worry, as if his very life were hanging on the line.

As physicians are trained to do, I launched into a careful description of what to expect with the surgery and other treatment plans for the day. I gently stressed the importance of receiving medical attention for his current ailment. Perhaps assurance and information would calm this anxious soul.

Part way through my medical discourse the patient arose from his bed, placed his hands on his head, and began to pace back and forth in the room. I figured it would be best to slightly adjust my calming approach. “Would you be willing to share with me, sir, just what it is that worries you most?”

“I wanna go home,” continued to be all he would say. The family member next to us looked completely exasperated.

At that moment the patient’s pacing widened in its scope. Rather than back and forth in only his room, his stressful steps began to include the hallway also. His flustered nurse approached me at that point. “He’s been like this most of the night. Won’t take any medications. Refuses to let us give anything through the IV. I’m just not sure what else we can do.”

I turned back to the patient, completely at a loss to know how to help. Thankfully, the patient himself stated next what he needed.

“Doc, please,” he said, “walk with me. Please just come and walk with me.”

I glanced quickly at the clock on the wall. There were a few minutes remaining before I’d need to move on to other hospital matters that were demanding my attention.

“Sure,” I said. “I’ll walk with you.” And with that, we set off further down the white-walled hospital hall.

After turning a corner the gentleman at my side stopped and looked me straight in the eye. “Are you a Christian?” he asked, to my surprise.

“Yes, I am,” I quickly replied. This conversation was going in a direction entirely unexpected by me.

“Miss,” he said with an almost sorrowful expression now engulfing his anxious face, “I have done so many bad things. Really bad things.”

We began to walk again.

“I used to know God. I used to. But then I started to do bad things. I even cursed Him years ago. I cursed Him, ma’am!” He repeated the statement with increased emphasis, as if to guarantee I’d truly heard the weight of what he’d just said. “I don’t feel His presence in my life anymore. I don’t feel Him, Doc. I don’t feel Him.” And with that his hands began to tremble. “I’ve been so bad. So very bad. Do you think God can forgive even me?”

The question stunned my listening ears and sunk deep into my sympathizing heart.

Before I could say anything, he continued on. “You see, Doc, it’s not the surgery that makes me afraid. What scares me most is dying without knowing that I’m forgiven for all the things I have done.” Tears began to fall down the pain-filled face. “What if I die on that operating table but God hasn’t taken me back. I’ve cursed Him! And I know where that means I’m going if I die.”

My mind could hardly believe the words I was hearing. Silent prayers ascended as I quickly tried to gather my thoughts.

“What do you think, Doctor?” he asked again. “Can God forgive even me?”

His trembling hand reached out for mine as the tears continued to roll down his cheeks.

Clasping his hands in mine and turning to look directly at the eyes of a man who had just opened his very soul to someone he barely knew, my lips almost quivered as I said the only thing that came to mind. “Sir, I don’t know what you have done or what exactly you are feeling now. But what I do know is that our God is a God of love. And what I also know with all my heart is that Jesus Christ died for you.”

I began to recall the Gospel account of the thief on the cross – a man condemned to die for the wrong things he had chosen to do, yet lovingly accepted by Jesus at only the simple request to be instated into His kingdom.

Other verses suddenly flooded my mind. “For all have sinned and
fallen short of the glory of God,” “It is by grace you are saved
through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God,”
“For God so loved the world that He gave……” With every few steps another Bible promise was spoken. It was if I was experiencing God’s very Word come alive in that moment, His Holy Spirit speaking to my mind exactly what to say when I myself was at a loss for words.

We entered the patient’s room once again.

Finally, a request came from my own lips, “Sir, can we pray together? Can
we pray to accept the free gift of forgiveness that God has given for you?”

“Yes, yes! Please!”

Even now I have tears in my eyes as I recall the scene: two children
of God, heads bowed, hands held tight, surrounded by IV pole, call
lights and a hospital bed, praying heartfelt thanks to God for the
free gift of salvation and for the forgiveness of our sins. Thanking
Him for Jesus. Asking that He would let this son of His know His
presence once again and that peace would return to his heart.

A knock on the door towards the end of our prayer ushered the arrival
of another physician to discuss medical care decisions with the patient. The anxious man thanked me along with a smile and a quick squeeze of my hand before beginning his conversation with the new visitor.

I quietly left the room, still praying silently in my own mind.

After caring for several other patients, some forty minutes later, I returned to the patient’s room to see how he was doing. Once again I was surprised, though looking back now I realize I shouldn’t have been.

A smiling, calm, peaceful man was resting quietly in his hospital bed. Upon my arrival the smile broadened and with a joyous voice I heard him say, “God is so so so good!” Again the man reached out his hands toward mine. “He forgave me,” his face beamed. “I have peace.”

There have been but few moments as unforgettable in all my life.

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