Thursday, July 20, 2006

It Is About The Bike

My friend Tim is a physical therapist and a tri-athlete. The guy is not only in the best physical condition of most anyone I know, he helps fix people who are trying to get that way. More importantly, Tim is a husband and father who loves his family deeply because he loves his God sincerely.

Six weeks ago Tim felt lousy after a bike ride. He was anxious about work and moving to a new house so he attributed his worn out feeling to the stressors in his life. He was tired and weak. The next day he was feeling even more out of sorts. His wife told him to go for a run. Afterward he felt worse. That night he was running a fever with a temperature of 104.5. The next day he went to the doctor who gave him some antibiotics and drew some blood. Three days later Tim was diagnosed with ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukemia).

Many of us may have fallen into a deep depression and asked, “Why me?” Tim didn’t have time for that. For several days he was mentally and physically out of it, coping with severe pain, an incessant cough, and nausea. His body was being destroyed from the inside out. He was miserable. He felt like he was being poked and prodded by every doctor and nurse who happened to pass by his door. At one point a doctor sat by the side of his bed discussing the treatment plans and protocols that were in store for him. That was fine … until she began to rattle off a string of percentages about how many people make it through this course or that, and their survival rates at each stage of treatment. Tim had had enough. He leaned forward and, with a piercing determination in his voice said, “I don’t care about all your statistics. Just tell me what I need to do. I’m going to beat this thing.”

A few days later, still reeling from the chemotherapy that was racking his entire system, and with blood counts that had all dropped to near zero, his wife Missy arrived at the hospital to visit him only to find his room empty. She asked the nurse if he had been taken somewhere. No, he hadn’t.

Now Missy was getting anxious. She began searching the hallway knowing that Tim hated being trapped in his hospital bed; thinking he had escaped to just go move around a little. As she walked a little frantically down the hallway, she began to hear a rhythmic squeaking sound emanating from a room up ahead. Missy approached the door and peaked into an area she hadn’t seen before. There was Tim, his blue hospital gown draped over his pumping legs. Next to him stood a drip stand from which intravenous medicine flowed through tubes connected to his neck. Tim was peddling a stationary bike for all he was worth.

Six weeks later Tim is in remission.

Tim’s story is not only remarkable; it also has everything to do with the issues I have been discussing here. Yes, Tim’s caregivers are brilliant people. The science behind their ability to diagnose and treat him is beyond what most of us can comprehend. That is not debatable. God equips us with the intelligence and reasoning capacities that allow us to discover such things and we have every obligation to use them. But many receive the same treatment from the same doctors and don’t make anywhere near the progress Tim has made. What’s the difference?

The difference is that Tim got on the bike.

Naturalists would describe Tim’s powerfully positive actions in evolutionary terms. They, by definition, have no other way to understand such things. Every action must be understood to be the result of a relentless deterministic process, beginning with the accidental emergence of first life, and continuing toward a purposeless end. To the naturalist, Tim’s motivation is a consequence of the “survival of the fittest” mechanism that drives those who best adapt to the environment by obtaining a competitive advantage over evolutionary challengers. But intuition tells us that the naturalistic explanation cannot be totally true. There is more to the story. Tim’s attitude is what got him on that bike.

Attitude is a state of mind – a mental inclination. But what are states of mind or mental capacities? Surely they are not things that can be physically weighed or measured, or touched, or seen, or heard … In other words, they are not things for which the naturalist can provide an explanation. The naturalist would not even allow that they are real. Any such explanation requires that the non-physical “emerged” from the physical. But to someone who denies metaphysical reality in the first place, it seems incoherent to say that non-existent, non-physical entities could emerge from physical matter. The question of metaphysical reality is naturalism’s most glaring deficiency. But there is more to Tim’s attitude than that.

C. S. Lewis talks of the joy he got from hearing and reading children’s stories and from other childhood experiences – a thrill that, later in life:
had produced a longing … which had flowed over from the mind and seemed to involve the whole body. That walk I now remembered. It seemed to me that I had tasted heaven then. If only such a moment could return! But what I never realized was that it had returned – that the remembering of that walk was itself a new experience of just the same kind. True, it was desire, not possession. But then what I had felt on the walk had also been desire, and only possession in so far as that kind of desire is itself desirable, is the fullest possession we can know on earth; or rather, because the very nature of Joy makes nonsense of our common distinction between having and wanting.

Lewis, in his “argument from desire” for the existence of God, claims that our sense of holiness and the desire for joy itself exposes the reality of the supernatural – of a higher spiritual level to which his early experiences had been pointing him. As Louis Markos points out in his book, Lewis Agonistes, the fact that “he [Lewis] continually desired something that the natural world could not supply suggested that another, supernatural one existed that was the origin of his desire.”

I think Tim might tell you that that desire – that longing for the joy that is rooted in his God and that he shares with his wife and kids – was the source for the attitude that got Tim on the bike. It is not completely explainable otherwise. The joy of worshipping his Creator, the joy he experiences with his family, and that he embraces for life itself – each of these have given Tim a peace that passes all understanding.

Please pray for Tim. He still has a long row to hoe; but he also has attitude, and joy, and hope, and the power of love on his side. Those are what got him on the bike and, knowing Tim, he won’t be getting off.

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