All posts by Calvin Gross

Calvin graduated from Princeton in 2015 with a degree in Classics. He's now living in Chicago, working a low-income Christian health center and trying to understand what serving in medicine really means.

On Compassion in Medicine

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it looks like to be a Christian doctor. At first, I thought the answer was pretty simple: excel at what you do (for God’s glory of course), be nice, and be ethical. But, to be honest, that doesn’t look too different from the world’s view of what a good doctor is either. I’ve met a lot of doctors who fulfill these criteria, but when I look at them, I don’t see Jesus.

About two months ago, I started reading through the gospel of Mark. I’m pretty slow with my Bible reading, so I’m not even finished with it yet. That’s beside the point though. I came across a moment in the first chapter that really struck me. The passage reads,

40 And a leper came to him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ”I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. (Mark 1:40-42)

There’s a lot to unpack in this passage, but my favorite part is the phrase, “Moved with pity.” As a Classics major, I can’t help delving into the Greek a little here. The participle used here references Jesus’ “splagnon” or guts. Basically, Jesus is so affected, that he has a physical reaction to this man’s suffering. This isn’t some case of Jesus saying, “Oh you poor dear, let me kiss it and make it better.” This is God himself, looking at a suffering human and allowing himself to be affected by it. The thing that struck me about this was that Jesus didn’t have to be moved with pity. It would have been perfectly possible for Jesus acknowledge that the man was suffering and to heal him without a personal reaction.

The first thing that this made me think about was the idea of professional distance. I’m not even in medical school yet, so I don’t have a first-hand knowledge of this, but I’ve heard plenty of physicians talk about the need for professional distance. You experience so much suffering as a physician that you have to hold yourself at arm’s length so that you’re not overwhelmed by it. Only then can you be objective and give the patient the highest level of care, and of course, if you allow yourself to get too involved, you can lose your authority in the exam room.

In some ways, this view makes sense to me. Suffering is tough, and you don’t want to be overwhelmed by it. But in Jesus, I see something totally different. I see someone surrounding himself with crowds of sick people, healing them and casting out demons. I see someone who gets to know those he heals. When the bleeding woman in the crowd touches Jesus and is healed in Mark 5, he stops the entire crows so that he can know who it is he healed. He refuses to allow this woman to remain anonymous. I’m borrowing heavily from another author with this idea (whose name I can’t remember), but Jesus could have laid down a blanket healing for everyone in the crowd. But he didn’t, because the identity and the personal suffering of each person he healed mattered to him.

So this is how my thoughts on what a Christian doctor is have evolved. Yes, Christian doctors should excel at what they do. And I sure hope that they have high integrity. But what sets them apart is that Christian doctors embrace human suffering as Christ did. They allow their “splagnon” to be affected at a leper’s suffering. They are willing to sit alongside a patient and share in her suffering rather than stand aloof.

What Is Health for?

Hi everyone,

I’m Calvin. This post is supposed to be an introduction of sorts, so I’ll start with some stuff about me. I’m tall, I’m half-indian, I’m awful at dancing, I’m a recovering premed, I’m a southerner at heart, and I’m currently siting at my kitchen table eating carrots. Basically, I’m a lot of stuff. The most important thing about me, though, is that I’m trying to follow Jesus, even if I’m pretty bad at it.

But for a more serious introduction, I’m the 4th of 5 kids in a family of all homeschooled children. I graduated from Princeton in 2015 with a degree in Classics, and I now live in inner city Chicago, working at a low-income health center (the same one Daniel used to work at.) I’m also trying to go to medical school.

I love the places where faith and medicine interact. As I’ve spent 4 years preparing for med school, I’ve seen more and more ways that medicine is broken. As I’ve grown in my faith though, I’ve seen so many ways in which Christ is the perfect answer to that brokenness. There are other times when I get frustrated because I don’t see how the problems can be fixed. But then I remember that Jesus is returning and that we’ll eventually have a neverending party with the king of all glory. That makes me feel a lot better. There are a couple other topics you may hear me write about: poverty, education, mental health, and sexual assault are all things I care deeply about.

One of the main reasons I’m writing for this blog is that I love to ask why. I want to know why we do things a certain way, why we say what we say, and especially, why we want what we want.

In fact, while I’m sitting here at my kitchen table, writing this blog post and eating my baby carrots, I have a sinus infection. I find that pretty annoying. My ears have a constant crackling noise like someone is unwrapping a twinkie right next to them, my head feels like someone is blowing up a balloon inside it, and my teeth feel like someone is beating them from behind with one of those carrots. As I’m sure you understand, I want to get better. I want to be healthy!

But, because I can’t stop myself from asking questions, a little voice in the back of my head says to me “Why do you want to be healthy? What is health even for?” Shoot. That one made me think. But I have what I think is a pretty good answer: I want to be healthy because then I don’t have to experience this pain and discomfort which kind of sucks.

Then God puts a passage of scripture in my mind to remind me of my own selfishness.

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Romans 5:3-4

God tells me to rejoice in my suffering, not to lie here moaning about my pain and wishing it would end. God may use my suffering to build my character. Maybe he’ll use my illness to bring me in contact with a doctor who could be opened to Christ by my love for faith and medicine. Who knows? But here I am, shortsightedly wishing that my teeth didn’t hurt.

All the more, while God may use my suffering for good, I’m not sitting here thinking of how I could use my health for him. I’m not sitting here saying “God make me better so that I can serve you better.” I’m allowing health to become and end, rather than God himself. That my friends, is called the idolatry of health. It’s so easy to fall into, as my overly-pressurized sinus passages will attest to.

In any case, I hope this post made you think a little bit, laugh a little bit, or better yet ask God how he can use your health or lack of health.