Dealing with the Death of a Patient: Help for Christian Doctors


AUDIO VERSION: YouTube  Podbean

Whenever you find yourself feeling emotionally overwhelmed, peace of soul is found through focusing on essential truths about who God is and how He operates. When it comes to processing the death of your patient, there are several critical truths to bear in mind, and we will discuss these in this post.


Set aside all of the guilt and grief you’re feeling for a moment, and let’s talk about what actually happened. God killed your patient. Now is it wrong to stick the burden of responsibility onto God like this? Not at all. God is quite clear that He is the only One with the power to separate soul from body, so to say that someone else actually did the killing is ludicrous. At best, people can attempt to kill each other, but they are incapable of making their attempts successful. For that, they need God’s help, and God does not kill anyone until He has decided that their tour through earth has been completed.

The notion that your patient died prematurely is utterly erroneous, and one that comes from us not seeing the Divine plan. God never made some sweeping guarantee that we’d all live to a ripe old age. While this is certainly the way we’d like things to be, He has been killing people off at all ages since this world began. In the Bible, we find accounts of God announcing His intentions to kill both young children and even the unborn in mass numbers. When He makes those grisly references to pregnant women being ripped open by swords, He isn’t describing a moment in which Satan seizes temporary control over His universe. On the contrary, He is prophesying His intentions to selectively kill off various individuals while being quite precise about His methods of murder.

When it comes to death, God is very clear about His control over the entire process. Many times in the Bible, we find references to Him predicting how He will slaughter large masses of people, and He is also quite precise about how He will kill them. Some will be chopped down by swords. Some will be attacked by wild animals. Others will die of starvation. Still others will die of disease. And then there are the survivors—because God frequently preserves a remnant even in the most horrific accounts of mass slaughtering. The point is that nothing about death or mode of death is accidental. It is all quite intentional. So then, how did your patient die? What was their particular ailment? How long did they suffer? How intense was their misery? All of these factors are controlled by God. It isn’t a shirking of responsibility to acknowledge this—it’s an alignment with truths that God has always taught.

This business of trying to pretend human beings are the masters of their own fates is utterly irreverent. For every suicide attempt that succeeds there are many more which God botches. Two patients come down with the same virus at the same time and one recovers while the other dies. The medical community wants to chalk it up to a difference in genes and other health factors. Fine, but where did your patients get their genetic makeup? Who arranged for them to have or not have various extra stresses on their immune system? Nothing happens by accident in God’s universe, and you do not control God. Yet to blame yourself for the death of your patient is tantamount to saying that you did control God. Your guilt tells you that this death shouldn’t have happened, and yet it did. Why? Apparently you forced God into a corner with your choices and He was coerced into doing what He didn’t want to do because you are so formidable. Do you see what’s wrong with this logic? It’s utterly absurd. You do not override God, and He alone has the power to separate soul from body. So there’s only one reason your patient died, and that’s because God wanted him to. The question now is how are you going to respond to God doing something that you disapprove of?


You didn’t want your patient to die. In your mind, there is something unfair about this entire situation. Well, you’re welcome to your opinion, but clearly God disagrees with you because your patient is dead. If you had your way, this would not be the case. But because you are not in charge, God has done what He wants to do, and He will always say that His choices are far wiser than yours.

To go down the road of “I should have” is only going to distract you from the real issue at hand. The bottom line is that God has done something that you don’t like and you’re very upset about it. This is very human, but it’s also very good. If you’re ever going to progress to deep levels with God, you need to experience Him doing things that you adamantly disagree with. Why? Because it is only in the context of disagreement that submission becomes possible, and submission is vital to relating to God.

In your relationship with God, you’re not dealing with a fellow human. You’re relating to a totally alien Being who is infinitely superior to you in every way imaginable. There’s no balance of power in this relationship—He has all the power and you have zilch. He has all of the autonomy, while you have all of the need. He can function without you, but you can’t function without Him. This is a very imbalanced, utterly foreign dynamic which requires a vastly different approach. Try to relate to God as you would another human and you won’t get anywhere. Try to treat other humans the way you need to treat God and you’ll have a royal mess on your hands. Your relationship with God is unique—it is one which you must learn to treat differently than you do all other relationships in your life. Only with God is it appropriate to cultivate soul attitudes like absolute trust, total submission, deep reverence, and absolute dependency. These four attitudes are essential to developing a strong bond with God, and the more you practice them, the better off you’ll be. But you can’t practice submission until you find yourself disagreeing with God about something. And the depth of your submission will be a direct result of how intense your disagreement is. There’s simply a limit to how much you have to struggle to accept God doing something you don’t prefer versus accepting a decision He makes which shatters your heart with pain. When you find yourself overwhelmed with grief over the loss of a patient who you were very invested in saving, you need to recognize what’s really going on.

If it upsets you, it’s about you. This isn’t just about a patient dying, it’s about you making a choice about how you’re going to respond to God as the Supreme Authority in your life. You hate what He did. You might be trying not to face how angry you are at Him by blaming yourself, but once you let go of this delusion that you have the power to transfer souls on to eternity, you will no longer have a shield to hide behind. God took your patient because He decided that your patient’s tour through earth was complete. Maybe He allotted them many years, maybe only a few, or maybe your patient lived only a matter of days. Whatever the case, you didn’t create that person, you didn’t own them, and it wasn’t your to call how much time they would spend on this earth. These things are all God’s to decide, and He has a different plan for every soul. He could have warned you ahead of time that your patient would die, but really, why should He? He’s God, He doesn’t need to run His decisions past you, and to get you all focused on His plan for someone else is quite unproductive.

God wants you to focus on your own walk with Him, and to help you with that, He intentionally leaves you in the dark about what He’s doing with everyone else. All you need to understand is that He is the Creator of all things, not just some things, and as such, He can do whatever He wants with His own creations. But He is also good in Character, and quite purposeful in what He does. He had good reasons for taking your patient when He did. Why doesn’t He share those reasons with you? Because for you, they are irrelevant. It’s not your place to pass judgment on God’s decision process. What matters between you and God is how you choose to respond to Him exercising His Supreme Authority. Yes, He took a life—a life which He Himself created. You don’t like it. He doesn’t expect you to like it, but He does command you to submit to His Authority, so how are you going to respond? If you are wise, you will choose the route of submission, and that means praying something like this:

“God I am really struggling to accept what You’ve done here. It hurts, and I can’t make any sense of it. But I understand that You are the Supreme Authority and that my patient was Your property. Help me to accept Your will in this situation. I know You are using this situation to challenge me in my own relationship with You. Help me to deepen my submission to You and trust in Your goodness so that I can find peace and let go of this pain.”

When God does something we hate, there is only one path to peace. It isn’t a diversion of blame, and it isn’t a denial of God’s involvement in the situation. These things can make you feel a little better right now, but they’ll only amplify your misery in the long term. If you want to find true peace and actually benefit from this most difficult experience, you need to practice submission.


Now does God get how hard this is for you? Absolutely. It isn’t just your patient who God’s been micromanaging all this time—He’s been working with you as well. God controls the factors which cause you to become more bonded to some patients than others. He knows how to increase your emotional investment in a particular case. So you didn’t get here by accident. You’re here because God knows you are ready to push on to a deeper level of submission to Him.

While God is an incredible Multitasker who is always working on countless agendas at once, He doesn’t want you getting bogged down trying to guess what He’s doing with everyone else. Instead, He wants you to stay tunnel focused on your own walk with Him. Maybe you’re dealing with grieving family members. If God gives you the words, you’ll have words. If He doesn’t, there’s going to be some awkward moments. Either way, He is going to get you through and He is handling the other people who are affected by this situation. Right now there are many souls being called to practice submission to God. Some of them are going to refuse. Instead, they’ll choose to permanently wallow in grief or blame or guilt. They might even decide to cope by blaming you for things that only God has the power to do and then holding some hateful grudge (see What To Do When People Won’t Forgive You). You can’t control the choices that other people make, you can only control your own. But if you let God lead your choices and choose to practice submission, you’re going to end up in a far better place for having gone through this difficult experience. God brings trials into your life to help you, not tear you down. He is focused on what will be best for the long term health of your soul. You need to decide to trust His wisdom and His positive motivations towards you (see Practicing Dependency: Appreciating the Wisdom of God).

Submission to God means being willing to accept what He brings us and to fully release what He takes away. It is through our dealings with death that we come to realize that God is the only One we can count on to never leave us in life. He is the only Constant who remains with us from birth to death. Because of this, He is the One we need to be pursuing above all else. Developing our relationship with Him must be our first priority in life and that means practicing submission when He does things we dislike. It isn’t easy, but God understands this, and He is extremely compassionate towards us. When we ask Him to help us make the right choices in the midst of feeling overwhelmed by our emotions, He will honor our request. As dark as this situation seems, you need to realize that the ending has not yet been written. Your patient’s death can be the catalyst that pushes you on to a closer walk with God if you are willing to surrender yourself into His hands. So make the wise choice and do not settle for a life of perpetual regret and grieving.

Practicing Submission in the Way that We Pray
Why We Shouldn’t Mourn for the Dead