You would never suspect it from his appearance–tall, pleasant smile, brushed back white hair–someone’s “Grandpa Mike,” you imagine (not his real name). Nothing he does betrays his secret either, as we work side by side in occupational therapy this morning, here at Rehab Hospital in Houston’s western suburb of Katy. Suddenly Mike grimaces and a look of pain crosses his face. “It’s so frustrating,” he says. “Completely hopeless.” He cannot hear, Mike tells me, but he reads lips some. He speaks but without context. He is too blind to read–but not too blind to see things not there. Tormenting hallucinations plague him relentlessly. Wild animals suddenly pop up indoors and out. Domestic animals lie in wait everywhere. Mike cannot complete a sentence, he tells me, without interruption by people he does not know, people who are not there.
I touch his shoulder gently, completely at a loss for words. Finally words come. “I’m so sorry,” I say, “and I believe that God is sorry, too.” “God?” Mike says softly. “I think I am an atheist. At least that is what I have always said.” Now a smile tugs at my face, a visible symbol of the affection in my heart for this new friend. “I believe that God is here,” I reply. He knows you, even if you do not know him. God made you, and he wants you to live as his child. Are you willing to believe?” Mike says that he is willing. He has no great difficulty believing in God, he explains. It’s the “second level” that bothers him–the competitive array of world religions, each claiming to be the best if not the only true pathway to God. He recently heard a well-known Christian preacher say on television that only those who profess faith in Jesus Christ as the only way to God can be saved. “What do you think?” he asks. Had Mike rejected Jesus, I wonder, or only one who claimed to represent him?
“I believe that Jesus Christ alone presents us to the Father,” I begin. “The sacrifice that Jesus made is sufficient to set the whole world right with God. Because God is the judge and we are not, only he knows all the people whom he will save through Jesus’ sacrifice.” It is not our business to judge, I am about to say next, although we can know that everyone who trusts in Jesus has eternal life now and will enjoy it forever. It appears that Mike is hearing very little that I am saying. We sit together several more times during meals and try to converse, but with very little success. “I do not know what is happening to me,” my new friend says. “These hallucinations–this deafness–what is going on?” he wonders. He has a girlfriend in an Atlantic state, he tells me. She is addicted to drugs and to gambling, but he thinks she loves him. What is he doing in Texas?
I tell him that God is real and knows him. I believe that God brought him to Texas so I could tell him that he is loved by God, and tell him about Jesus who gives us eternal life. But Satan’s barriers–deafness, blindness, hallucinations–hinder our efforts to communicate. Finally we simply sit together in silence. Frustrated, Mike bows his head, his eyes shut in hopelessness. The final times we crossed paths were at meals. I touched his shoulder. He opened his eyes and we both smiled. How much had he heard? What will God do with that? I pray that he will see a good heart, remember Jesus with whom he is very well pleased, and find a way to bring Mike home to himself. The words from Ephesians ring in my mind: “Having no hope and without God in the world.” It is not an accusation. It is the heart-wrenching description of people whom we encounter every day.