Epiphany in India
Seeing God's Power in India
The power and magnitude of God is not an isolated thing, and it was on another continent that I was reminded of the undeniable truth of God’s hand in human creation. As I observed the incredible durability of the engine that sustains human life – the heart –my faith in God was profoundly reinforced.
Between 2002 and 2007, I made fifteen trips to India for New York Life. Those trips were necessary due to a partnership we had established with MaxIndia, a highly respected health-care company that owned clinics and hospitals throughout India. MaxIndia did everything possible to help maintain a good relationship with us, even though we were allowed only a 24 percent ownership interest in the partnership and didn’t have a voting majority on the governing board. Despite the management challenges, frequent visits allowed us to successfully oversee the company remotely.
Initially, I had concerns about traveling so frequently to such a distant land with such a different regulatory, legal, and cultural environment. I had also heard stories about infrastructure problems, poor water quality, and extensive and pervasive poverty, all of which added to my concerns. It wasn’t long before I saw that everything I had heard was true.
But despite the multitude of serious issues besetting the country, India’s economy was booming, the financial services industry was thriving, and New York Life’s growth in life insurance sales was astounding. In the first five or six years of operation in the country, we more than doubled new sales each year and our staff had grown from a handful of people to more than 10,000 agents and employees. This was one of our greatest global success stories and I was pleased to be an important part of it.
I also grew to love India and its ambitious and industrious people, but it took several visits before I could fully appreciate the vibrancy of the culture, the people, and the rapidly expanding economy. I never fully adjusted to the highly visible and unavoidable signs of abject poverty in both the urban and rural areas. The only exception seemed to be the most affluent communities in the larger cities, but even there I was never more than a few minutes from the less fortunate majority of the population. I was pleased that New York Life felt a social obligation to contribute to various charitable causes in the country, and on many of my visits I was delighted to present checks to local adoption agencies and other worthy nonprofit organizations. I prayed often for the people of India and looked forward to each trip there, realizing that through this business arrangement I had found a way to express my faith and to do God’s work.
A Special Invitation
After one of our board meetings, MaxIndia Chairman Analjit Singh invited me to visit the newest and most technologically advanced cardiac hospital in New Delhi. As we walked into the attractive and modern atrium of the hospital entrance, Analjit asked if I wanted to observe a surgical procedure. At first I was reluctant; I wasn’t sure how I might react to the sight of blood during open-heart surgery. However, I suspected I’d be observing from a surgical amphitheater at least ten or twelve feet above the operating table, and I figured I could easily step back or look away if I felt the least bit uneasy. Moreover, I was excited by the prospect of witnessing something few people ever have a chance to observe. So with my amphitheater-facilitated escape mechanism in mind, I enthusiastically agreed.
After a brief tour of the facility and an interesting meeting with the hospital’s chief of staff and one of its most prominent surgeons, I was taken into a pre-surgery scrub room. There, along with doctors preparing for surgery, I was asked to remove all of my clothing, to scrub my hands and arms, and to don a surgical gown, mask, hat, and booties. These were not precautions that would be required for viewing from an amphitheater! My heart raced, my blood pressure soared. However, I also was a bit disappointed: no doubt the view of the procedure from a poorly positioned location in the operating room would be inferior to what I’d see from an elevated position in the amphitheater.
After scrubbing and dressing, I was shown into an operating room where a quadruple bypass surgery was already in progress. To my shock and surprise, the hospital official who escorted me into the room asked the anesthesiologist who stood at the head of the operating table to step aside so I could stand right next to the table. What happened next was profoundly moving.
As I nervously approached and stood between the cardiac monitoring devices by the patient’s head, I had a fleeting thought about legal liability and how a nonmedical visitor in the United States would never be allowed to get this close to an active surgical procedure. My stomach was literally no more than two inches from the top of the patient’s head, and I was very conscious of avoiding any contact with him or the monitoring devices. I clasped my hands behind my back and held them tightly together for fear that I might touch something I wasn’t supposed to touch.
On my right, stood the chief surgeon and an assistant surgeon, and on my left, the chief surgical nurse and an assistant surgical nurse. The anesthesiologist was right behind me watching the cardiac monitors. She had moved to make room for me, and no one else noticed or acknowledged my presence as they worked methodically on the patient.
Having taken a moment to get my bearings after inserting myself into this unique and somewhat uncomfortable environment, I finally glanced at the patient’s open chest cavity to observe, directly in front of me and no more than eighteen inches from my nose, a regularly and methodically beating heart on which the surgeons were sewing the final few sutures. I stared in amazement, totally engrossed and enthralled.
Witnessing An Open Surgery First-hand
My heart rate soared as I observed the beating heart in front of me. What a marvel of medical science such a surgery was possible. Who first thought he could cut open a chest cavity and tamper with the human heart without killing the patient in the process? What skill it took and what daring to perform such a surgery for the first time. How many patients were lost in the process of educating and developing these skilled practitioners? And then I thought how the litigious environment in the United States was probably stifling the advancement of medical science by creating deterrents to experimentation with innovative new procedures and techniques.
However, my most moving and enduring reaction to this wonderful experience was a profoundly spiritual one—one I had clearly not expected when I first nervously entered the operating room. Standing next to the patient, I suddenly realized that I was not nearly as amazed by the work of the surgeons and the advancement of medical science as I was by God’s creation.
In front of me, a fully exposed human heart beat continuously and regularly for twenty or thirty minutes without missing a thump while surgeons confidently finished their work. Even an unhealthy heart could beat continuously for seventy or eighty years, or even longer. The heart never takes a break, not even when we’re sleeping. I began to weep as I suddenly realized that for me this experience was not about technology or the advancement of medical science in India—this was about creation. God’s creation.
What makes that happen? What is the underlying source of life? And how can anyone deny the existence of a divine creator?
As I watched the heart before me, I knew this could not possibly happen by chance. We have yet to find even a single-cell form of life on any other planet, yet the earth is teaming with life. There are more living cells in a teaspoon of our pond water or soil than there are in the rest of the known universe. And here on this operating table was the highest form of life: a man with many highly complex organs, only one of which I was observing. There are so many other marvelous aspects to creation in both the animal and plant kingdoms, and for this one moment in India, I was given a close look at perhaps the most marvelous of all God’s created life forms and its life-sustaining engine: the human heart.
There have been several moments in my life when I very palpably felt the presence of God; this was one of them. During such moments, I often cried with joy, and this was no exception. I fought back the tears out of concern that they might run down my cheeks and drip onto the patient’s head. Fortunately, my soft cotton surgical mask absorbed the tears that couldn’t be suppressed. In that fleeting but memorable moment, I realized how God was vividly revealing to me the wonder of creation. As a businessman originally trained in mathematics and probability, it is much harder for me to believe that somehow humans randomly evolved from an amoeba than it is to believe that this was God’s handiwork and grand design.
God opened my eyes and my mind and renewed my faith when I saw Him and His glorious creation reflected by a human heart that day in New Delhi, India. It’s an experience that has changed my perspective on life forever.
On that memorable visit to India, the wonder of God’s marvelous creation was revealed to me in a way that profoundly impacted my faith. It occurred in a setting I never could have imagined myself in—a sophisticated cardiac facility that I never would have believed existed amid the poverty and deprivation around me.
In my many years on this planet, how often I have missed the opportunity to marvel at the wonder of God’s creation in the cosmos, in plants, in animals, and in human creation. What a shame that I have toiled through my daily life without reflecting on, or even recognizing God’s creation and the intricacies and beauty of my existence and the things I am privileged to experience through my five senses.
Every person reading these words has multiple opportunities daily to briefly stop what they’re doing and catch a glimpse of God and His creation. What in nature, within your eyesight right now exists anywhere else in the known universe? Do you believe it all came about by chance? Do you not marvel at the wonder of what God has made? Can you relate to Paul’s admonition to the Romans that foolish hearts can be darkened to the realities of God’s existence and divine creation? I certainly can! Paul says we have no excuse to miss it; but so many of us do!
I have known several people who have recovered from life-threatening accidents or illnesses who are eager to share how they now live life and perceive their surroundings differently. They now more fully appreciate and acknowledge God’s creation. Don’t wait for a near-death experience to receive that joy and to share it with others. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, warns about the foolishness of those who don’t recognize the undeniable existence of God as revealed in creation.
Comments from the Original Post
Thanks to Prime creator who developed the unknown entities to human eye or technology, sustaing the life in the universes.
Love you and admire you Master…
Marlene Sommer 9.17.13
God is irrefutably revealing His love, creation, and lessons on life through you. Fred, you are a modern day disciple hand selected to share the multitude of experiences given to you throughout your life to teach others about the undeniable existence of God. I have worked in an optometry practice as my career and I still marvel daily at the eye, just like the miraculous heart. The anatomy of this organ alone makes me know there has to be a divine Creator. Thanks for sharing another awe-inspiring experience!
Dominic Selvarajoo 12.22.12
God loved the world so much and send Jesus to save us, to be with him for all eternity.AMAZING GOD INDEED.Caring for us and sustaining the heart-beat till we meet GOD face to face in the next world and rewarding us as co-creaters in the Universe.
This piece made me think of Psalms 139:14. It simply resounded the message from ancient times to eternity. Thank you and God bless you.
Jeff and Lu, and Matt and Dani, and Bethany too, I check the blog occasionally, but ulnike FB, etc it doesn’t jump in my face at every turn. It’s been a while, and I thought I was keeping up, but I was chatting with Cory late/early one night/morning (2am) and he mentioned your surgery. Whoa. So happy and relieved to hear that it went as well as expected. Can’t believe they fit you with a prosthesis in the OR?! Wow.I think I’d be like you; considering all options, but hoping for the best. Still, I’d keep the worst possible scenario as a possibility. Maybe to lessen the shock or prepare? Cory tends to think this way also. Don’t know if he got it from me, or I from him, but we’ve got it. Other son Adam told me I was a pessimist for thinking that way. I told him, No, I’m a realist. I expect very little, and when nice things happen, it’s a wonderful surprise! Please know that I have kept you all in my prayers as you’ve been living with this challenge. I know God is working in you, even if we don’t know His real intention. You have been a demonstration of strength and more so, acceptance and understanding. I will continue to pray for all of you for strength, courage and determination. Prosthetic or not, it’s not going to slow you down! Take care!! Pam and Dale Faris
Fred Sievert 3.30.12
Harry and Skip – It is indeed an honor to have two world-class scholars and preachers comment on this story. Thank you for sharing your thoughtful reactions!
Skip Masback 3.21.12
Your reflection reminded me of the Apostle Paul’s majestic first chapter in his letter to the Romans. Paul acknowledges that God’s eternal power and divine nature are invisible, and yet, he proclaims that these may still be understood and seen through the things God has made. Indeed, Paul writes, “…what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.”
Of course, the trick is to have the grace, as you so clearly did in India, to recognize the mystery and majesty of God in the midst of creation. As Albert Einstein wrote, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing were a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” 14th Century writer Julian of Norwich wrote, “The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.”
I thank God for the “eyes” he gave you to see His presence in the mystery of a beating heart, and for the inspiration to share your moving testimony. Thank you. Skip
Harry Attridge 3.19.12
Many thanks for these warm reflections on special moments of the presence of God. For me the night sky ablaze with the light of a billion stars seen from the deck of a boat or a quiet country porch has often, as the Psalmist said, spoken to me of the glory of God. But God speaks in so many ways through the marvels of creation, in all of its highly evolved complexity.