Tag Archives: heart

Hearts

Today, we’re going to learn about one of my favorite things: hearts. Specifically, we’ll be talking about heart transplants.

Pig heart from a lab in which I worked

There are various ways a heart can be damaged.

It can be born that way (congenital defects). From a medical and engineering standpoint, these defects are fascinating. Blood can take such strange pathways, and the surgeries and devices that have been made to correct such defects are technical marvels. From the standpoint of being a human being, they are heart breaking.
It can become that way. It can be injured in an accident or afflicted by cancer. It can be infected. Poor diet may harden the arteries, potentially causing heart attack and muscle death. The mitral valve can become floppy. The aortic valve can become calcified, sometimes giving a sickening crunch upon dissection. The heart may change shape to respond to other maladies and lose function as a result. The electrical circuitry can be blocked or go haywire. The heart can simply wear out from old age.
I could go on.

There are so many ways physicians can attempt to repair the human heart.
We can give scores of medicines. We can do corrective surgery, open-chest with a heart-lung machine or laparoscopically with a Da Vinci robot. We can reconnect mis-matched vessels and close up openings. We can repair valves. We can transplant valves and arteries – autologous, xenologous, or manufactured. We can implant a whole range of devices: stents, occluders, LVADs, RVADs, continuous flow, pulsatile flow, pacemakers, parachutes, catheters, rings, oh my goodness, the list goes on.

However, many of the devices listed above designed for end-stage heart failure are not approved as “destination therapies,” meaning they can only help support a patient while they wait for something better. There seems to be only one  thing that can “fix” a diseased human heart: a heart transplant. (The link is a video interviewing a transplant patient, not a video of the surgery itself. It’s very moving and informative.)
How wonder-ful is that? We have the best technology the world has ever known, and more comes out every day. Yet the best treatment we can offer a patient is to give them a new heart, a God-designed piece of technology that works better than anything.  Wow.

Now, in the original tradition of this blog, I now transition to extended metaphor.

Extended Metaphor

The human heart, the spiritual heart, is damaged. I have rebelled against God. I have sinned over and over again. People have sinned against me and wounded my heart. Each wound is like a slash across my heart, and a little bit of muscle dies. My repetitive sin slowly calcifies the valves and arteries of my heart, turning them to stone.

I can try to fix it. Oh, we humans are so creative! We can ignore our sin. We can cut our hearts out and lock them in a box where no one can hurt them. We can seek healing from parents, lovers, and friends. We can medicate with drugs, alcohol, sex, money. We can implant beautiful-looking devices: an extra evening church service, another Bible study, or praying 7 times a day. My goodness, the list is as long as human history.

But God designed the only remedy for the broken heart. And unlike a medical transplant, this healing is perfect. Not painless, but perfect (a topic for another entry).
Here is what has become my favorite passage:

I will give you a NEW HEART and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.
– Ezekiel 36:26-28 (emphasis mine)

God is in the business of heart transplants! (In a bit of irony, here we have a God who thinks he’s a cardiac surgeon!)

A NEW HEART! Look at that! Not just some petty medicine or a temporary device to help the old heart limp along. It’s a brand-new, perfectly beating, God-designed heart! And unlike the physically transplanted heart, this one won’t wear out and die. We have a new lease on life: eternal. life.

Lord, I thank you for this new heart that beats and bleeds and loves.  You are so good.

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Raising the Bar

Observation via RZIM:

The “old” command in Leviticus: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The “new” command in John: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

Impossible. Love people using this sinner’s heart in the same way God has loved me? What?!
But with the new command comes Christ, who is daily taking my heart of stone and replacing it with one of flesh, with a heart that can love people as He has loved me: completely and unconditionally.

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Aslan’s Claws

But the lion told me I must undress first…
So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out if it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I stated to go down into the well for my bathe.
But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just has they had been before… So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.
Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.
Then the lion said–but I don’t know if it spoke–”You will have to let me undress you.” I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it. The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt…

Thus Eustace relates his undragoning in C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

I feel a bit of kinship with Eustace. You see, my heart is becoming as calloused as Eustace’s dragony skin, or as calcified as the crunchy aortic heart valves I helped dissect. Oh, my heart used to be soft. It used to trust everyone and reach out to everyone and put on masks with no one.
Enter this year.

There are lessons to be learned from Eustace and, as always, from Aslan.
Aslan informs Eustace that he must undress before getting to bathe his aching dragon-arm in the healing waters. Aslan does not initially inform Eustace how to do so.
Eustace tries to undress by himself. After the first skin peels away, he says, “It was a most lovely feeling.” Oh, and it is. That first attempt to reignite your passion with God or to conquer an old, ugly sin feels quite good. We are so proud of ourselves for making the attempt and for whatever meagre progress we make.

But like all things we try to conquer in our own strength, the struggles come back. We assume that since we made some progress before, we’ll be able to do it again. Like Eustace, we scratch off the outer layer of our struggle and get that feeling of satisfaction again. And the problem resurfaces. And we scratch again.
And the problem resurfaces. And we scratch again.
And the problem resurfaces. And we scratch again.

Eventually we know our measly attempts aren’t doing any good. We keep going because it’s the only thing we know to do.

Then Aslan steps in. “You can’t do this on your own. Here, let me.”
His touch is rarely gentle. God’s hands can be like a lion’s claws. Like a fire burning the dross. Like a harsh wind on the chaff. Becoming sanctified hurts.

Eustace says, “The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling that stuff peel off. You know–if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”
(Having recently peeled off a particularly nasty scab, I know exactly what he’s getting at.)

It is pleasurable seeing God’s purifying work.

But I don’t know why Aslan waited for Eustace to peel off his skin. Was it because Eustace didn’t ask Aslan to help? Did Eustace simply not hear Aslan’s instructions? Did Eustace learn something incredibly valuable by trying so hard on his own? …and was that knowledge worth the wait? Did Aslan know Eustace wasn’t ready for the purifying power of Aslan’s claws?

I don’t know. Aslan, help.

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