“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her…” (CSB – Read the chapter)
“Another review for you this morning and a verse we’ve talked about before. This time a television medical drama. Entries in that particular genre are a dime a dozen these days. Each new TV season brings multiple new premiers. Today’s focal feature premiered in the U.S. in 2017 and is copied from a Korean series of the same name that ran for one season in 2013. It is an import I’m glad we’re able to enjoy. It falls in the plot pattern of past shows like Doogie Howser, M.D. and House where the main characters is just a bit different from everyone else. In this one he’s not a child genius or a jerk, he’s autistic. Let’s talk this morning about The Good Doctor.
Lisa and I started watching the show sometime in the middle of season two which meant we had to play catch-up for a while. That was actually pretty convenient as on-demand availability meant we didn’t ever have to wait on finding out what happened next. Now that we’re caught up it’s sometimes agonizing to have to wait a whole week to discover the fate of one character or another. But we keep coming back because we’re hooked.
The show is a fairly standard entry into the genre, but with a terrific team of writers and actors to make it rise to the top of the pile. The show features the adventures of Dr. Shaun Murphy, a young, autistic savant with a knack for understanding what’s going on in the human body better than just about anyone else. The broader cast lets the show deal with the standard relational drama elements that all modern shows include along with a litany of incredibly obscure medical maladies. it must be fun for the writers to go through a diagnostic handbook, find the most unlikely conditions, and fit the plot around them.
On the worldview side of things, the series started out really positive. Characters who were fundamentally dishonest and unaccepting of disabilities have learned to not only work with, but appreciate Shaun’s autistic penchant for brutal, if innocent, honesty. He can’t lie and doesn’t have much of an ability to separate personal from public leading to a variety of incredibly awkward work conversations. These are handled with a humor that keeps the show from being quite so drama-heavy as so many others in its group get.
The result, especially in the first season, was a lot of content for followers of Jesus committed to the Christian worldview to cheer. Now in the fourth season, things have slipped a bit into something more blandly progressive like so many shows today are. They’ve added four new characters including a gay, atheistic, formerly Hasidic Jewish man with a mountain of self-doubt on his shoulders, a surfer-dude, Pacific-Asian, openly polyamorous man who regularly makes positive arguments for the position (although they seem to be setting up a longer storyline of showing why that’s not actually a good position to take), and a professed Christian, black woman who carries a feminist chip on her shoulders and after struggling with and ultimately refusing to perform an abortion procedure (in a Catholic hospital which would have in no ways allowed such a thing to happen in the first place, but I’ll give the writers a pass on that one as portraying such a thing positively would have gotten the show canceled by the pro-abortion lobby), infuriatingly admits that she only struggled because she once had an abortion for the sake of advancing her career and carries absolutely no regret about it. The fourth woman has her own issues, but is relatively “normal” in ways the other three aren’t.
By now, though, you are perhaps wondering why a review of this particular medical drama began with a verse about husbands loving their wives from Ephesians. Because the most recent episode put this very thing on display in a way that turned out really good even as it maintained a tension between things the Christian worldview can celebrate and those it must protest.
The episode was all about relationships. This is a common theme for the show that usually involves the doctors learning about how to more successfully navigate their own relationships from watching how patients navigate theirs. Specifically, it was about people changing in relationships and whether or not that makes long-term, monogamous relationship desirable or even possible.
There were two main patient characters. The first was a man suffering from a mystery illness the team discovers is the result of his allowing some Chinese medical scientists to perform a CRISPR genetic editing procedure on his body in an attempt to extend his life indefinitely. The other was a woman who had a rare condition that made her susceptible to getting cancer over and over and over again.
On the relationship front, the man is there with his committed girlfriend who plans to join in his efforts to live forever as soon as it looks like the CRISPR procedure worked on him. The woman is there with her husband, a venture capitalist who lives for his job.
At the start, the woman and her husband look like they are heading directly for a divorce. They love each other, but he’s terrified of losing her and throws himself more and more into his work to avoid facing that reality. He even goes so far as to take a work call while the doctors are in evaluating her in the beginning. It gets bad enough that one of the doctors, thinking she’s doing both husband and wife a favor, counsels him to plan to divorce her, but to plan to do it once she’s through this round of cancer so he doesn’t leave her high and dry while she needs him most. It was a really depressing scene.
The other couple seems to be totally in it for the long haul. I mean the looooong haul. They are confidently planning to continue tinkering with their DNA until they are able to live–and love–together for a thousand years.
Then comes the switch.
The man tinkering with his DNA through a CRISPR procedure (which, happily, the whole medical team unequivocally denounced as utterly stupid of him to do, although they did so without reference to its obvious ethical issues) begins to experience an unforeseen side effect in the form of a condition that will leave him experiencing incredible pain all the time without any real recourse.
When his otherwise committed girlfriend (not wife, which I found to be significant by the end of the episode) finally calls a halt to his obvious and growing longevity insanity, things get tense. The medical team figures out a way to reverse his procedure and cure his side effect. She wants him to take it and has changed her mind entirely on joining him in tinkering with her DNA for the sake of living longer. But she still wants to be with him and have him with her. He, however, can’t let go of his vision of living forever. She tells him to choose and he does: not her. It’s a tragic moment reflecting how a false belief can lead us to terrible ends.
Meanwhile, it appears the woman with cancer is going to be alone sooner rather than later. Her husband hadn’t signed up for this kind of a change to his world (minus, of course, the whole “in sickness and health” thing), and is going to continue pulling away to avoid the pain of losing her until he actually does lose her. But, this will be better for both of them as it will allow them to avoid the pain of going through this thing she will face together. She can get help from someone else and he can move on with his life. In the climax moment then, the doctor who counseled a divorce (and who is badly jaded when it comes to relationships generally) is pushing the woman to the exit where she assumes the cab her husband sent while he attended a business meeting will be waiting to take her home, when suddenly the husband walks in the front door of the hospital. With fear, relief, and love in his eyes he tells her that he’s quit his job so that he can recommit to being the husband she needs for the journey that lies ahead of them. He was so afraid of losing her that he quit loving her.
These moments are why I keep watching the show. Where it looked like the show was going to take a cynical, fatalistic approach to relationships, we find something that as followers of Jesus we can cheer. While the man striving for immortality loved his girlfriend, he was not committed to her. His real love and commitment was himself. And yet our culture treats the kind of relationship they had as on the same par as the relationship between the actual husband and wife. They are simply different approaches to relationships and one is not better than the other, or so we are told. And yet, the kind of selflessness we see in the husband in the end is not engendered by a relationship that isn’t held together by any kind of a commitment beyond a strong emotional attachment.
As husbands, the kind of love we are commanded to have for our wives is a covenantal love. This is not a love primarily rooted in feeling (although is it obviously not devoid of feelings), but in an intentional commitment to our wives rooted in our prior commitment to Christ. We courageously, selflessly, and insistently honor this commitment no matter what twists and turns life may bring. We don’t do it because she is particularly worthy of such a thing (she’s not and we aren’t either). We do it because that’s what our God has done for us and our job as her husband is first and foremost to make her more reflective of Jesus. Without such a commitment from us, her journey to hitting that mark will be much longer and more arduous than it would be otherwise. This kind of love isn’t easy. In fact, without a commitment to Christ it is all but impossible to give. But challenges aside, it is better than the weak alternative our culture offers us.
At the end of this episode, the man who wanted to live forever had a story that ended in tragedy. He was striving to have the world, but he lost his soul. And, not only was he probably not going to have the world, his efforts resulted in a life of unbelievable and unending pain. Meanwhile, the faithful husband gave up what he thought mattered most because of the protection it gave him from the pain he feared to face. The result was going to be a painful journey that may have yet ended in sorrow in the short term, but it was a journey that was going to be marked be a sacrificial love that made it more than worthwhile. He made the wiser choice. We would do well to follow suit.