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Doctor Shares His Journey to Faith Treating End of Life Patients

A recent article in The Atlantic states that as a medical student Dr. Francis Collins found himself moving from agnostic to atheist. Collins said, “I would have challenged anybody who wanted to have some discussion about God. I would have asserted they were basically stuck in some past era of supernaturalism that is no longer necessary because science has eliminated the need for it.” But the time came as a third-year medical student when he found himself sitting at the bedside of people who had terrible illnesses that physicians were unable to help.

Dr. Collins went on to say:

Watching those individuals … at the end of their lives, I was trying to imagine what I would do in that circumstance. Many of these people were deeply committed to faith. I was unsettled to see how they approached the end of life. This was something that I personally was pretty terrified about. They had peace, and even a sort of sense of joyfulness that there was something beyond. It made me realize that I had never really gone beyond the most superficial consideration of whether God exists, or a serious consideration about what happens after you die.

Collins described one patient he had gotten pretty attached to:

She suffered from advanced cardiac disease, which included episodes of daily crushing chest pain. And yet she came through this all with remarkable peace and was very comfortable sharing the reason for that with me, namely her faith in Jesus. She looked at me in a quizzical way and said, “You know, doctor … You have listened to me talk about my faith, but you never say anything. What do you believe?” Just a very direct, very simple question, and it was like a thunderclap. That was the most important question I've ever been asked.

Collins later met a Methodist pastor, who “willingly tolerated my blasphemous questions and assured me that if God was real there would be answers.” It was this pastor who introduced Collins to the work of C.S. Lewis, starting with Mere Christianity.

“I realized … that most of my objections against faith were utterly simplistic. Here was an Oxford intellectual giant who had traveled the same path from atheism to faith, and had a way of describing why that made sense that was utterly disarming. It was also very upsetting. It was not the answer I was looking for.” And at age 27, Dr. Collins became a Christian.

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