During his 67 remarkable years, George Washington faced dangers that most of us only see in the movies. He survived small pox when he was 21. He had three horses shot out from under him in battle. He and his troops repeatedly escaped disaster only by the most fortunate of circumstances.
So, how did Washington finally die? His doctors did him in.
His precise cause of death is uncertain. Some think he contracted an infection of his epiglottis. Others believe it was an abscess on his tonsils. In either case, antibiotics would probably have cured him. More tragically, without the tortuous treatment from his doctors he might have survived anyway.
Doctors slit his wrists to drain a pint of blood from him every few hours, believing that would remove the infection. To further help “express” the inflammation, they placed scorching, wet cloths on his throat, blistering the skin. One wanted to cut his throat to bleed him more. Death may have been a welcome relief from the “help” he was getting.
Before we scoff, perhaps we should do a little introspection. Jesus cautioned that some religious folks, in their zeal for their cause, “travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are,” (Matthew 23:15).
Just as Washington’s doctors did more harm than good, Christians may sometimes cut instead of curing, hurt rather than heal. Like those doctors, we may mean well. And, like them, the harm we do may be simply a matter of not knowing any better. But the patient is still dead.
How do we avoid that mistake? How do we insure that we first do no harm?
Avoid bleeding people. Jesus already bled for all. The Pharisees were busy adding to people’s burdens, piling their own rules on top of God’s commands. Jesus, in contrast, came to help carry burdens, not to add to them.
Avoid blistering people with condemnation; they have been burned enough. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him,” (John 3:17).
Offer the antibiotic for sin. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Romans 6:23).
Most of all, love. “Love does no harm to its neighbor” (Romans 13:9-10).