Recently, my parents and I were watching a very creepy episode of the criminal drama “Bones” when a familiar name was mentioned by the characters, Galen.
Galen is one of the most well-known physicians of history. In his lifetime he was able to make huge leaps and bounds, specifically in the fields of anatomy, physiology, pathology, and neurology. He lived in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, traveling all over the world in his pursuit of knowledge, but spending most of his life in the Roman Empire. By trade, he was a physician. After gaining a bit of renown, he came to be the personal physician of multiple Roman emperors.
During his long career, Galen made many MAJOR discoveries. Many of his discoveries have continued to be critical in our modern understanding of human anatomy, such as:
- A more accurate description of the spine
- Identifying the Central Nervous System
- Proving urine came from the kidney instead of the bladder
- Discovering arteries carry blood, not gaseous air
- Demonstrating there are 2 types of blood, bright red/dark red (now known to be oxygenated (arterial) and deoxygenated (venous))
Galen published hundreds of works on the experiments he conducted that were taken as the gold standard for centuries. It wasn’t until about the 16th century that many of his other claims were challenged and turned out to be false. (You can’t expect a 2nd cent. scientist to get EVERYTHING correct)
Part of what allowed the scientists of the 16th century to come to a better understanding of human anatomy than Galen was their ability to conduct human dissections. At the time of Galen’s work, dissections and work with human cadavers were considered taboo and widely illegal. This makes Galen’s discoveries even more impressive in my book. Most of his experiments were performed on animals. (The episode of Bones pointed to his work with Barbary apes)
Many similarities can be drawn between the anatomy of animals and humans. That is why we still have animal experimentation today. Luckily for Galen, he found a way to work around the rules so that he did not SOLELY work on animals. As I said, he was a physician to many prominent characters of the Roman Empire, but before his rise to fame he became physician to the gladiators of the Temple of Pergamon’s High Priest. (Pergamon was his hometown)
As I’m sure you’re aware, the gladiator fighting of the Roman era was brutal and often deadly for the fighters. Many see this aspect of human civilization as barbaric and cruel. These men fought each other against their will just for the entertainment of the nobility. Galen was able to help these men. He was able to heal their wounds. Unfortunately, this meant that they were then able to go back and fight some more. Galen tried to gain as much understanding of the human body from these interactions as possible. He saw the gladiators’ wounds as “windows,” allowing him to see different functions of the human body. This was a huge gift to Galen’s growing knowledge of the human anatomy that would influence physicians to this very day.
It is undeniable that the gladiators of Rome were a terrible part of history, one that all of us have learned about in school. It is a shame that those same history classes (most likely) did not share with you the brilliant work of this physician who not only helped heal these men but gained so much knowledge for the world. He was able to find good and amplify it in those dark times.
This is such a powerful lesson for us. It is one we all need to hear during this pandemic when many of us are depressed or heartbroken from loss of job or loss of family members. Recently, I have really felt the weight of isolation, and it can be soul-crushing. Whatever it is that you are going through, it is important to know that God is with you and that there can be good again in the future. This train of thought reminds me of verse 5 of Psalm 30…
(Actually, it made me think of the praise and worship song “Trading My Sorrows”, but the lyrics were taken from this verse)
Throughout scripture, God doesn’t promise that we will never encounter hard times. Time and again the people of the Bible are in pain and hurting. The Lord promises that He has something greater planned for you than just that pain. Just like with Galen and the gladiators, the Lord can bring something good from even the darkest situations in your life too. While you are knee deep in that sorrow, this isn’t always the most reassuring message. In times like this, you can grow angry, maybe asking God why He couldn’t have just prevented the pain in the first place. It is honestly one of the greatest mysteries we have to wrestle with.
Although we may question why God allows us to endure pain, we as Christians must continue to trust in God’s love for us. It is infinite and everlasting. I say this like it is easy, but I know it is not. Trusting in God, especially when things are difficult is one of the hardest things to do. Currently in a pandemic, constantly worrying about my pregnancy, living mostly in isolation, I often do not feel joyful. I often fail to see the joy that “comes in the morning”. While I stand in that darkness, it is hard to trust that God will continue to protect me.
This may sound silly since I have been kept safe from the worst of this pandemic. My husband and I have remained healthy. In just a few months I’ll have the joy of my child’s birth. And even though I don’t see them very much, I have wonderful friends and family. By all accounts I am very fortunate. That doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with trust. However, I DO continue to work on trusting God. Every day I work to grow in that trust. Every day I strive to be more like this verse from Psalms:
I will continue to pray for whatever struggles you are encountering or whatever struggles lay in your future. I pray that you will continue to work towards complete trust in God, in everything you do. I hope that you will pray for me too. May we all one day have no fear of bad news, for our trust is in the Lord.