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“What are the odds?”

The question comes up when we want to know how favorable are our chances of winning, whether with financial dealings, sports, or with a challenge to our health.  The more dire the circumstances, the more we want to know our “chance” of success.   Ten percent?  Thirty?  Fifty-fifty?  What chance do I have of beating schizophrenia, of pulling out of depression or addiction, of leading a “normal” life once again?

“Tell me, doc”… and then I’ll have an emotional reaction to a number … a number that could be wrong.

Whether you have an outlook informed by scripture or not, you don’t need to know the odds to “win.” A recent Psychology Today blog post¹ by psychiatrist Adrian Preda, who teaches at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine, challenges the practice of presenting negative odds to patients diagnosed with symptoms of schizophrenia.  He gives four reasons.

First, he sees little benefit in “presenting the numbers as representing a life sentence” especially since no doctor can tell which patient will recover or not out of the percentage rate usually quoted.

Second, he believes doctors should “emphasize that our knowledge does not allow at this time for a 100% guaranteed prediction.”  Scientific and medical discoveries have yet to be made which could lead to healthy outcomes, perhaps sooner than anyone can predict.

Third, he does not believe “it is either helpful or in the spirit of the Hippocratic oath to take away hope.”

Fourth, he sees a tendency in physicians to assign patients to a “treatment resistant” category when none of the medications prescribed worked; treatment resistance equates to “there is no hope.”  In Preda’s opinion, too many doctors give up  without trying other interventions, some of which are helping patients who had not yet shown improvement.

Preda presents a point of view that sounds similar to what many followers of the Old and New Testaments already believe.  In the taking of Jericho, part of the promised land, Joshua and Caleb had to persuade the Israelites that God was greater than their enemy.  The Israelites wept in the presence of “giants” in the land and what looked like impenetrable walls around the city.  Their faith-filled leaders admonished them:  don’t fear what you see and don’t dismiss God’s promises to you.  “The Lord is with us: fear them not” (Numbers 14:9).

The physical odds sounded like 10-90 against God’s people, or in their words, “We’re gonna die!”  They eventually did claim their promised land through much tribulation and many steps of victory.  Oddly– to our way of thinking— God preferred they enter into many of their battles with odds set against them so he could show himself mighty on their behalf.  He wanted the people and the nations to see that he was the one omnipotent God who ruled above all other gods, idols, and powerful rulers worshipped by men. He could topple them all.  Truly God.  100% God.

We walk by faith, not by sight (II Cor. 5:7) sums up how much value those who believe in God place on the odds quoted to them.  Ultimately God reigns over all our circumstances and he’ll skew the man-made numbers any way he wants.  Our lives are in his hands.

Trust God and give him thanks for every medical tool that eases suffering, since God is the giver of all good gifts. Thank him for giving the gift of intelligence to doctors to search out remedies.  Thank him especially for the willingness of men and women to offer relief and kindness when we are at our worst and at our weakest.  When “the odds” are against us.


¹ “Schizophrenia, Neuroleptics, and the Illusion of Treatment Resistance” by Adrian Preda, M.D.  Psychology Today, March 8, 2012.  http://mypsychologytoday.com