William Somerset Maugham retells a pretty interesting ancient Mesopotamian story that has perpetually thrilled my imaginations. It is a popular story with excellent teachings. Maugham tells us of a merchant in Baghdad who sends his servant to the market to buy provisions. In a little while, the servant comes back, white and trembling, and says, “Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a strange creature in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me”. The servant goes on, ‘the creature looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.” The merchant lends him his horse, and the servant mounts it and then digs his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse can gallop he goes. Then the merchant goes down to the marketplace and sees the terrifying creature standing in the crowd. He moves closer and then says, “Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?” The creature replies, “That was not a threatening gesture. It was only a start of surprises. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”
This short story teaches us to embrace courage. We sometimes think we are jumping from the frying pan only to land in the fire. Occasionally, we take a turn that we believe will take us far to the land of imaginary peace only to find ourselves in the land of elusive peace.
It seems fear of death has ravaged mankind since time immemorial. And that is why we have hospitals, pharmacies and even sorcerers and wizards. It is one of the reasons I lock my door every night. It is one of the motivations behind buckling our seat-belts whenever we bode a bus.
Now, can you fancy living centuries ago? Those times when cosy homes consisted of caves. After a hard day of hunting for squirrels, chipmunks and hares, and gathering some guavas and mangoes, you return to your cave and plop down on a rock. Unfortunately, you forgot that your arrows and club were still in your back pocket and now you have a big scratch on your back!
What will you do? Bearing in mind the world of science had not advanced perse?
One of the things that would make me kickbox my mother when growing up, was the pronouncement of an imminent needle prick. An injection following bouts of malaria or pneumonia was never good news to me. In those days, injections were likelier than oral medication. An injection was a sure bet whenever I showed up in a hospital with chest pains, cough, chills and shortness of breath.
The struggles to free myself from the caring hands-turned harassing-hands of my mother would kick in as fast as a Nissan GT-R twin-turbo engine. If I was lucky enough, I would escape to the nearest toilet and lock myself inside.
I still get pygmy blues in my stomach when someone tells me I stretch my arm for blood sugar test prick. My fear is not that my blood would be found sugary but the thought of my skin being pricked is quite traumatising.
Apart from needle pricks, some oral medications would trigger nausea the moment I saw them. A good example is malaraquin (chloroquine). Swallowing this tablet would have made you wince your face like orangutan that has been stung on her lips by a wasp.
We cannot talk about medicines without mentioning Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, alias Paracelsus, who is regarded as the father of toxicology. And I am not going to dispute this as his name already sounds like a toxicant; a mutagen perhaps.
It is said that Paracelsus meant ‘equal to Celsus’ (referring to the Roman encyclopaedist Aulus Cornelius Celsus), and the change in his name was meant to be an indication of his desire to challenge ancient medical authorities such as Celsus and Galen. As a father of toxicology, he had to sire something resembling him. And he was lucky enough to have sired this widely acclaimed quote, ‘Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.’
The quote is popular in toxicology discipline, and I hold Paracelsus was right. I also think malaraquin tasted like poison whether it was in the right dosage or not.
Medicines come in different shapes, forms and sizes. Some are small pills that are easy to swallow. Others are huge pills that are hard to gulp down. Some are liquid syrups and still, others come as inhalants. Scientists put medicines in these varying forms so as to make them as effective as possible at getting to the source of our ailments.
These medicines contain both active and inactive ingredients. Inactive ingredients are those components that do not escalate or affect the therapeutic action of the active ingredient, which is usually the active drug. Inactive ingredients are added during the manufacturing process. They may include dyes, preservatives, and flavouring agents. They may also include agents that combine with active ingredients to facilitate drug transport in the body.
Therefore when we get medicines into our bodies, not only are we taking active but also inactive ingredients.
There are stuff within our external environments that can act as solutions to our internal problems. There are answers in the outside that can correspond to our inner questions. Some of these solutions and answers come with inactive ingredients. And most of the time, we bypass them because they contain the inactive ingredient. Least do we know that these inactive ingredients can make the work of the active ingredient easier.
God has put solutions around us. Answers are all over us. We see them, but they contain one thing we do not like. They are a blend of several agents that we think they are unnecessary and unprofitable to us.
God is the physician, and we are the patients (Matthew 9:12). He prescribes the medicine for us, for He is the only one who makes a precise diagnosis. Regrettably, we sometimes forget we are patients and start telling God what our medicine should be and what it should contain. How many times have we prayed out of our selfish motives?
Our problems in life persist because we mostly refuse to take medicines given to us by the qualified doctor, and demand we get want we want. It is no longer what we need, but what we want. Sometimes we even make unrealistic ultimatums. We ask the doctor to take back the medicine to the pharmaceutical so that the inactive ingredients can be removed.
Perhaps, the inactive ingredient in our medicine means putting a little effort in our businesses, working harder than usual, tapping into our creativity, sacrificing sleep hours and so forth.
Eventually, when we take the medicine, it must be transported around the body for it to be effective. That talks of our internal environment. Are our internal systems functional or dysfunctional?
A drug with a powerful active ingredient is useless to a body that cannot allow its movement around it. Our internal environment must be properly functioning for the medicine to get to the ailing part. Our bodies must be pumping blood for us to benefit from the drug.
Are our hearts capable of providing arable ground for a word of faith? Are our minds set and ready for the new solution (as offered by God) to our problems? Unexpectant heart and mind is barren land for germination and growth.
As the drug moves in the body, sometimes it causes unintended results: The side effects. The side effects will obviously make us momentarily uncomfortable. This is akin to getting solutions that God has placed in your surrounding but ‘unfortunately’ with some temporary discomforts. So when we fear taking medicines because of the side effects then it means the pain of sickness has not gotten the best of us. Excruciating pain will make you run for an injection!
Are we trying to arm-twist God into removing inactive ingredients from our medicines? Are we asking God to inject our corpses instead of resurrecting them? Are we interested in the healing power of the medicine and not its side effects?
The solutions and answers we need can be found within our external environment. But we need to have a functioning internal environment for them to work.