I’ve seen the end of you - Will you pray, or despair, in your hour of need?
I’ve seen the end of you, by W. Lee Warren, M.D. is a stirring narrative, somewhat morbid yet very engaging. In this memoir book, Dr Warren tells us of some of his glioblastoma patients, which is in and of itself quite an emotionally demanding read. Alongside (or, rather, underneath) these stories, is the narrative of how he managed to re-engage with his faith despite all the pain he encounters.
Dr Warren has to face an intrinsic dilemma: how can he believe in the power of prayer, how can he have faith, when he has to face the irreversible death sentence of a brain tumour diagnosis? As he introduces each case, creating a window into the lives of these people on the brink of destruction, he presents repeated instances of spiritual struggle. How can God be merciful, how can he claim to be listening, if all those good people have no hope of survival?
Eventually, as he has to deal with personal loss, will he remain strong in his faith, or will he succumb to the anguish?
The author is unapologetic in his agenda, clearly stating what this tome is about from the onset, and dedicating a whole section at the end to expound on it: what Christian faith is, how the power of prayer works, and why they are valuable to our lives.
Who would enjoy this
This is a book for many types of readers.
If you are a reader who is struggling with the role of faith in your life, this might be useful to you. This is also a work for those who are interested in the more humane aspects of medical care. Above all, this is a book for mature readers, who will be able to understand and identify the different life struggles and stages the stories bring forth.
Who should give this a pass
If you are a reader who gets very emotionally invested in the story, this memoir might be a bit too demanding for you. Similarly, if you have recently suffered a bereavement, I would let a while pass before taking up this book. Most of all, if you don’t like being preached to, give this work a wide berth. As I explained above, the author makes a concerted effort to openly explore his Christian agenda.
Conclusions and suggestions
I found Dr Warren’s tales engaging and easy to read, as far as the narrative goes. On the other hand, the whole process was also quite hard, as it brought back all sorts of hidden personal demons. I must admit, it also made me feel slightly conflicted, as I stood morbidly observing the pain in others’ lives, like some sort of literary vulture. Still, it was engaging and I would have enjoyed reading about more cases, all of which were caringly presented.
It consequently left me uncertain how to approach the critique of this book, as well as somewhat guilty for not caring half as much for the religious aspect of the whole endeavour as I did for the stories of the patients. It became somewhat of a ‘broken record’ when the soul searching popped up, case after case. In fact, it left me quite jaded for the final section of the book, when Dr Warren explores in a more pseudo-theological fashion the presence of faith in life. Somehow, despite the whole build up to his epiphany, it felt rushed, as though an appendix to the book.
I applaud the work for its conviction, as it’s never easy to really explore one’s beliefs when one fears to find them lacking. I also admire the author’s self-awareness of his skill and need for a goal beyond prurient storytelling. Sadly, I could not find a strong sense of enlightenment in Dr Warren’s work.
What this book would benefit from:
This is a well-built volume, carefully edited and structured. Nevertheless, I would suggest,
- More variation in describing the different aspects of loss of faith, to reflect the cases they are linked to, rather than just the frustrated dichotomy between science and faith.
- Since there is a dedicated section to the role of faith in Christian life, a more academic approach would be beneficial. Although it might seem out of place, it would certainly make it worth being separate from the early parts, strengthening the argument and conclusion.