Looking back on his case, Dr Lim said: "My kids can now appreciate how trustworthy God is."  (From L-R): With wife Chai Yuan, and daughters Sarah, now 25, and Elizabeth, 22. All photos courtesy of the Lim family.

When a registered letter from the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) arrived at Dr Lim Lian Arn’s home in 2016, he opened it with trepidation. 

A patient had complained that he had not told her of the possible side effects of a steroid injection. The letter informed the orthopaedic surgeon in private practice that he was to face a disciplinary tribunal.

“When situations are really bad, what you feel doesn’t have to depend on the circumstance, but on God.”

“A super heavy feeling of dread and apprehension came over me,” Dr Lim, now 56, told Salt&Light. Shaken, he made his way to his TV and switched it on.

On the screen was a man in white robes telling a group of fishermen that they would one day be fishers of men. It was a scene from an old movie, Quo Vadis (“Where are you going?” in Latin), about the persecution of Christians in the first century.

The words of the actor playing Jesus reminded him of his “foundation, security, and purpose in Christ”.

“You might call it a coincidence, but I was profoundly affected. It was like immediately God was telling me: ‘You feel low, don’t worry. I am going to speak to you’.” 

At the beginning of his four-year trial, Dr Lim Lian Arn wanted to settle the case quickly and get on with life. But God asked him: Quo Vadis? Where are you going?

 It was just the beginning of his “journey into the dark”. But he was “very very sure that God was with me and this was going to be a learning experience”.

 Dr Lim sat his wife and two daughters down to let them know what was happening. In the worst case scenario, he would be suspended from practising for six months to a year.

“I don’t know how this is going to end up, but let’s keep trusting God and praying through it,” he told them.

Pleading guilty

Dr Lim had treated the patient for pain in her left wrist in October 2014. After an MRI, he informed her of treatment options. One, a brace and oral medication. Or two, a steroid injection. She chose the second option.

The patient claimed to have paper-thin skin with discolouration, loss of fat and muscle tissues as a result. 

She filed a complaint against the doctor in January 2016, saying he failed to advise her on the possible complications. 

“I don’t know how this is going to end up, but let’s keep trusting God and praying.”

“I actually don’t really recall if I told her the complications – it is my practice to do that. But the thing is, I didn’t record it.”

Dr Lim was told: “The fact that you didn’t record it is as good as you not having told her.”

Then he had to decide whether to fight the case, “or to just recognise that I didn’t document it and just be punished for that”.

He was told: “If you were to fight, you might end up being suspended for a longer time than you would have if you didn’t fight it. Whereas to just plead guilty, you can fight for a lower penalty – which is the highest fine.”

Around that time, Dr Lim was asked to consider becoming an elder of the church. He was open with his church leadership and cell group about his legal case. 

“I did that very intentionally so that as I walked through this dark valley, I wanted them to see what it was like for someone to walk through it with God.”

He asked his “confidantes, prayer warriors and witnesses” to constantly uplift him in prayer and for him to see God’s purpose throughout this particular season of his life.

Despite the emotional heaviness and constant challenge on his thinking and mood, God sustained him.

He also remained in a posture of thankfulness. “Because in these things, we are reminded of how present God is in our lives.”

Dr Lim pleaded guilty in June 2018.

A patient’s sandals

When judgement was made against him, and he was given the maximum fine of $100,000, he braced himself for the media storm. Clinging to 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 enabled him to stay calm.

“It is the only time in my life that I have seen slippers with that name.”

On the day the newspapers broke the news of the fine in January 2019, Dr Lim’s first patient of the day walked into his clinic.

The patient complained of heel pain.

Dr Lim asked him to show him where it was hurting. The patient took his foot out of his sandal.

The brand stamped on the insole was Quo Vadis – the name of the movie that Dr Lim happened upon on the first day of what was to be a four-year long ordeal.

On the day the newspapers broke the news of the $100,000 fine, Dr Lim felt a divine assurance when he saw Quo Vadis on the sandals (above) of his first patient of the day. It was also the name of movie he happened upon when he received the letter about the disciplinary tribunal.

“It was joyous to see that.

“It is the only time in my life that I have seen slippers with that name. This was like God shaking me: ‘Hey wake up, I’m still here.’

“That day would have been much more dreary if God had not reminded me at the start of the work day that He was with me and that He was reminding me again: ‘Quo Vadis … where are you going?'”

Doctor by default

“Just like someone said about 2020 (the year Covid upended the world) – it will be a real waste if you let a good tragedy go past you without seeing the hand of God. As I look at my life, it’s full of that,” said Dr Lim, who said he became a doctor “almost by default”.

“Failure can be part of God’s plan to mould us, to direct us.”

He had his heart set on studying “some fierce thing” like aeronautical engineering. “But my maths was not that good” and the course was not offered in Singapore.

“By some quirk, I had okay results and applied and got into medicine and found that I liked it.”

But he only got into medicine one year behind his Pre-University cohort – because he did not pass his Chinese on the first try. 

“Failure can be part of God’s plan to mould us, to direct us,” he believes.

His cohort, he says, “are very important in forming me and guiding me to where I am now”. 

Dr Lim’s interest in orthopaedic surgery was triggered by a rugby injury in his third year of medical school. In the first half of an important match, he felt his left forearm buckle after being hit in a tackle. The team doctor diagnosed it as a sprain, even though “the radius was rattling like a bag of bones”. With his good arm, he scored. After the final whistle blew and the team won the match, he drove in pain to the hospital, where an X-ray showed multiple fractures in his arm. 

His clinic, Alpha Joints & Orthopaedics, specialises in joint problems, limb trauma and sports injuries; he knows them first hand, having sustained numerous injuries from mountain biking to snowboarding. 

Praying to an “unknown” God

He had an inkling of God when he was about eight years old. He woke up in the middle of the night, next to his dad who was snoring. 

“I had this sense of an inner voice that was speaking to me. I thought: ‘When I sleep, that voice goes off. Then I wake up, the voice is on again. What happens when I die?’

“There was a horrible fear in me. Where do I go after I die? It lingered with me for a long time.”

Influenced by the ending in every episode of American TV series, The Waltons, showing the characters kneeling by their beds, praying, he started to pray “to an unknown God”. 

As he grew up, he read about different religions, including Christianity. “It was distant and foreign to me”. He did not take up his schoolmates’ offers for him to join them in church.

Influenced by the ending in every episode of The Waltons, he started to pray “to an unknown God”. 

Until he met a girl in University. “She said she wouldn’t go out with me because I wasn’t a Christian. So I started to go to church with her!”

For seven years he did this. He was finally ready to be baptised in the year before they got married.

Describing himself then as “a nominal Christian, a pew warmer”, he said he would beg off attending church with his wife and children, saying that he was tired from work.

“I think she was pretty discouraged and hurt, but she persevered.”

Then she encouraged him to sign up for a men’s group with Bible Study Fellowship. She was attending a women’s group.

At first he resisted. “My attitude was that religion is a personal thing – I can pray to God and He will respond to me.

“But after a couple of years of realising what a waste of time it was for me to go to church and not really understand – or be interested in – what the pastor was saying, I told myself, ‘Why don’t we just explore this and see what happens.'”

On the first evening, he walked into a hall of 500 men. “Have you heard 500 men singing? It’s a hair raising thing. I mean it in a good way – male voices singing with passion. I was hooked.

“The more you love the Word of God, the more God is revealed to you.”

“My real transformation, my maturing began when I really engaged the Word of God.”

At the end of the second year, his group was studying the life of Abraham when the leader of the group ask if he would consider taking leadership of their class.

Just as Abraham “was challenged by God to go somewhere that he didn’t know, to do something he wasn’t really sure about and he went”, Dr Lim responded.

And from that, “it just snowballed”.

“It was like a – good – slippery slope. The more you commit, the more energy you pour into it, the more you love the Word of God, the more God is revealed to you.”

As he walked closer to God, he started leading missions at church. Today, he and his wife – Soh Chai Yuan, 53, a homemaker – serve at Redemption Hill Church where he is an elder.

The outcry

The local medical profession stood together against the judgement against Dr Lim and the $100,000 fine. The judgement raised concerns that doctors would start practising defensive medicine to safeguard themselves instead of making prescriptions in the patients’ best interests.

About 4,000 doctors signed a petition asking the Health Minister to intervene.

The petition was started by a doctor – “a Christian brother” and encourager – he used to work with. When told about the petition, Dr Lim said: “Do whatever you want, but don’t get me involved. I don’t want to be part of this process as it might complicate things.”

After reviewing the judgment, the court found Dr Lim innocent, saying that there was no case.

“I actually didn’t want there to be this protest. But as it happened, I sat back and asked myself why not just let God bring this through and see what happens.”

Doctors thought the penalty was too excessive. The injection is a cost-effective, commonly-given one and the side effects are rare and transient.

About a month after the fine was imposed, The Ministry of Health (MOH) asked the Council to apply to court to have the decision reviewed.  

The SMC went to the Court of Three Judges to reduce the fine to $20,000 at most.

But after reviewing the judgment, the court found Dr Lim innocent, saying that there was no case against the doctor. “I prayed and thanked the Lord for it.”

Miscarriage of justice

In delivering judgement, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said: “Having heard the parties, we are satisfied that there has been a miscarriage of justice and that Dr Lim’s conviction must be set aside.”

The judges made it clear that their decision was “not a response to the outcry from the medical community”.

The fine got paid back, “which was pretty amazing”, said Dr Lim.

“It is like given a sentence – death – and then almost a resurrection kind of picture.” Whatever little dip his business took was also restored.

He thanked this Christian brother who started the petition. Both “recognised that it was the hand of God at work”.

“God is sovereign over every detail of our lives.”

“No guilt for doctor” proclaimed one Chinese newspaper headline. “It was poignant because it was the ultimate, glorious truth: No matter how grievous our sins and crimes are, if we acknowledge them before Christ, He will free us of all guilt,” said Dr Lim.

“God saves us from a state of ignorance, sin, and death, and gives us assurance that He is sovereign over every detail of our lives.”

He acknowledged that God sometimes – not always – resolves our situations. But “in His abundant grace”, when he does, “we have to remember it is ultimately not for our sake, but for His glory alone”.

Through the dark valley

Dr Lim was not only grateful for the reversal of the conviction, but grateful for the opportunity it gave him to  “to remind others what a gracious God, a powerful sovereign God we have” and to tell others “what it looks like to walk with God in the midst of that dark valley for four years – even if it means your idols are being revealed very clearly and then chopped away”. 

One was the approval of Man.

“For this to happen is like your name being smeared. So God was telling me, ‘That’s actually not important. It is how your name stands with God that is really important.'” 

“The process was painful, but what I gained was priceless.”

When the threat of suspension and the inability to work loomed over him, he also released his grip on money and career.

“In its place God said, ‘What do you have left? You’ve got me.’ So what a great assurance that was.

“It was a process of sanctification that He led me through as I trod through the dark valley. The process was painful, but what I gained was priceless.”

Looking back, he said: “My kids can appreciate how trustworthy God is, and how when situations are really bad, what you feel doesn’t have to depend on the circumstance, but on God.”

The doctor in private practice continues to live out his faith in his work. When God gives him the time and prompting, he would offer to pray for patients and share God’s love to give them assurance. 

“I haven’t had a person refuse when I offer to pray for them.”

He also encourages Christians to find other brothers and sisters at work to pray with and encourage each other regularly. 

“We don’t want to live compartmentalised lives. I think we need to live out the centre of our lives – our faiths – so that it is obvious in all the little circles we are in.”


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About the author

Gemma Koh

Gemma has written about everything from spas to scuba diving holidays. But has a soft spot for telling the stories of lives changed, and of people making a difference. She loves the colour green, especially on overgrown trees. Gemma is Senior Writer & Copy Editor at Salt&Light.