“Cancer, and cancer, and cancer. My mother, my father, my wife. I wonder who is next in the queue.“
~ C.S. Lewis “A Grief Observed” 1961 p.12
The burden of suffering wilts us into our shriveled selves. On 72nd street, a short drive from the Methodist’s Hospital stands the Wal-Mart. They are all the same. The products are the same. The floor plans are the same. The people are the same. Every last person: a cheap typecast parody of themselves playing the same part someone else is playing in the next town. We humans are after all, special, just like everyone else. In a Wal-Mart near you is a bitter disheveled person, muttering, glaring, wandering. I have had a good life. Long have I observed such souls passing me in an aisle and wondered how they came into such disrepair.
“ While our Bibles teach us that we are all born fallen (Psalm 51) it tends to take a tad touch of life to break us. “
15 months after a Christian wedding day without hypocrisy my resplendent Bride and I sat in a small examination room and were told by a medical Doctor that she had a large mass in her anterior mediastinum. Just on the other side of her heart sac, in-between her heart and lungs sat a large cancerous mass, so large that it was affecting her breathing and was causing fluid to build up around her heart. The tumor was also causing a blood clot. The medical community stabbed her in the chest multiple times in order to biopsy the tumor. Modern medicine isn’t always so modern.
Cancer Is No Respecter Of Persons
“Cancer” does not merely convey definition, “Cancer” carries oppressive weight and baggage. My own mother was killed by cancer; it is no respecter of persons. She suffocated and starved to death. 3 months after her diagnosis she had lost her trademark waist length blonde hair, her ability to speak, and her battle. She was 43.
And, so it was that we now waited. We reordered everything. Our lives seemed to have been uprooted from an old house in a quaint little town to some hospital room forty five minutes away. During the long nights in the hospital room I would reach for my wife’s hand, the one with all the tubes. The soft lights from the various medical devices allowed me to see her sleeping face, and I would weep, and pray that she really was asleep.
We knew nothing.
In the dark loneliness of seemingly never ending sleepless nights I was forced to give audience to my mind. It pestered me about the Sovereignty of God. It wanted to know about this notion that I have passionately preached. I have taught from the Bible that the only God the Bible proclaims, indeed the only God who is worth worshiping at all really, is the God who is the absolute Lord of all that is. He is in control, and He is good, especially when things go awry from our myopic plans.
In the night I pondered the 28 years I had by the grace of God faithfully waited for the bride God had predestined to be my wife. Our first kiss was on our wedding day. I had waited for her. Might my loving God take her away after a mere fifteen months?
C.S. Lewis asked a similar question when his wife fought cancer. God’s answer was different for him than I hope it is for me. After the loss of his wife Lewis wrote,
“ The most precious gift that marriage gave me was this constant impact of something very close and intimate yet all the time unmistakably other, resistant – in a word, real. Is all that work to be undone? Is what I shall still call H. to sink back horrible into being not much more than one of my old bachelor pipe-dreams? Oh my dear, my dear, comeback for one moment and drive that miserable phantom away. Oh god, god, why did you take such trouble to force this creature out of its shell if it is now doomed to crawl back- to be sucked back-into it? “
~ “A Grief Observed” p.18-19
My question to Christians is: “What if He does take her home before I planned?”
Will He still be good?
The dread truth of believing in the Sovereignty of God is that God has every right in the world to take the most treasured person in your life away, and He would still be good.
I reached this conclusion with soul restoring Joy! God is not glorified by a begrudging ascent to His Lordship.
Job did indeed boast: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” Job 1:21 (ESV)
Job, however, did not sing this tune for long.
There are a lot of “Reformed” guys running around Twitter these days claiming to love the doctrine of the Sovereignty of God. I hope they are serious. I actually pray they mean it. The doctrine of the Sovereignty of God is both dread and delightful. For my part I hope we really do love God’s Sovereignty, because God has a way of exposing frauds.
The Lord Jesus Christ once told a parable about a sower to help us understand why it is that some people we love can’t be bothered by the Gospel, while others seem to care but turn out to be quiters in the end, while still others hold fast to the Gospel.
He taught in The Gospel of Matthew that,
“ As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the Word, immediately he falls away. “ Matthew 13:20-21 (ESV)
I hope my generation of young gun theologians, who seem to be glorying in the Glory of God, are still doing so in 50 years after life in a fallen world has rabbit punched them in the back of the head and kicked them in the teeth.
A while back “my” Danielle was in the Hospital undergoing Chemo Therapy. I was sent on a mission trip to the local Wal-Mart to secure a box of much coveted White Cheddar Cheese CHEEZ-ITS. When my wife is on Chemo her wish is my command, and if she wanted White Cheddar Cheese CHEEZ-ITS, well, that is what she was going to get.
I… smile at strangers. This embarrasses my wife. I tell her, “I’m from Iowa.”
I am typically a happy fellow. I make eye contact and try to act like somebody who knows He doesn’t deserve to go to heaven but is anyway.
I don’t smile like i used to. My nerves are fried. My baloney tolerance meter is clear in the danger zone. And I found myself wandering through Wal-Mart not looking at people, brusquely walking around slow pokes, and gossiping gooseters. I looked at no one while on my task to procure The Box of White Cheddar Cheese CHEEZ-ITS, except for the hip gangster wannabes who love to try to stare the guy in the suit down. Them I look right back at… because there comes a point when one does not suffer fools lightly.
And the thought occurred to me that perhaps none of us are all that far away from waking up one day as that bitter disheveled person, muttering, glaring, and wandering around the local Wal-Mart. The one with that look in their eye; the haunted, hunted kind. When we are not busy ignoring them, we cross paths with once happy people all the time who are now deep in the gripping claws of self pity. It does not matter so much whether they mourn the great was or the great never was.
Radical trust in God’s good plan is the only vanguard against this fate.
Thankfully, my wife Danielle is responding well the to cancer treatments. Our hope is in God. The tumor is expected to shrink into oblivion. I thank God for everyday we have together.
The question of whether we will still walk with the Lord even if all is taken from us is a dark forest every Christian must walk through, alone, with God. I invite you to walk through it before the hypothetical becomes reality.
After Darkness Light.
(UPDATE: My Resplendent Bride went home to be with the Lord on May 3rd 2014 due to complications from Acute Myeloid Leukemia and Veno Occlusive Disease.)