This is the text of a sermon I gave at First Christian Church on 3.21.2013. My Resplendent Bride’s Lymphoma was gone, and this sermon was meant to answer the question, “Where was Christ during the cancer?”. Later that year her Lymphoma returned with Leukemia on its coattails. I still stand by this sermon in answering the question, “Where was God during the cancer? Everywhere He needed to be.”
On Monday my wife and I received the best of news. The longest winter of our lives would end in a true spring. The Cancer is gone.
During the last week of September my wife was diagnosed with Cancer. As autumn’s cold came her hair fell with summer’s leaves. Now her hair returns with the spring.
Last summer we went to the Republic of South Sudan for a mission trip. Danielle showed me the village she spent a year of her life loving and educating. It was life changing to see another culture vastly different than our own. But more than anything else, it made my appreciation for my wife’s courage grow all the more. She is a capable leader: leading us through various international airports, through customs, interpreting languages, guiding us through the congested streets of Kampala, as well as through the Bush of South Sudan. Seeing her in action was really, quite something.
We came back to the States and settled back into life. It wasn’t long before Danielle was having problems breathing. She was short of breath, and suspected something was wrong.
Danielle thought perhaps her asthma was acting up. One day she was being “super wife” and was cleaning the basement with bleach. She had still more problems breathing and went to the Doctor who proceeded to diagnose her with bronchitis. The bronchitis didn’t clear up. The Dr. decided that an x-ray was the way to go.
The next day I had a ministerial meeting scheduled here at First Christian Church. Danielle called saying the Doctor wanted to meet with her ASAP. I called Pastor Dean over at the Methodist Church and told them I’d leave the door unlocked here at FCC so they could meet, and collected my wife to see the Doctor. We were told that there was a large mass in her anterior media stinum, or in other words a tumor, lodged outside of her heart sac, pressing upon heart and lungs, causing a blood clot and fluid build up that prevented her from breathing. We went directly to the hospital for more tests.
Time standing still…
When one is anxiously awaiting test-results it is as though time stands still. Time is an odd thing. Technically time is simply the incremental division of the Earth’s orbit around the sun from larger to smaller or smaller to larger. Yet we humans talk about time as though it were a creature of some sort, with the ability to stand still, or crawl by. We personify Time. When bored we claim watching paint dry or grass grow might be more stimulating.
When waiting on news concerning the health and future of those we love it is possible to imagine all sorts of science fiction stories coming to life regarding time. Waiting in tension is mind numbing. One can almost feel the second hand on the clock tick tocking merrily backwards, completely unconcerned for your torment.
We waited for biopsies, we waited for CT scans results, we waited for PET scan results, and we waited for blood work to come back.
We waited and held on to one another tight. We wept, and talked about our dreams, and our unborn children and the unthinkable.
Inevitably when trials and tribulations come our way we ask, why? Why now? Why at this stage of my life? Why this? Why… her? Why not me?
I, like many men, like to fix problems. It was indescribably difficult to watch my wife battle cancer all the while feeling utterly useless in the battle.
Sorrow, turns to anger, which turns to bitterness and ultimately congeals into the black slime we call doubt.
Bad news hits one’s soul like weights falling on an Olympic dead lifter who loses his balance at the critical point, right before he locks his arms. The aftermath is ugly. The lifter is crushed beneath the weight of it all.
Doubt initially asks its questions innocently enough, like a snake did in a garden long ago until the temperature of the questions reach a howling, full blown boiling teakettle rage. Why her? Why not the African War Lord? Why not the abortion “doctor”? Why not the Absentee Father? Why did the sweet girl who chose to be poor because she wanted to teach middle schoolers in the bush get cancer? Why must the woman who chose to be poor by teaching children in a war torn nation suffer in this way?
Today my goal is two fold. Firstly, I will attempt to give a biblical perspective on the source of suffering, and secondly I will talk about where God is in the midst of human suffering.
Why is it so important to understand where our suffering comes from? It is important to understand where suffering comes from because it is easy to blame God for our suffering, and if we blame God for our suffering it is easy to abandon the One we need the most in crisis. More important than that, we want to speak and think correctly about God. We want God’s character to be vindicated through sickness and health.
3 causes of suffering
A.) The random Guy who punches you in the face after a traffic altercation. (Messed up world, fallen world)
B.) Your Father sends you to your room because you’ve dishonored your mother. You know you are wrong and should miss dessert and fellowship with the family. (Discipline)
C.) Your Father punches you in the face because He hates you, and you hate Him. (Wrath)
1. Most suffering comes from living in a fallen Genesis 3 world.
When Adam and Eve chose (the last act of free will among human kind) to disobey God by eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil they gained the knowledge of good and evil but not the ability to consistently choose good. They were warped by sin down to their core. Their will was bent and broken. Everyone is born this way; this is what it means to be human without Christ. We know what is right, yet the flesh battles us every square inch of every hour of the day.
The Suffering we experience from the Fall is like the guy who punches us in the face after a traffic altercation. Both parties are sinful, both party’s actions are wrong and led to the escalation of the altercation.
God made a world that was cancer free. Adam decided to listen to a liar’s lie that perhaps God was holding out on him… The world was already perfect.
When we suffer we do well to realize that we live in a world of our own making. All human sin issues forth from our fallen hearts and ripple out, and bounces around and multiplies and mutates until we see the world that we see on the news or in our hospitals, jails and homes.
Death is the consequence of a human race in rebellion. We don’t blame God for making a perfect world that we rejected.
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—
People will say, “Wait, Adam made one mistake in the Garden and now everything is broken? Unfair!”
(Of course, all life within community bears this principle out: if a selfish person breaks the incredibly complicated and valued thingymugummy, it shall remain in disrepair until fixed. And, should the repairman of the one-of-a-kind-thing happen to live over the mountains and across the sea in a glorious kingdom in a distant land: you shall wait. All the more reason for colonies to obey their King’s laws, for they are good laws, and He wished to prevent the colony from breaking down in the first place by declaring such laws.)
Yet, nevertheless the refrain continues: “Unfair.”
I think part of the reason we think that way is that we have an inaccurate picture of life in the Garden.
We think the Garden of Eden was like the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, where they would lock a kid in a room with nothing but a Marshmallow and tell them that if they waited to eat the Marshmallow until they came back they would get two Marshmallows. The study showed whether kids possessed delayed gratification, a skill that is key to success in most of human life.
The thing about the experiment is that they lock the kid up in a room with nothing but a table and a Marshmallow! All there was to do in the room was to be tempted by the Marshmallow.
Now think about this, what if they did the same experiment in a room with a huge cable TV, and ninentendo, books, movies, blocks, legos, and a pantry stuffed with food the kid could eat?
The Marshmallow’s temptation would all of a sudden be more resistible.
When we think of Adam in the garden, we too often think of it like a small yard with two trees, a woman and a snake surrounded by a while picketed fence and a vast expanse of desert.
In other words we think the historical account is all Law, and no Grace. We figure if there was nothing to do, and only one person to talk to, it would only be a matter of time before Adam would eat the forbidden fruit.
The problem is, the Garden of Eden wasn’t like that at all.
It was the most interesting place on Earth… ever.
The Garden of Eden would be akin to concentrating every glorious nature reserve in the world, with all their animal life and diverse eco systems into one place. It would take your breath away.
Especially when we consider that fact that Adam did have a Job. He was for all intensive purposes the world’s first naturalist. He was a zoologist in charge of naming all the animals… he was the first park ranger charged with caring for the finest Garden ever…
In defense of God, His actions cannot be boiled down to “Don’t eat this, oh you’ve done it now, boot to the head, get out of my Garden!”
God’s Grace abounds over Law in the Garden. God gave Adam paradise, and a purpose, and work, and a wife, and there was not anything that separated Adam from fellowship with God.
Most of the suffering we face comes from the fact that we live in a fallen world that is in rebellion against the Good plan of a Good and Holy God. Our world gets its jollies from spitting in the face of our Father, and we are among that number. This is why we die of disease and old age. This is why we are all in the process of decay. This is why some countries starve while others die of obesity. This is why the strong prey upon the weak and justify doing so by calling it Darwinism.
This is why most Christians suffer, and it does not do to blame God for this. After all, He is not the cause of this fallen world, but He did send His son as the solution to it. Christ came to reconcile us to God the Father, Christ died and rose again to make things right; to restore paradise lost.
It may be easy for me to blame God for my wife’s cancer. I have noticed that when someone is looking for someone to blame, they usually find him or her! It’s just that it isn’t just to do so. God has given me His Son Jesus Christ, and He forgives and cleans my soul with Christ’s blood just as Christ washed His disciples’ stinking feet long ago on the night of His betrayal. He promises strength for the day, and Heaven and Resurrection tomorrow.
2. Some Suffering comes as Discipline from God the Father.
Secondly, sometimes Christians suffer because we are willfully disobeying God after receiving the gift of Salvation and He as all good Fathers do, disciplines us.
This is the Dad who sends you to your room after you’ve done wrong, and you, for your part, know you have done wrong. This is the sort of suffering that produces a hearty “Thank You!” years down the road.
11 My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, 12 for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
12 Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O LORD, and whom you teach out of your law, 13 to give him rest from days of trouble, until a pit is dug for the wicked. 14 For the LORD will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage;
We must be cautious when relating suffering to the discipline of the Lord. Most Christians who suffer are probably not being disciplined by God. I don’t want cancer patients to blame themselves for cancer: racking their brains counting every sin they’ve ever committed, doing sin calculus to determine if it all adds up to cancer, or a loved one dying.
I would say this though, if you are being disciplined by the Lord, you’d hopefully be sensitive enough to the Holy Spirit to know the what for. If a believer is being disciplined by the Father it will be over a lifestyle of sin that the Holy Spirit has been convicting them of for some time. This too, is grace.
3. The Christian never suffers as a result of the Wrath of God.
There is a big difference between getting in a fist fight with a random stranger because we live in a crazy, fallen world, and getting punished by a Father whom you love because you’ve done wrong, and, getting in a fist fight with a Father whom you hate.
When it comes to suffering some will say, “I don’t care why I’m suffering: suffering is suffering!”
I see it differently. As Christians we know that the Wrath of God we deserve has been transferred to the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross. This means we never suffer because of God’s wrath.
Many times when a Christian is going through a trial they’ll ask me if God is mad at them. If you are a Christian the answer is always no. God will not pour wrath out on His Church. He’ll discipline His Church, and carry His Church through suffering they endure because of their faith in a fallen world, but God’s wrath is not aimed toward the Bride of Jesus Christ.
This may seem like splitting hairs, but I assure you, in the midst of tragedy it will make all the difference in determining whether or not you run to God as your source of life, strength and courage, or whether you flee to your own demise because you have wrongly judged the source of shelter as moral monster.
Romans 5 :8-9
8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
Where Was The Christ?
The question remains, “In the midst of Cancer, where was Christ?” The answer: Everywhere He needed to be.
Christ was with the husband and wife hearing the bad news in the examination room.
Christ was by wife’s side when she underwent tests.
Christ was by her side when she underwent operations.
Christ was in the waiting room while her husband felt powerless and useless.
Christ was in the hospital room for weeks during Chemo.
Christ was there through the nausea and the puking.
Christ was there when the hospital room started looking like a prison cell.
Christ was there when people said the wrong thing as well as when people said things that ministered to our weary souls.
Christ was with me during the long commutes and the endless juggling of responsibilities.
Christ was in the doctor’s hands.
Christ was in the Church when it coalesced to help.
Christ was there as the cancer died.
Christ is everywhere He needs to be through His Holy spirit.
We purposed in our hearts to not hold The Cancer against The Christ.
This does not mean that we were always perfect in this goal. It doesn’t mean we didn’t wonder why, or have questions or frustrations at the pain, but we knew from God’s Word that God is always working all things out for those He has called and loved (Romans 8).
Throughout this longest of winters people have been a strength and encouragement. Sometimes they have called Danielle “heroic”. Sometimes that made us laugh because when one has cancer they will either fight it or die. Self-preservation isn’t exactly heroic. We know that they simply meant to encourage us.
But… for my part…
My Resplendent Bride is my hero. She has shown grace under fire, and courage in the face of adversity.
God teaches us and inspires us through His servants.
She has come through the dread disease by trusting in the God who carries us all. By trusting He who carries the world. She has smiled through her pain. She has fought the urge to have a pity party, even though everyone would understand if she did.
God has shown us His lovingkindness through His people, through strangers and through His ever-present guardianship over His beloved.
Where was The Christ during the Cancer?
Everywhere He needed to be.