WHERE IS GOD WHEN THE MALIGNANCY HAS METASTASIZED?
March 24, 2019 3rd Sunday in Lent
1As he walked along, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam”. Then he went and washed and came back able to see.
“PUT THE SHOVEL DOWN!!! AND SLOWLY WALK AWAY!!!”
And once again, my wife reminded me in not-so-subtle terms that I have heart disease. It’s a condition I am often in hard-headed denial about…so I attempt to do things that are not good for me—such as shoveling a 10-inch heavy wet snow off the driveway.
Most of us, if we live long enough, are going to have to deal with some form of disease. It is reality. And even the most agnostic of us find ourselves begging the Almighty to take it away.
Unlike the Grinch who stole Christmas, I didn’t miraculously grow a new heart following my heart attack two. But God, working through the hands of skilled doctors and effective medicine, repaired my damaged heart and made it possible for me to live pretty much a normal life again. And yet, many of us are not so fortunate…
Where is God when the malignancy has metastasized? Where is God when the disease lingers and debilitates and destroys our quality of life and even takes that life?
SOME INITIAL THOUGHTS….
It is a question journalist Philip Yancey has tackled again and again in many of his books. He writes:
My father contracted polio just before my first birthday. Paralyzed from the neck down, he lay immobile in a noisy iron lung machine that helped him breathe.
My mother would bring my 3-year-old brother and me to the hospital and hold us up to the window of the isolation ward so that by looking up in a mirror her husband could catch a glimpse of the sons he could not hold or even touch.
My father had been preparing to go to Africa as a missionary, and when he fell ill several thousand people in a prayer chain resolved to pray for his healing. They could not believe that God would “take” someone so young and vibrant with such a bright ministry future ahead of him. In fact, those closest to him became so convinced he would be healed that they decided, with his consent, to take a step of faith and remove him from the iron lung. Within two weeks, he died. I grew up fatherless, under that cloud of unanswered prayer. [Philip Yancey, The Question that Never Goes Away, p. 15]
Have any of you been there? I have. In the waiting room outside the Neuro-ICU at UVA Medical Center. My brother John was in that unit, lying comatose with an extremely massive stroke. No brain wave activity whatsoever. After four days we were following medical advice, making plans to remove life support.
A self-ordained preacher from Greene County who had played football for my brother showed up in the waiting room. He declared to all in the waiting room that he had received a word from the Lord that my brother was going to be cured of that stroke and walk right out of that hospital if we all just had enough faith to believe.
My nephew Matt, my brother’s son, remained confused and pissed off at God for a very long time because his dad died later that afternoon.
It’s been my observation that Christians often compound suffering with their well-intentioned but very trite, contradicting, quasi-biblical counsel.
The Bible as a whole comes at the issue of God and disease from many different angles, and we do way more harm than good when we focus narrowly on one specific avenue.
I’ve heard all of the following expressed at one time or another by Christians to their family members and friends dealing with disease:
God is punishing you. Jesus and his disciples come across a blind beggar. The disciples lift up the question, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” They are simply echoing the popular OT teaching of the rabbis that all disease was the result of some sin—either that of your parents, or yourself, or, get this-even something you did in the womb before you were born! And so, God is out to get you for your sins.
Satan is punishing you. Some Christians maintain that just as God allowed Satan to afflict Job, so God allows Satan to go bounty-hunting on us. And then you’ll hear many popular TV preachers making the claim that all sickness is of Satan…does that mean Satan is more powerful than God since many folks do get sick and die?
God is testing you. You are hurting so that God can teach you something. The psalmist cried out, It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. -Psalm 119:71 Yes, God wants you to grow in faith and the only way he can accomplish this is by giving you this tumor.
God will cure you, but only if you have enough faith. That’s always the disclaimer, isn’t it? The escape clause down in the fine print. “If you had just claimed your healing strong enough, God would have given it to you!” So, how much faith is enough in order to get God to act? Has anyone ever figured that out? Because over the years I have witnessed persons who were downright hostile to God be miraculously cured, and then I have witnessed persons who were as saintly as Mother Teresa suffer and die, often at a young age? Can anyone explain that to me?
Tell me Ken Copeland, Benny Hinn, Freddy Price, TD Jakes, Joyce Meyer—just how much faith does it take? Maybe if I send you some money that’ll prime God’s pump…
Lord, forgive me for being snarky. And yes, I realize each of these before-mentioned positions regarding the issue of God and disease can be argued for in various places throughout the Good Book. But if you’re hurting, you don’t care about arguing.
It does seem to me that if we want the most direct access to God’s mind and heart, we must go to Jesus. I am staunchly, unapologetically Cristocentric. I believe Jesus is the Son of God. He is God personified, in the flesh. So if you want to know where is God when the malignancy has metastasized, go to Jesus.
There are 31 individual healings of Jesus recorded in the gospels. [http://stronginfaith.org/article.php?page=111] All are unique. Some take place in response to a person’s faith or faith of a loved one. Others happen in a complete absence of faith. Some are done by direct laying on of hands or applying spit ‘n mud, others are skyped into the next county, with Jesus not even present.
And yet, I believe we can draw 3 broad conclusions:
More about the Revelation than the Blame
In response to his disciples’ inquiry about the origin of the blind beggar’s condition—whether it be his sin or the sins of his parents—Jesus replies, “Neither…but that God’s works might be revealed in him.” And God’s works are revealed as Jesus heals this man, and he goes off to testify to the entire village.
The healings Jesus does are always about glorifying God and illustrating how God’s glorious future reign has broken into the desperation of 1st century Israel. In Jesus, God’s power is manifested mightily in such caring deeds of restoration. Jesus never spends time debating who to blame the suffering of disease upon…he simply heals it. And then he invites persons to show gratitude to God in response.
We live in an era where God is glorified through the tremendous knowledge and advancements he has evolved in the field of medicine. The prophecy of Jesus that we would do greater works than he has indeed been realized in the treatment of disease. We now have vaccinations against certain plagues that once eradicated entire ancient populations. What was once considered miraculous is now routine.
And yet, we do know that in the absence of answers to certain diseases, miracles of God still do occur. They are rare. They are a mystery. They wouldn’t be considered miraculous if they were routine. We can only pause and give thanks to God when we are the recipients.
With Jesus it’s more about the revelation of God’s glory than spending time figuring out whom to blame for the disease….
More about the Healing than the Cure
There is a difference between being healed and being cured.
Jesus seems to never want to draw attention to himself when he cures people of disease. He is more concerned that persons find relationship with God, that they become well not just in body or mind, but in spirit. That is the true healing. Everyone Jesus cures eventually dies. 100%. But do they die with an abiding relationship with God…that is what Jesus seeks.
Let me share with you some thoughts by Fred Racklau:
- Cure may occur without healing; healing may occur without cure.
- Cure looks at what sort of disease a person has; healing looks at what sort of person has the disease.
- Cure combats sickness; healing fosters wellness
- Cure alters what is; healing offers what might be
- Cure is an act; healing is a process.
- Cure closes the past; healing opens the future.
- Cure is a goal; healing is a quest.
- Cure is produced by power; healing grows from surrender
- Cure depends on dispassionate skill; healing depends on compassionate care.
- Cure seeks to conquer pain; healing seeks to transcend pain.
- Cure is taunted by suffering; healing is taught by suffering.
- Cure avoids grief; healing assumes grief.
- Cure encounters mystery as a challenge for understanding; healing encounters mystery as a channel for meaning.
- Cure often issues from fear; healing usually issues from faith.
- Cure rejects death and views it as defeat; healing includes death among the blessed outcomes of care.
Fred Recklau (author of Partners in Care, Medicine and Ministry Together) http://www.spirituallygrowingwithcancer.org/Cure_vs_Healing_page.html
Those are some interesting thoughts…
Know that when you are in the midst of disease, God is concerned more about building a healing connection with you than just curing your symptoms. Healing takes place on many levels within us and around us.
Yes, Jesus is more about the revelation than the blame, and more about the healing than the cure…and Jesus is
More about the Presence than the Ease
At the end of the day, Jesus never promises us a cure for our disease….but he does promise us his presence.
His parting words to his disciples and to us as he ascended to the Father are these: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age!”
When the word from the doctor is not what we wanted to hear…when the malignancy has metastasized…we are not alone in whatever the future should bring. Our Lord is with us.
Five years ago my good friend Tom McGinn was in the final stages of prostate cancer. It had spread throughout his body. It was a monumental effort for him to get out of bed most days. And yet, I had never met a more positive Christian man.
He insisted that we have lunch at Vito’s every week or so. He said it gave him something to shoot for.
He would be in tremendous pain, walking slowly into the restaurant with a cane, very little appetite, but he always had a smile on his face. His simple courage at keeping on keeping on was amazing to me.
He had a peace about his impending death that he could not put into words…somehow managed managed to surrender whatever would come into God’s hands.
As he often spoke candidly about his terminal condition, Tom didn’t want it said that he lost the battle to cancer. He said that what he had been through brought him so very close to his Maker, and that the best was still yet to come as he claimed the victory of eternal life with the Lord.
As he approached the end of that chapter of his life, Tom knew the presence of the Lord in his spirit. He said that presence had overwhelmed the dis-ease the cancer had wrought upon his body for nearly 10 years.
We prayed that Thursday in late July just two days before his eternal homecoming. His parting words to me were, “You know, David, it’s all been good!”
As I opened my car door, I found myself sitting there in his driveway for several minutes pondering the sheer faith displayed in that statement.
Jesus said, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end…”
Even when the malignancy has metastasized, God doesn’t let us go.
Believe and trust in that….