“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me…”
In a recent biblical counseling assignment, I was asked to read Jay Adam’s booklet How to Handle Trouble and then write a letter providing advice to a woman suffering from terminal cancer. Perhaps my counsel to her from God’s Word will provide comfort for someone else who needs it…
“As I read your letter telling me of your recent diagnosis and the doctor’s belief that there was no longer any hope of recovery, I was deeply saddened to think of the tremendous grief that you and your family members must be feeling. I would imagine you feel as though your world has been turned upside down by this unexpected news, and I want you to know that I am grieving with you and praying for you. You wrote to ask me for help to make it through this time of suffering, and by God’s grace, I will do my best to provide you with reassurance from His precious Word. He has not left you alone in this battle; He is your refuge and strength, your ever present help in time of trouble, and therefore, you have no need to fear (Ps. 46:1). Even though the doctors can no longer provide you with hope, I want to encourage you to turn your eyes to the God of all hope as we ask Him to “fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13).
Suffering is the common experience of all human beings, whether saved or unsaved, righteous or unrighteous. Although your present suffering will bring with it much pain and sadness, as a believer in Jesus Christ you will also experience a level of joy and peace in the midst of your suffering that the unbeliever can never know. For the one apart from Christ, suffering is meaningless. He can never know, nor hope to know the reasons behind his suffering. But for you, a child of God, there is hope and comfort in knowing that God will not allow your suffering to go to waste. Romans 8:28-29 provides a foundation upon which you can securely stand during this difficult time, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” In this passage, God has revealed a comforting truth about His sovereignty over suffering—every pain has a part in His plan.
The first and most important truth for you to remember in this trying time is that God is at work in your pain. Believing this truth will be an act of faith on your part, since it will often be difficult to see how God’s hand could be at work when you are experiencing such grief and pain. That is when you must believe by faith that what God’s Word declares to be true is true for you regardless of what your feelings tell you to believe. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Cry out to God for the strength to interpret your circumstances through your faith, instead of evaluating your faith based upon your circumstances. Look to the examples of Joseph and Job in the Old Testament. Neither man’s circumstances gave him any logical reason to believe God was still at work in his life, yet each clung to his trust in the character of God. After losing his livestock, servants, children, and his own health, Job remained confident in the faithfulness of the Lord, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another!” (Job 19:25-27). Even though Job had no earthly reason to believe God was at work in his suffering, he continued to view his life through the eyes of faith.
The second important truth for you to remember is that God will not fail to produce good from your suffering. God’s sovereignty alone would be of little comfort if we had no assurance that He was also good, but the Scriptures provide us with multiple assurances that our God is both completely sovereign and perfectly good. When you struggle with feeling that God is no longer good to you, remember Nahum 1:7, “The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.” As you seek His strength, you will probably be allowed glimpses of the good plans that He is fulfilling through your battle with cancer. These glimpses will come through your growth in Christlikeness as your faith is tested and tried and comes forth as gold (1 Pet. 1:7), or perhaps through opportunities you have to share the gospel with doctors, nurses, friends, and family members who ask you to explain the reason for the hope that is in you (1 Pet. 3:15), or through the joyous experience of seeing another come to faith in Christ after observing His power at work in your life.
God’s goodness may be seen in many forms here on this earth, but it will only be fully displayed once we pass from this life into His presence. Paul, who experienced far greater suffering in his life than most Christians will ever know, found tremendous comfort in the knowledge that every bit of earthly pain he felt would be vastly outweighed by eternal joy, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18). Knowing that Paul had experienced persecution, slander, beatings, imprisonment, abandonment, and shipwrecks during his ministry, it is almost shocking to hear him describe his suffering as being “light and momentary,” yet because of his confidence in God’s goodness, Paul knew this description was accurate. Ask God to help you view your future through the same eternal perspective that enabled Paul to say, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). We often refer to a person’s death as the loss of life, yet for the Christian who knows that to be “absent from the body” is to be “present with the Lord,” death is not the loss of life, but the gaining of eternal life.
Although your battle with cancer brings with it many causes for sorrow, it will also offer you countless opportunities to bring glory to God in your remaining days. Not one of us is promised tomorrow, but we often live as though our tomorrows are guaranteed. Your diagnosis has brought you face to face with the fleeting nature of your earthly existence and has freed you from the illusion that your time on earth is unlimited. I want to encourage you to follow our Lord’s example as He faced His darkest moments on earth, yet continued to pray “not my will, but yours be done.” Christ’s greatest desire was to glorify His Father through His life and death, and our desire should be the same (2 Cor. 5:9). As you seek His strength in your weakness, you will discover that His grace is sufficient for your every need (2 Cor. 12:9).”
Praying for you and looking forward to that day when our faith will be sight,
Related Post: When Weeping Isn’t Enough
Photo: Martin Boose