There’s never a good time to get a call saying you have Stage III cancer. The day before Thanksgiving is especially not a good day.
After Mom’s hysterectomy, doctors discovered she had more cancer. Chemotherapy would begin soon, followed by weeks of radiation. Cancer was her new normal.
When I heard the news, I retreated to my room, where tears burst like a dam and guttural groans shook my body.
For an insufferable second, a sharp why pierced my mind: Why did this happen to Mom?
She had been covered in so much prayer going into surgery, how could she have cancer? As she’s one of the best people I know, it didn’t seem fair.
Then it clicked.
It’s amazing how much we can understand something on a intellectual level but never fully grasp the gravity of it, until life pierces our hearts with that particular head knowledge.
Just a couple months before, I had heard the best teaching on suffering I had ever come across.
Bethel Music worship leader William Matthews was speaking with Christa Black Gifford, a singer/writer/speaker who has written many popular worship songs, including “One Thing Remains.”
On March 5, 2014, Christa’s baby girl, Luca Gold, was born and, forty minutes later, died. Luca had a condition that caused her brain and head to not fully form.
To hear Christa’s amazing perspective, listen to this Culture Shock podcast (mainly minutes 12 through 28) or Christa’s Mother’s Day sermon, “If God Is Good, Why Did My Baby Die?“.
Yet in the face of this horrific loss, Christa did not blame God.
In the podcast, she explained how we often put God on trial when faced with difficult circumstances that are simply the result of death, sin, and human free will. She spoke about how God mourns the tragedies of our lives, how God screams at the injustices we face.
Our pain is God’s pain. God is present with us in this dark world, where the kingdom has not yet fully come.
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As I sat drowning in tears that day, I remembered Christa’s emphatic proclamation: “My God is not a killer.”
I went back into the living room, and as I held my mother in my arms, I thought to myself:
“Marshall, you have to decide your theology on this right now. Hurting people are going to say some pretty crazy things in the next few weeks.”
People of faith daily live out our theology, whether we know it or not. Yet it’s funny how people staunchly rooted in the free-will camp begin to speak fatalistic language the second tragedy hits. Christians often immediately attribute the terrible things that happen to God’s predestined will.
Really? God willed for Mom to have cancer?
We know God to be good, so when faced with sorrow, we scramble to rationalize the pain away. We begin spouting some incredibly odd (and awful) things about God.
from Bethel Music on Instagra
When someone dies unexpectedly, we might say, “Well, Jesus took him so he’d be in a better place. Heaven has one more angel.”
When we lose our job, we might say, “Ya know, I guess it was just God’s will.”
When a storm ravages a town, we might say, “I can’t explain why God did this, but it must be a part of a greater plan.”
When someone receives a bad diagnosis, we might say, “She is such a good person: I don’t know how God could do this to her.”
But if we see God as Father, we should know better than using this type of rhetoric. What parent would kill their child, whom they purport to love?
If Jesus was the fullest expression of God on earth, then we know God’s will is to create, to heal, and to redeem ALL.
Everything that is good in your life radiates from the bottomlessly affectionate heart of a loving Father.
Here’s a clue: if something has been stolen, killed, or destroyed in your life, God probably wasn’t behind it.
You’re not being “put through the fire” by a God trying to teach you a lesson. Maybe the bad thing that happened to you is just part of this human experience.
Rape, murder, disease, accidents, violence, natural disasters, or loss of any kind are just side effects of life in a world that death has infected.
There is great evil and cruelty in this life, but our broken and beaten healer meets us in the midst of our pain, mourning and lamenting and longing for the day when all things are made right–when kingdom comes.
Now, will God find a way to use that harrowing situation you are facing for your ultimate good? Yes, absolutely!
But that doesn’t mean that the bad stuff was from God; it just means God is powerful and caring enough to take your pain and sew together the threads of your life to make something beautiful.
In our anger, in our questions, in our doubts, in our grief, we are seen and heard and known and loved.
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The end of the story is that my mother will finish up radiation in just a few days. She no longer has cancer in her body and will soon be officially “in remission.”
I know that we are very lucky that she survived her fight with cancer. She was such a trooper, even when the recovery process was beyond difficult.
I hope you know that my intention in writing this was not to condemn the ways people view suffering. I know that these views are prevalent in our churches, but maybe instead of bringing into question the character of God, we should try and find a theological answer to suffering that doesn’t make our Advocate a murderer.
We should all examine the repercussions of the claims we make about God, especially when directed to grieving friends.
I had to decide that terrible Thanksgiving Eve that God was for us and not playing us like pawns in a cosmic game of chess.
I’m exceedingly grateful for the amazing support Mom ended up receiving. Our friends often left us in tears with their sweet words and actions.
Let’s strive to do the same for our hurting world, pointing people to the goodness of our Comforter.
For more of Mom’s story, check out “Advent, Chemo, and Kingdom Come.”