To God’s People….
Just yesterday I heard from my best friend from high school that he had been diagnosed with an incurable cancer. We have had a friendship for over 40 years and we are not giving up.
I received an email just last year that one of our partners in ministry had died from cancer at the young age of 57, leaving a wife, 4 children and a thriving ministry behind.
Jill is 11 years old, the only child of the Millers. According to the family she is a miracle child, as they were told they were unable to have children. Daily she battles with childhood diabetes that could well cut her life woefully short.
All Too Common
All over the world, every day, believers and non-believers face the news of tragedy and loss. As believers, we will face difficult times, but not without hope. As believers, what do we do when the health prognosis isn’t good? What do we do when the doctors tell us that they don’t have a cure? What about when it’s our own child or spouse? How can we scripturally respond when the news is grime? Good questions. First, some theological reflection.
God is Good
For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endures to all generations. Psalms100:5 .
One of our basic assumptions as believers is that God is indeed good, and though healing and protection are provided for in Christ, they are not guaranteed…there is trouble, sickness and disease, and healing and restoration in the world we live in. God is good, and life is precarious sometimes, but we can always trust him, for we know that ultimately Only Eternal Life in Christ is Guaranteed! We Believe God can and does heal and we stand in faith believing; we trust God in all things, for he is good.
Indeed, we believe for healing, but when it does not come, we can trust that…
Joy Comes in the Mourning
On January 24th 2000, my bride of 26 years, Karen, passed away. She had suffered under the ravages of brain cancer. My daughters, family and friends worldwide suffered with us. Karen fought hard, she wanted to live, we went through the roller coaster of hope and despair, and on the morning of January 24th 2000 she died in faith.
My shock was profound, the sense of relief at the ending of Karen’s suffering was overwhelming, but to my surprise, there was joy. Not joy in death, for death from our view is an ugly thing. But after discovering that she was gone to be with the Father, an inner joy expressed in a spontaneous song rose up within me. I cannot remember nor explain the song but am grateful that the Holy Spirit provided such tangible comfort in the midst of my despair.
Later that evening, after robotically taking care of Karen’s funeral arrangements and making numerous phone calls I attempted to sleep. It was fitful at best. Somewhere around two in the morning I woke with a start. I heard from the Lord deep in my heart that he had a word for me and for the body of Christ. I was led to Hebrews 12:1-14. God spoke that in this passage I would find keys to finding the courage to survive a loss, even so great a loss as the love of my life. May his words to me speak to you.
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the lord, nor faint when you are reproved by him; for those whom the lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?
For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.
All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.
Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. (NASB)
Here are the seven points God gave me when hope was gone, in the middle of shock and despair, at my lowest moment.
1. We all have a journey, a purpose to fulfill. Joseph had his purpose, but a pit, Potiphar’s wife, prison and Pharaoh had to be faced and overcome before he saw the fulfillment of his purpose. Paul had a heavenly vision; Stephen saw heaven, and all died having fulfilled their purpose. Thus, whether our journey is short or long, God is the Lord of the journey.
2. We are not alone in our journey. Even in our worst days, God will provide us with good comforters, friends to listen, and fellow travelers. We need them. We must journey with them.
3. We have a way maker, author and perfecter. Phil 1:6 became a personal promise and comfort for me in regard to Karen. It states, “I am confident in this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Whatever the full purpose of Karen’s life, I know she fulfilled it, because I know.
4. We… know struggles will come, pain and loss may (probably) be our experience but ultimately, as we trust in Christ there is joy. Karen’s illness and death were hell for my family and me; we were not exempt; no one is. Why did Karen die…she contracted a deadly, incurable cancer. All of us will face crisis. We must trust God in spite of our circumstances, for we know he is faithful.
5.We… have a responsibility in our daily walk, which includes laying aside weights and sins, so we can complete our course. Grieving is necessary, mourning is healthy. None of us can carry the weight of grief alone, nor the sense of woundedness from our loss. Somehow with God’s help we must lay it aside. Easier said than done, but a necessary process. Further, we must recognize that, as unfair as it may seem, if we are still alive, we are to run our race, live our life for the long haul. Why Karen? Why not me?
6. All of us have normal questions, and rarely receive satisfactory answers. God is sovereign, but still we do not understand. Yet, if we keep our eyes on Jesus, we can find renewed purpose for our lives, especially as we consider all Christ has done for us.
7. We are to finish strong, which requires discipline. Discipline does not mean punishment. Though we might feel as though God is punishing us through our loss, this is certainly not true. God is love, and all circumstances we face will work out for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28). Finishing strong, coming to acceptance, requires acknowledging our:
- Sonship… we are inheritors of the grace of God. We are part of God’s family. That family has two locations — here and in heaven. Karen will not come to me, but I will go to her in God’s time. In the meantime, I must recognize my response-bility to act as a son (mature, equipped and prepared)
- Love from the Father…which is sure
- Submission to God’s sovereignty, for God’s ways are not ours, yet we know that “precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his saints (Psalm 116:15). I may never fully understand this yet I know I know.7.
8.We receive kingdom life, as we avoid a root of bitterness which can ruin us. We all have a choice, as we grieve, with God’s help and much support to embrace God’s Kingdom benefits, righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost (Rom 14:17) or we can reject God’s love, grace, and mercy, to become bitter and refuse to grow.
A Wonderful Conclusion
Though we will all experience loss, we can endure, because the Holy Spirit lives within us. He is the Comforter, who in time will help us to know it will be well with our soul. Trust him, he is Good!
In the middle of my greatest loss, I sang a song, and danced a dance. He really does turn our mourning into dancing; by his grace, in time.
This is an excerpt from Dr. DeKoven’s book, Mourning into Dancing. Another book you may find helpful is Grief Relief. Both are available at Vision Publishing and can be found at www.booksbyvision.com or call 1 800 9-VISION.
If you are interested in the course, Crisis Counseling, it is available at VIU. Call us for more details.