After a couple years of watching my son battle cancer, you might assume that I’ve got a deeper understanding of why God allows such awful things to happen. Arguably the most difficult question for Christians to answer, the question of God and suffering is simple but the answer contains layers of complexity that I do not have the theological moorings to handle. What I have discovered through our journey is that God delights in speaking to His children in their darkest moments of despair.
It is through those moments that I bring you two lessons courtesy of cancer…
Lesson One: I am Jon-Centered
Like any parent whose child was just diagnosed with a deadly disease, I prayed like crazy on my living room carpet sometimes sobbing uncontrollably as I begged God to spare my son. It was so natural for me to hit my knees in tear-filled prayer when I was in danger of losing someone so integral to my life.
In short time, my passionate pleas for God’s healing hand began to shed light into the darkest corners of my soul revealing what had been hidden by years of prosperity.
The concealed sin was a Jon-centered view of reality that had become accustomed to God’s goodness in my life. Never once had I been tear-stricken by God’s incredible outpouring of prosperity on my life. I never once hit my knees in passionate prayer shaking my fists to the heavens asking God why He had blessed me with three beautiful children. In my 31 years of life on this earth, I never once lost sleep pondering the deep question of why good things happen to me. I only questioned God’s goodness when the good things He had given were threatened.
My default mode was Jon-centered. My wants and my needs were at the center of my universe and thus goodness was expected to flow my way. It’s funny how a self-centered mentality is so easy to detect in other people and yet I was no less guilty. We all know someone who abandoned God and the church when their expectations for what God should give them were unmet. Whether it be a buried friend, barren womb, unpaid bills or broken vows, we only seem to question God when He allows our happy lives to be interrupted by the sting of suffering.
The question that each of us should ask is rather simple: What does God owe us? What debt has God found himself in such that it requires He continually give us health, wealth, and happiness? Of course when you state it like that, the answer is obvious. Nothing. God owes us absolutely nothing. He has no debts to pay us. He does not owe me my next paycheck, or my child’s next breath, or tomorrow’s next sunrise.
Lesson Two: Sin is the Biggest Problem
God delights in revealing truth to His children in their darkest moments and this was no exception. As I begged for Drew’s healing, I didn’t receive any audible answers in return but rather silent questions. Why wasn’t I concerned with Drew’s other diagnosis, the diagnosis of sin? As a small group leader and deacon, I earnestly believed the Bible and encouraged people take the Word of God seriously. Yet when that same Bible declared that the wages of sin was death, I would often yawn in indifference despite knowing that my children were not free of that deadly diagnosis. In my six years as a father, I never lost one minute of sleep over a heart condition that God had warned me was more lethal than genetically-mutated bone marrow.
In Matthew 10:28, Jesus says “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Sin against God is the biggest problem in the universe because God is the most important reality in the universe. The energy I was exhausting to shepherd Drew through cancer must serve as a living picture of the energy that’s expected of a father who, through persistent prayer and patient pastoring, leads his children to the final cure for their sin, the cross of Jesus Christ.
The Greatest Unanswered Prayer
Though we were the ones who owed a debt, God is the one who gave. God’s ultimate Gift to man found Himself prostrate on the dirt of Gethsemane spilling tears of anguish as He begged the Father to spare the Son. We’re told that the prayers of a righteous man availeth much but on that night the prayers of the righteous Son of God went unanswered. It’s because of that one unanswered prayer 2000 years ago that I can trust God whether or not He answers my own tear-filled prayers to spare my son.
In the Wood house these days, you’ll hear a lot more talk about fighting sin and trusting Christ with just a little less talk about being brave and fighting cancer. In the same way that bruising on Drew’s back indicated the deeper problem of leukemia, all suffering including cancer is the symptom that points us to the greater problem of sin.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:23