Cancer, A Theology of Suffering, and Missional Living

Our living on mission with Jesus shouldn’t grind to a halt due to illness or difficulty or pain. However, most of us do not have an adequate understanding of the sovereignty of God or a theology of suffering that is robust enough to see how our pain, weakness and brokenness can further the mission of Christ and God’s glory. Our bodies are jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:7). It is precisely those times of weakness and brokenness that God wants to use to shine the light of Christ to a world in need of light and hope. Those fissures and cracks in the jar, they’re meant to further the mission of Christ—if we would only let God work through us.

Below is the transcript of an email from my mother that I received last week. She’s granted me permission to share this note. Presently, she’s facing a second round of cancer. She believes, and I concur, her cancer is God’s gift to her right now for the benefit of others. She writes,

Dear Family,

I have just completed my first chemo treatment, but what made it an exceptionally good day was to be able to share about our Lord. He provides so many of these opportunities if only we just walk across the room. I  also want to express my deepest gratitude for everyone of you and especially your faithful prayers on my behalf. Thank you!  Upon receiving my current diagnosis I have soberly sought the Lord through self examination. My life is willingly open and laid bare before His word, open to His eyes, and open with whom I must give an account.

THIS IS WHAT I HAVE LEARNED. We can go a long time thinking that we are just fine, spiritually great, and spiritually healthy. We have become experts in self deception and projecting images of ourselves that are far from reality. But life continues to go on.  A little slumber a little sleep. When will we WAKE UP? That wake up call for me was the second diagnosis of cancer. I am so thankful that I can rest in God’s sovereignty that what He permits, He permits for a reason, and that reason is His design. How can I not embrace His perfect design for my life without wholehearted gratitude and devotion to Him?  No cross, no crown. This truth has totally anchored and sustained me and has given me a boldness and confidence in my spirit that I can go forward with great faith and expectation because He is in control. I am driven to His Word and like a skillful surgeon so His Word begins to cut to the bone.  

THIS IS WHAT I AM HEARING!  Do we belong to God?  Do we live to glorify Jesus?  Are we willing to be reproached for Christ’s glory?  Oh how I pray this is true for all of us.  I am confronted by Him and His standards not by my standards.  His motives not my hidden motives. As He exposes pride, complacency, selfishness, critical spirit, impatience, bitterness, unforgiveness, comparisonitis, procrastination, jealousy, greed, self-centeredness, he is exposing the adversaries that cancer is meant to attack. These are deadly sins and cancers of the heart. How this must grieve a Holy God. Can we say like Paul that nothing good dwells in us. John Piper has said ” the aim of God in your cancer is to knock out the props from under our hearts so that we rely utterly on Him.” May God cut these sins out of our hearts. I don’t want to waste my cancer but I receive it as a gift that God will be glorified in this cancer.  

NOW FOR THE GOOD NEWS! Heb.4:16. His word heals, restores, strengthens and forgives, therefore, we can come boldly with confidence to the throne of grace that we may receive grace and  mercy to help in time of need. Hallelujah! I am learning to let the Word reign in my life so that God can reign in my life. Our Lord wants a penitent revived people for His own possession. May His name be highly exalted because He is infinitely worthy. Let us go forth in obedience and bring glory to His name.

God be praised
His Word believed
His name be trusted

Christ’s love to all,

Sue Hesse

Very few people I know have lived life with as great a passion for disciple-making as my mother. She eats, sleeps, and breathes making disciples who make disciples. Here’s the beautiful thing about my mother’s life right now. If she were perfectly healed this instant, that wouldn’t be the real miracle. What you’ve just read, the work God’s doing on the inside, that’s the real miracle. Without a doubt cancer has made my mother more missional than before. Please pray for her health like I do. But please know this, restored health is not my mother’s greatest desire. She’s already been promised restored health in Christ—it will happen either in this life or the next. That’s a given. Cancer cannot win. More importantly, pray that the transforming grace of Christ, which is so powerfully at work in my mother’s life right now, might be multiplied to others through her cancer. Pray that the divine odor of Christ would spread everywhere the fragrant knowledge of him.

Mom, I love you! Continue to live sent!

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