Cancer, A Theology of Suffering, and Missional Living-Part 2

Recently, Miriam and I have been reading the Metaxas biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy together. Early in the book Metaxas writes about the death of Dietrich’s older brother Walter during World War I and the effect it had on the Bonhoeffer family. The legacy of faith passed on to Bonhoeffer by his godly mother, Paula, can be seen by her choice of Walter’s funeral hymn Was Gott tut, das ist Wohlgetan (What God Ordains is Always Good) by Samuel Rodigast. One stanza says this,

What God has done, it is well done. His will is always just. Whatever He will do to me, In Him I’ll ever place my trust.

As Miriam was reading these words an email arrived from my mother. A couple of weeks back I wrote about my mother’s ongoing battle with cancer and how her cancer has made her more missional. (You can read that first post here.) This second letter builds upon the first and further elaborates what God has been teaching her through her trial. Her words are eerily similar to the truth that Rodigast’s hymn proclaims. Below is the transcript; she’s granted me permission to share this.

Dear Eric and Miriam,

A year and a half ago I was beginning to sense an unsettling presence of discontentment in my spiritual life. While studying the life of King David I was totally awe struck at his GREAT FAITH and how God displayed His awesome POWER. I seriously searched my heart: Lord, I am afraid I have little faith! Although not consciously aware, wasn’t this in fact a prayer for trials. How will I ever know I have faith unless my faith is tested.

This is what I am learning: you can depend on the fact that God often sends trials in order for us to discover our gifts. His goal for me is not merely discovering them, but the real growth is understanding and experiencing the comforts of His divine grace in the midst of my Holy trial. I call this a Holy trial because my cancer is God’s perfect design for me. He designed this test/trial to suit me. Something had to challenge me to trust Him and so it is with certain assurance that the Lord will either deliver me quickly or He will sustain me through this trial for as long as He desires to test me. The supernatural confidence, patience, and perseverance He has given me PROVES the power of Divine Grace. “I have tried you in the furnace of affliction,” Isaiah 48:10. I can confidently say; let affliction come, God has chosen me. Sickness may intrude my life, but I have a remedy close at hand: God has chosen me. Whatever may come my way, I know: He has chosen me.

This is what I have learned: If it were not for experiencing the storms in life I would never know for sure that His work was true and strong. If the powerful winds never blew I would not know how firm and secure the Holy Spirit’s work. Therefore I choose to remain steadfast and immovable even in the midst of my difficulty. C.H. Spurgeon said, “I truly believe if one desires to glorify God, one has to be prepared to come to terms with the fact he will face many trials.”

Thank you Lord, may my momentary light affliction bring great honor to the gospel and be a testimony to your word. And so “great faith” will venture ahead. I choose to keep my eye continually focused on Him, to let my heart be full of Him and to let my lips speak of His great worth. He is infinitely worthy, infinitely good, and infinitely just. When I pillow my head at night I give thanks for what He is going to do and I rest in perfect peace, perfect joy, and unwavering faith because my hope and expectation is in Him. As my sovereign Lord awakens me morning by morning may I not leave His presence until I thank Him for His new and fresh mercies. “Great is your faithfulness” to me, Lamentations 3:21-23.

Growing in Him,

Mom

Mom, thanks for modeling a life of faith for the next generation. You are a living example of Paul’s words in Romans 5:3-5.

Rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Your hope will not put you to shame! May you know more of Christ today than yesterday. Love you Mom! Continue to live sent!

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!