First published 31 August 2012
This post is now incorporated with 22 other similar ‘reflections’ in my book, Facing Cancer with Faith.
Very recently the doctors diagnosed that the non-Hodgkins lymphoma, from which I have been free for two years, has returned. As at this point I have some mild symptoms, but nothing that yet stops me living normally day-to-day. I only went to the doctor really because those symptoms, though mild, felt exactly like just before I was taken ill with the disease the first time around.
But the point is that even though I feel essentially fine, with a few aches and pains, the diagnosis from the experts is that I am very ill and that I need very intensive treatment in order to completely cure me.
Given that I don’t feel like it’s that serious, it takes faith to believe what the doctors say. In order to submit myself to treatment I have to believe that the doctors know what they are talking about and that the diagnosis is correct. This is especially true this time because the symptoms are not yet serious. The doctors can talk about the evidence they have, but I still have to take their word that what they say is evidence is really evidence.
I also have to believe that the treatment will be helpful and represents my best chance to avoid the worst consequences of my disease. And again, I have to take the doctors’ word on that.
It strikes me that it’s a little bit similar to when we talk about the Christian gospel to people. We try to explain that the diagnosis is bad, but curable. According to Jesus we are heading towards the wrath of God because of our selfish, self-centred, rejection of God and His ways. Even though you may feel fine, although perhaps niggled by the odd disappointment or upset, you are not fine. The sin in your life is a serious illness that needs to be dealt with.
And then we explain to people that the cure is to have faith in Jesus Christ, repenting from old sins and selfish ways, and living for Him. In order to submit to that cure, we must believe both that the cure is available and effective, and that the diagnosis is correct.
I guess it’s not exactly an earth-shattering observation!
Some people have more of a problem believing the diagnosis – we don’t naturally like to believe there are unseen problems that can be very serious. We like to think that if we feel fine then we are fine. Because if our feelings are not an accurate measure of our health, then how can we really ever know whether we are in danger of dying or not? That means we have to rely on someone else to tell us, and that means we are not self-sufficient. The same is true in the spiritual realm as in the physical – we should listen to God’s diagnosis in the spiritual realm, just as we should listen to the doctors’ diagnosis in the physical.
Some people don’t have a problem believing the diagnosis – mainly those whose senses align with reality, those who feel as bad as they really are. In a spiritual sense, there are those who don’t have a problem admitting they are sinners because they acutely feel the guilt and they know they deserve to face some sort of punishment. But they don’t believe there is an adequate cure available. They can’t accept that God may have dealt with their sin – by punishing His own Son instead. But God promises that whoever repents and puts their trust in Jesus Christ will be saved, and will have eternal life. ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3:16)
I suppose that one worthwhile observation to leave you with is that whether we talk about the diagnosis or the treatment/cure, in both the physical and the spiritual realm, it is better to trust in those who look objectively at your body or soul. If we trust our own feelings about how well we are or how likely we are to be cured then we can tend either towards complacency or despondency.
God shows us in His Word, the Bible, that we are all sinners, and that we are all facing an eternity of Hell apart from His saving grace. He tells us that Jesus Christ came ‘to seek and to save the lost’ (Luke 19:10). His Word is more reliable than our feelings.
So I urge you to believe the diagnosis and the cure that are told us by God Himself, the Creator, the One who knows everything… and if you believe to go on believing, no matter what.