Thank God I’m Better
First published 11 October 2010
This post is now incorporated with 22 other similar ‘reflections’ in my book, Facing Cancer with Faith.
After nearly 2 months in hospital at the beginning of the year, followed by more than 4 months of chemotherapy, I was given the news that my cancer no longer shows up on any scans. I am in complete remission. The news was the best we could possibly have heard as a family, and is certainly the best news I’ve had for a long time. We praise God for the healing, which was an answer to the prayers of many people.
Of course, there is still the small matter of getting my body fit again after the hammering it has taken, both from the disease and from the treatment. And then further mountains to climb in getting back into work. But that’s another story!
My reflection this time around is on the phrase I used a few lines above, which is the sort that comes naturally to Christians – “we praise God for the healing”. Why do we praise God? Wasn’t it the doctors and the chemotherapy that made me better? The doctors even said from the start that they thought there was a good chance I would do very well from the treatment. So this is in no sense a “miraculous” healing. And yet I still thank God that I’m better.
Christians, you see, believe in a God who uses means. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.” (James 1:17) The gift of drugs that make us better, the gift of doctors and nurses with the skill to use them, the gift of researchers to discover their good effects, the gift of prosperity to be able to afford them; all these gifts come from God, who made everything and holds the whole universe in the palm of His hand. Further there is the gift of prayer, by which we can ask God specifically for His help.
We often may long for the miraculous in our lives – the miraculous cure, the miraculous provision of money or food, the miraculous guidance to do the right thing. And those things certainly do happen when God wants to do them. But God’s normal way of working is through things He has already created. When He sent the 10 plagues on Egypt to force Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery, he sent natural disasters. When He parted the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to escape the pursuit of the Egyptians, He used a “strong east wind” (Exodus 14:21). As He spreads the good news about Jesus and the salvation we can receive through Him, He uses evangelists, missionaries, apostles, preachers, ordinary Christians. As He teaches us about Himself, He uses prophets, kings, poets, writers whose collected works make up the Bible.
For me, when I ask God for help, I don’t really mind if He uses a miracle or uses means. Whenever help comes, and in whatever way, I know that it is from God, who loves me as His child in the Lord Jesus Christ.
I’m sure I remember in one episode of The Simpsons there is a scene where Homer is shipwrecked and is floating around on some driftwood. He prays to God to save Him. Soon afterwards a ship comes past and throws him a lifeline, saying, “here climb aboard, we’re here to rescue you.” Homer’s reply is something like, “no it’s ok, God’s going to save me!” Of course as the ship goes out of sight we then hear the inevitable, “Doh!” We’re so often like that, not recognising God’s hand in the ordinary as well as the extraordinary.
But, as one person said to me, if God made the cure and gave the skill, etc, who made the cancer in the first place? The challenge is whether I am selective in seeing God’s hand at work. Do I think God only works in the good things, and is only reacting to the random bad things? If God is powerful enough to use means to make me better, wouldn’t He also be powerful enough to prevent cancer in the first place?
If the challenge comes from an atheist, my response could be summarised as saying, “who are you to talk about good and bad? You don’t believe anything is good or bad, just different configurations of atoms.”
But from the standpoint of faith, the Bible is clear. Nothing is outside of God’s divine power. Paul, in Ephesians 1:11, speaks of God as being the one who “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”. In Romans 8:28 he says that, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him”. If you read the book of Job, where poor Job suffers horribly, bereavement, financial ruin, bodily pain, you read that the suffering would not have been possible without God’s express permission. God’s hand was at work behind the sufferings of Jesus and the sins that led to them: The disciples acknowledged to God in prayer afterwards that Herod and Pilate “did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” (Acts 4:28) I don’t believe you can read the Bible and escape the conclusion that God plans everything, good and bad, whilst remaining perfect and holy in His character and motives.
Therefore, I am happy to say that God made the cancer, and planned that I should be laid low under it for a time. I don’t think, because of what the Bible says, that is saying that God is doing anything wrong. On the contrary, because I believe God is in control I can have confidence that even the worst of suffering is for my good… And it will take me a lifetime and probably the whole of eternity to learn that “my good” is to find my treasure in Christ, the ultimate treasure.
Job’s response to suffering was, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” (Job 1:20)
As the prophet Habakkuk watched the Jews carted off into exile, his response was, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
Some of us struggle because God is not obliged to give us reasons for our sufferings. Perhaps, you know, we wouldn’t understand the reasons even if He were to tell us. How can we humans, who are like specks of dust compared to the Creator of the whole intricate and vast universe, hope to understand, even if we were to add all our brain power together?
The point is to trust God. He is good and He knows what He is doing.
I guess I see it a little bit like this (and I know that this is a poor analogy). When I was in hospital I trusted the doctors and nurses to do the best or me. But sometimes they had to do things to me that hurt in order to progress with either diagnosis or treatment. I had endoscopies that were really painful, because of where my gut was so inflamed. The naso-gastric tube was very unpleasant. The bone marrow biopsy was uncomfortable to say the least. I hated having a cannula inserted into my veins. And then there was the daily blood test. The phlebotomist or the doctor would come along and jab a needle in my arm to get me to bleed. Every time they give a little warning a split second before the needed goes in, so that it’s not a complete shock. “Sharp scratch!” they say. What if, in the context of the eternity we have to look forward to, all our pains, hardships and sufferings are like that? What if all that pain that we feel so acutely now will seem like just a “sharp scratch” when we look back from eternity?
For the Christian, we can take comfort from Paul, who says, “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) Incidentally, Paul’s light momentary afflictions included imprisonment, beatings, shipwreck, venomous snake bite, persecution, and eventually execution.
For the unbeliever, the same applies. The pains and sufferings of this life are a “sharp scratch” in comparison to the eternity of pain that Hell will be.
For the believer the pain keeps us looking to Jesus, praying to Him, trusting in His goodness and His love for us. For the unbeliever the pain warns of more to come, and to urges them to seek the only true escape route – repentance and faith in Jesus.
So I do thank God for making me better. But ultimately, I want to be able to say with Paul, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13)