Where Do I Put my Trust?
First published 17 February 2010
This post is now incorporated with 22 other similar ‘reflections’ in my book, Facing Cancer with Faith.
This is being written while I am still in hospital (although I will publish it some time later), now more than a week after being told about my lymphoma. Sometimes the days are long and the mind decides to play games to fill the time! I’ve tried to fill a lot of time with reading, writing on the blog, and talking to friends and family when they visit. But sometimes the nature of being ill is that you don’t have enough energy to read, talk or even watch TV. And then what does my brain do? It starts to go over all the possible outcomes for all the things that I don’t know yet, focusing great attention on the scariest!
I won’t try to mislead you. There is so much information to take in. I don’t understand a lot of what the doctors say at the moment, but they expect that. They reiterate and take time. There is a specialist nurse who is there to get alongside and explain. But they can’t hide the fact that this is very complex disease with a very complex treatment (which divides into a multitude of different types of the disease, each with different treatments). They haven’t even concluded on which exact type of lymphoma I have, even though they want to start the chemotherapy soon. They also, however much they try, cannot get away from the statistics that show that not everyone gets 100% cured.
My doctor’s approach, whilst pussyfooting around the percentage cure rates, was to say that talking about statistics is not really relevant when you are discussing an individual case. In other words, if he said 90% of people are cured (he didn’t!), that would be no real ultimate comfort to someone who was in the unfortunate 10%. And they wouldn’t know they were in that 10% at the beginning of treatment anyway! So why bother talking about it?
The other thing with statistics is that it’s not like I’ve got a decision to make. I’m not really taking a bet, where I want to know the odds of winning. I have to take the treatment, because it’s definitely more effective than doing nothing! So knowing the cure rates should not affect the way that I approach the disease. Would I take the chemotherapy any differently or live my life any differently if I knew that the percentage of people making a total recovery (which, by the way, is defined by being clear of the disease for ten consecutive years) was 30%, 50%, 70% or 90%?
The trouble is that it does make a difference if I’m being honest. Good odds can lead to complacency. Bad odds can lead to despondency. But both are examples of sinful unbelief.
If I am told that treatment for this particular type of cancer has a 90% success rate, then I could relax a bit and assume that I simply have to go through the treatment and expect to be healed. However, that simple assumption is really putting my trust in human doctors and in medicine. I am not putting my trust in God, and that is displeasing to God.
On the other hand, if I am told that treatment for this type of cancer is worth having but it has only demonstrated a 30% success rate, then I could become despondent. I could start to live as if I am going to die, thinking negatively, living negatively. However, that is not putting my trust in God’s faithfulness and love towards His children. That also is displeasing to God.
True faith looks to and delights in the God who shows in the creation of the universe an unparalleled power, a supreme intelligence, infinite wisdom, and a heart-swelling and awe-inspiring capacity for beauty, diversity, magnificence, love and joy. The tiniest atomic particle to the biggest, hottest star or supernova; the smallest ant to the biggest dinosaur; the beating of my heart; the swell of love; the breathlessness of joy – all brought about, and held in being, by God. God is the only one we can turn to with complete confidence to know the solution for our healing, and have the power to bring it about.
However, we can’t stop there. How can we be sure that this great God is on our side?
At this point we start to realize that throughout our lives we’ve ignored God, and acted as if He didn’t exist. We’ve enjoyed all that He has created, but we have never acknowledged the Creator. We’ve known right from wrong many times, and chosen to do wrong, even by the standards of our own conscience. What right have we got to assume that our Creator will be on our side? We have turned our backs on Him. He should be angry with us.
And He is indeed angry. “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:18-20)
The trouble is that this applies to all of us too. We are all involved in this. And God’s anger is justified. In fact (this might take some pondering for a few minutes!) – God’s anger is necessary, if beauty is to be truly beautiful, if love is to be truly lovely, if joy is to be truly joyful, and if perfection is to be truly perfect. God, who in His very essence has all these things, cannot ignore our offense against them if He is to maintain the integrity and unchangeableness that are also part of His character.
So what are we to do? Can God ever be for us? How can we ever call on Him to help us?
The answer is wonderful. It is the core of Christianity. God does punish sin, but He punishes it by pouring His wrath out on His only Son on the cross. That’s why Jesus came. That’s why Jesus had to die. It was all part of God’s plan. God’s Son, Jesus Christ, born without sin and having lived a sinless life, absorbed and extinguished the wrath of God for all who believe in Him. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
This is how Paul describes that transaction in Romans 3:21-26:
“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who faith in Jesus.”
Mind-blowing! God had a way of both satisfying His justice and maintaining His love to sinners who deserve His righteous anger and wrath. And that way is Jesus, faith in Him.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly… God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:6-10)
So, this is the point. And I admit that it will be ever so comforting for believers, but terrifying for unbelievers.
God is the only one who can be appealed to for help with perfect confidence, BUT only through faith in Jesus Christ. That was the way that God gave to satisfy His justice and provide for our eternal salvation. And we dishonour Him even more if we fail to recognize that.
Vague prayers begging for mercy will not be heard. Realising that we have offended God is not enough, saying sorry is not enough, regretting the past is not enough. Only trusting, believing, resting, delighting in Jesus Christ will give access to God’s mercy and blessing.
“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32)
So with God’s help I aim to avoid the complacency that trusts in doctors and medicine more than the God who created them all, and to avoid despondency, knowing that God the Almighty is on my side, because I trust in Jesus Christ. I pray that I may have that faith, no matter what the statistics say about my cancer treatment.
I could quite easily end there, but there are deeper things to understand. But those will have to wait until next time.