I got an email today. From a dear friend. A friend whom I met through and because of our both having cancer. We are plain spoken with each other. We don't beat around the bush. Dealing with cancer is too serious to make fluff out of it. And so we talk to each other. Plain and up front.
My friend is barely a year past her first diagnosis. I'm still well under a year. But we're in the same boat, waiting for our next scans, hoping they will be "clean" and "no change". By now we've educated ourselves to know the nuances of certain terminology...words like "tumor markers" or "areas of activity". We're watchful. We're listening. We're worried. We know that the good news of this week's tests are not a definitive thing. We know that cancer cells can still be lurking, ready to begin again their aggressive growth. We know that time is a factor here...it won't be until we have had good tests for a long period of time, for years, that we can sit back and rest easy.
I think I have a positive attitude about all of this. I don't bemoan my fate. I have not gone into depression. But on the other hand, I never have professed the attitude that some cancer patients have...that "I'm gonna kick cancer's ass!". Oh, Yeah! Sez Who? Cancer is a war zone. And there is shrapnel all around us.
As a Christian I know that God knows my days...all my days...all my future days. Cancer is not a surprise to Him. And if He is the powerful God that the Bible teaches that He is, then if He really wanted to, He could cure me of my cancer right now. And if He doesn't, then all I can surmise is that God has purpose in all of this. Purpose for my ultimate good. Purpose for His ultimate glory.
Merely because we are Christians does not mean life will be a bed of roses. Nor does it mean that I will live with good health to my genetically determined 90 years, and die peacefully of a heart attack in my sleep.
Look at Jesus' first disciples. If these men were the epitome of what it means to be a follower of Christ, then shouldn't they have had lives that ran smooth, went well? Comfortable lives that ended in old age? Wouldn't you think that at least they should have been rewarded for their faith and their unwavering work in spreading the gospel to the early church? And yet, only one of them, John, lived to old age. And John endured imprisonment for his faith. The other ten died martyrs deaths. Killed by the sword, by stoning, by spear, by being thrown off the temple.
And why? Wouldn't it seem plausible to our earthly way of thinking that if they had lived highly successful lives, protected at every turn, shielded at all times from any difficulty, wouldn't that have promoted the spread of Christianity more than the other?
And wouldn't it seem equally plausible (to our way of thinking) that God could impress a lot of unbelievers if He caused the lives of all His people to prosper, to live disease-free, to suffer none of what unbelievers suffer? Wouldn't that be a good way to impress upon unbelievers that it is a good and profitable thing to trust in God?
But we see things in terms of our own thinking. We do not see the secret purposes of God. And it is He who has purposed and ordained all aspects of our lives. Psalm 139:16 David says this: "....And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them."
In the purposes of God, our lives do have purpose, just as did the lives of the Disciples. We don't know all the secret purposes of God in our own lives. We don't know all that He is working out. But He will work. And He will love. And He will move us along the path of life that He has chosen for us. It is, after all, His grand story; we are only minor parts of His story. We can't always see the grandness of it all. Now we see only parts of His eternal plan. As if we are seeing it in a dark mirror. Dimly.
Paul tells the Corinthians, "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." (I Cor. 13:12)
In Paul's time, a mirror was dim and hazy. Not sharp as in the mirrors we use today. He compared our understanding of eternity to that dim vision. We can only see and understand all of this "eternity" thing dimly. But then, when we are there, we will see face to face. We will know fully.
So now, in this struggle with cancer (or heart, or diabetes, or terrible accident, or birth defect, you name the struggle, it's the same), we see God working in us. We question, we struggle, we move forward in fear, pushing one reluctant heavy foot in front of the other, going to bed at night and wondering about our upcoming blood tests and scans, etc. And we bow down to Him, knowing that He is in control, even of this.
It is a grand journey we are on. And we travel in grand company. And our job while we're traveling is to encourage one another, to cheer each other onward. Keep moving forward. And with each step we look up, amazed that we are given the strength to take another step forward towards the prize. He refines us, causing us to walk through fire.
Isaiah 43:2,3 "....Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you....."
In my flesh, I want to live to 90, healthy all the way, and keel over on the last day from a heart-attack. Happy and long life. No suffering. No pain. Instant death. That's my idea of how my life should go.
And yet, that is likely not the road that God has for me. I have to get my mind off my vision of my road and focus on the unknown road ahead of me. Then I can rejoice in God's providence, his provision, for me. As long as I struggle to stay on my own idea of what my road should be, I struggle against God Himself. I have to quit struggling. I have to recognize that THIS road is the one God has ordained for me. I have to travel THIS road and not the road I would choose. And know that when I walk through the fire, I will be safe under His protection.
My friend is right...it is a strange place we are at. But isn't it a grand place! Haven't we learned so much this past year! Haven't we cried and wept and prayed and struggled with God! (Reminds me of Jacob wrestling with God in the Old Testament). And won't we have a story to tell, our little story, when we are united in eternity! All of our little stories woven together into the grand story of God's dealings with His creatures and of His loving kindness in redeeming us from sin and death.