In the end its really moot if its God’s permissive will or if its God’s perfect will or some other category of divine will. The fact is it’s cancer. The fact is I have two close friends fighting cancer.
Therefore please understand why I look more down than usual. I tear a bit more easily. I am praying a lot.
Please don’t quote Scripture to me or refer me to a book I must read or tell me to pray more. I have been down this road before. My personal tsunami happened during the Lunar New Year season in 1992 when my wife Hee Ling discovered she had cancer, final stage. She is buried in Sitiawan. She is with God.
So I tap from a deep well of memory and feelings as I walk with my friends on “the cancer road.”
No, I am not assuming the worst in either of the cases. I have long learnt that at most doctors can give you the mathematical probabilities. All they can say are things like “90% of such cases do not respond to treatment.”
But God is not bound by the odds. Doctors cannot tell you the will of God. I have had friends who were written off by the odds, come back healed and healthy.
But having to confront cancer up close again resurfaces for me the many mysteries of the cancer road.
For example, why are our best people afflicted? Most of us will know of the cancer battles of David Watson, a key leader in the Anglican evangelical/charismatic renewal, and John Wimber, father of the Third wave renewal. They didn’t receive healing for their cancer. There are many more names to be culled from any list of our dearest and best.
Why them? Why my two friends? Lord, if you want suggestions of people you could afflict, I will be glad to pass you some names. O perfect God who makes no mistakes, why these people in particular?
Are they victims of spiritual warfare because they are on the front lines? Are you teaching us not to trust in men no matter how good but to trust in you only? Is there another secret wager between you and Satan that we are not party to? Is this another lesson in divine Zen, breaking our fleshly hunger to find meaning on our terms, so that we free fall into trusting you and you only? What, what, what? Why, why, why?
And what about your encouragement for us to pray for healing? James 5:13-18 seems clear.
“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make them well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” [TNIV]
There doesn’t seem to be any small print here. The instructions and promises are clear enough. So why aren’t all healed? Why did Paul have to leave Trophimus sick in Miletus? [2 Timothy 4:20b] Why are some healed and some are not? We voice our questions through our sobs or we yell at heaven but often all we get is divine silence. The cancer road holds many mysteries.
I know that there are many attempts to harmonize the various claims in Scripture. These are useful. But sometimes these constructs sound too neat. Sometimes the tension of mystery seems more honest.
Still I need to know how to live and what to do. In the face of these mysteries I fall back on these basic convictions.
1. Jesus died and rose again. He is who He claims to be and I can fully trust Him and His book, the bible. [1 Corinthians 15: 1-34]
2. There will be a new heaven and a new earth where there will be complete healing for all of God’s people. [Revelation 21]
3. Nothing can separate me from God’s love. [Romans 8:31-39]
4. God uses all the details of our lives and makes them into something good, for those of us who are His followers. [Romans 8:28-30]
5. God’s highest expectation is that I show agape love and this is more important than knowing all mysteries. [1 Corinthians 13]
6. God expects me to pray for healing and I will do that. [James 5: 13-18]
7. Death is the final enemy but it has now been transformed into a doorway to fullness of life. [2 Corinthians 5:1-10]
8. I am to live my life in faith and not in fear because God is my Father and He is on His throne. [Matthew 6:25-34]
These are some of the convictions that undergird my life. So when cancer comes and the tsunamis of life hit me or my friends I fall back on them. When much is swept away, these truths remain.
There can be much pain in life and there is much we don’t know. But when all is stripped away, there is God. Sometimes that has to be enough. But that is a lot.
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan