There is a word and condition I have grown to hate like few others: Cancer. The mere mention of the name produces in me a kind of muted, frustrated resentment, that kind of feeling you get when you hear the name of someone against whom you hold a grudge.
Cancer was named by Hippocrates, first treated by the ancient Egyptians, and today is warred against by chemotherapy, radiation, and clinical trials. It has been a long-standing enemy worthy of our scorn.
When I was young, I paid cancer little attention, blissfully unaware of its dangers. I thought cancer was something that only struck old people, a penalty for living too long in the first place, because everyone I knew who had cancer was as old as Methuselah.
Even after my brother spent months in a children’s hospital and I was exposed to the bald heads, IV poles, and fuzzy cartoon slippers of those my own age being treated for malignancies, leukemia, and other diseases, strangely, I still viewed these cases as unique and accidental. Now in midlife, I realize that cancer is no respecter of persons.
As a church pastor and former hospital chaplain, I have seen the grim effects of cancer on far too many families and individuals. Not the least of who was a young, life-and-loved-filled woman named Robin. Robin, my friend of two decades, was a wife, mother of four school-aged children, and one of the loveliest people I have ever known.
Before her death this winter she asked me to speak at her memorial service and comfort her family. It was an impossible task as I needed comfort myself, for her six-year ordeal with cancer perplexed me. It was so unjust and unfair.
Now, I don’t believe for a minute that God was responsible for Robin’s cancer, but the sovereign God and I sure did wrestle about these things (and we still do). I have shaken my fist, finger, and prayers at him about it, and that’s okay. He’s not intimidated by me. I throw all my frustrations at him because I can’t take it – not sitting down any way – yet He can.
And while I have a place to cast my exasperating questions, I know I’m not going to get any answers for Robin’s death in this current life. I have to live with the question mark and must accept that countless numbers of good and godly people – like Robin and her family – have suffered inexplicable injustice. Why? Because they possessed an inferior faith, a faith not big or strong enough to get them out of trouble? No.
They suffered because of their good and great faith, not an absence of it. The writer of the book of Hebrews concludes that those who suffer this way are “too good for this world.” As C.S. Lewis once asked and answered: “Why do the godly suffer? Well, why not? They are the only ones who can handle it.”
In this life we will not experience the healing every of cancer, the reversal of very injustice, the correction of every wrong, or an answer to every question. All of creation – cancerous bodies, broken hearted-families, widowed husbands, grieving children, those of us with more questions than answers – all must wait for God’s new creation and redemption to come.
Our faith informs us that one day God will set all things right. He will exercise complete justice and mercy, and the “knowledge of the Lord will fill the earth like the waters cover the sea.” At the end of our lives, even at the end of this world, it will not be the end at all. Through the resurrection of our bodies and the recreation of heaven and earth, it will be the beginning.
There will be no more cancer patients, no more doctor visits, no more hospice consultations, no more anguished families, and no more unanswered questions. The Father himself will “wipe every tear from our eyes,” and there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain, and no more words worth hating.
Ronnie McBrayer is the author of “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus.” He writes and speaks about life, faith, and Christ-centered spirituality. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.