Hospitals are draining places. The endless beeping from a myriad of machines, room-upon-room of middling grey paint and the never-ending hours spent waiting in hard and uncomfortable furniture for answers which are far more uncomfortable and hard. The truth is that we have spent a lot of time in the hospital since last Thursday, when my wife, Sarah, was diagnosed with Mediastinal Large B-Cell Lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer.
Meetings, surgeries and days seem to fly by until they fold into each other with disarming regularity.
In that time, every kind of emotion has come upon us alongside a deep foreboding sense that it wasn’t meant to be like this. Tears upon tears have made their home with us. We oscillate between a complete trust in God as the Sovereign Creator of all things, who is in control of every single one of Sarah’s cells and devastation at the loss before us.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? (Ps 22:1-2)
Psalm 22 and 23 running back-to-back has always intrigued me, even though I know the psalms are arranged thematically rather than in historical order. In one, David cries out to God in fear that God has abandoned him in his time of need, and yet, seemingly in the next breath, he declares that he shall not want, nor fear any evil for God is with him.
In the moments of his darkest anguish, the Psalmist reminds us that God accepts our rawest lament and cries, whilst also being the only one who can satisfy every longing of our soul.
‘My God, my God’.
When he feels abandoned, the Psalmist brings his burden before God. Only those who know they belong to God can present this kind of searching and longing line of questioning to God 1. God promises he will not abandon or forsake his people (Ps 94:14). It’s an act of the deepest kind of trust and hope to lament in this way – to remind God of this promise when things seem desolate, and when God’s promises seem to ring hollow to our ears 2.
This seems right. Even in our longing, God has been so gracious to us throughout this entire process. He has surrounded us with family and community who have stocked our fridge, cleaned our house and sent wave after wave of deep spiritual encouragement and truths, rather than mere platitudes. He has supplied us with shoulders to cry upon and food to eat when we feel weary.
More than even this, more than family and food, he has continued to give us hope beyond all comprehension in the person of Jesus.
The Kind of Truth You Need When Cancer Hits
Missionaries have always astounded me.
I often wonder where they discovered the kind of courage needed to face the spears of those they have loved and sacrificed greatly to reach, and not to use the firearms in their hands, but rather die. What drove missionaries like John G. Paton and Hudson Taylor who seemed, in opposition to the circumstances facing them, having lost wives, children and homes to be so deeply and abundantly satisfied in Christ.
John G. Paton
Paton, writing after the death of his wife and children:
“Feeling immovably assured that my God and father was too wise and loving to err in anything that he does or permits, I looked up to the Lord for help, and struggled on in His work”
Paton, when surrounded by raging natives intent on killing him, and his native friend Abraham:
I realised that I was immortal till my Master’s work with me was done. The assurance came to me, as if a voice out of Heaven had spoken, that not a musket would be fired to wound us, not a club prevail to strike us, not a spear leave the hand in which it was held vibrating to be thrown, not an arrow leaves the bow, or a killing stone the fingers, without the permission of Jesus Christ, whose is all power in Heaven and on Earth.
Hudson, on pain and affliction:
It doesn’t matter, really, how great the pressure is; it only matters where the pressure lies. See that it never comes between you and the Lord—then, the greater the pressure, the more it presses you to His breast.
The foreword to Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret:
Hudson Taylor had many secrets, for he was always going on with God, yet they were but one—the simple, profound secret of drawing for every need, temporal or spiritual, upon “the fathomless wealth of Christ.”
This is the kind of confident trust in God that you need when cancer comes to your door. The kind of trust that when the Apostle Paul states, ‘He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things’ (Rom. 8:32), he really meant it. That through the cross God has purchased and secured every possible blessing that could ever be needed to make us deeply and satisfied in him, forever. Everything we need to be satisfied in God, the cross has made certain.
Old Testament writer, Habbukuk writes:
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)
We do not put our trust in the blossoming trees, the fruit of the vines, the produce of the fields or the herds in the stalls. We continue to rejoice and take joy in the God of our salvation.
Let me be clear: this situation has floored us. Never in a million years did we think that we would spend the last three weeks rushing to the hospital, or sitting in doctors wards, or contemplating the reality that cancer may spread or the seemingly endless loss before us. Yet in this, our theology has been tattooed onto our souls. We will continue to rejoice in the Lord, for He is good.
A Joy Deeper Than Cancer
At the centre of God’s revelation is not a secret about how to live a lengthy, self-sufficient and secure life3. The scriptures reveal to us the cross-shaped life of a Christian who abides in Jesus, trusts him above all things, worships him above all things, desires him above all things and rejoices in him through all things. On this path, we do not seek out suffering for the sake of suffering, but we do expect Jesus to be active in the most unexpected of places. This includes a cancer diagnosis.
Rather than soaking in self-satisfaction and pity in this season of sorrow, we find that our affections are being reshaped by God – our former delight in inferior satisfactions have been put in their proper place and God has been found to be an anchor for our soul, firm and secure (Hebrews 6:19). This is a joy that is deeper than cancer.
This is the kind of battle-soaked, cross-won, Spirit-secured kind of joy that leads us to sing worship songs in our pain, wear out our knee-joints in prayer and searching the scriptures daily to access the infinite mercies and comfort found in Jesus. He is the source and security of our joy, even in this.
Charles Spurgeon, when preaching on the Immutability of God 4, delivered one of my favourite lines:
Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound! In musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief and in the influence of the Holy Spirit, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrows? Would you drown your cares? Then go plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea—be lost in His immensity. And you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul, so calm the swelling billows of grief and sorrow—so speak peace to the winds of trial—as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead.
Lord, let this be true.
Jimmy founded Stirring our Affections in 2016 | Married to Sarah, Pastor in Melbourne and eternally loved and satisfied by Christ