Over the last month several people have commented on my “strong faith” and complimented me on the way I have been handling the news and developments about my health. Many have told me that they’re challenged and encouraged by the way Janelle and I are responding to everything. I usually respond by saying “thank you” and adding something to deflect the praise away from me and point to God. But in the moment that’s hard to do, and it can sound like false humility. Today I want to take a minute to explain what I would if it weren’t rude to launch into a monologue when someone tries to compliment you.
I would try to communicate a few main truths that I think best explain why Janelle and I have been able to respond with whatever strength, faith, peace, and perspective we have.
It’s not the strength of my faith, but the object of my faith, that gives me peace.
Imagine you need to cross a rushing river about twenty feet wide with a current that would carry you away if you fell into it. You could try to jump in and swim across, but you know the current is too strong. There’s an inflatable raft you could use sitting on the bank. There’s a rickety old rope bridge that looks pretty unsteady. Next to that is a solid, wide, paved bridge that completely crosses the span. Sitting waiting for you with the keys in the ignition is a brand new pickup truck with all the bells and whistles, and a professional driver who will take you across. How would you cross the river?
Like me, you’d probably hop in the truck.
Is the river a difficult obstacle? Absolutely! Is it dangerous? No question. Would it be brave of you to try to paddle across on the raft, or take the rickety bridge? Maybe. But with the truck sitting there, I might say it’s reckless or stupid. And I’m not sure I’d praise you for your bravery or faith in the truck. I’d say, given the information you had, you made a smart choice. And I really wouldn’t expect you to do any different.
This is how I see the situation I’ve been put in with my brain tumor. Given the options in front of me and what I believe to be true, it makes the most sense to put my trust in Jesus and receive His comfort and peace. It’s not about my strength of character, it’s about me having Someone of limitless strength carrying me. The Gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ – is like a tank, not a truck, ready to go.
The Gospel teaches me Jesus can and will carry me.
At Resonate we talk about the Gospel as a massive diamond with countless facets. It is beautiful to behold, and in one sense you know what you are looking at. But every time you turn the diamond, the light strikes it differently, and you see a new facet, a new dimension, of its magnificence.
When it comes to giving us peace when we face bad news, I’m finding a few Gospel truths to be particularly glorious.
My eternity is secure: I have a future resurrection and restoration coming.
The Gospel means my eternity is secure. As I look death closer in the face than I ever have, I receive a comfort I’ve never needed. Contemplating my mortality isn’t terrifying the way it could be. I don’t have to worry whether I’ve lived a good enough life to get to Heaven or enjoy what comes after death. I don’t have to wonder if God will accept me or condemn me. I don’t have to stress about turning my life around and becoming a good person in order for God to approve of me. I don’t have to hope there’s some cosmic loophole that will force God to forgive me. I don’t have to count up my good deeds and convince myself I’ve earned a good afterlife. If I did, I would be a wreck.
Instead, I can have a peaceful, grateful joy because of Jesus. There’s no way I could possibly be good enough to demand Heaven from a righteous, holy God. God knew that, and He loved me (and you) – so He sent Jesus to live a perfect life on my behalf. Jesus lived this perfect life and obeyed in my place; then He, the only innocent person ever, died on the cross in my place. The wrath I deserve – that wrath I so clearly know now more than ever that I deserve for my hypocritical, selfish, rebellious, God-dismissing life – was completely absorbed by Jesus.
Every ounce of it. There is no condemnation left for me, because He who knew no sin became sin for me on the cross. And then He rose from the dead to show He has power over sin and death. So I know that because of Jesus I am forgiven for all my sin, and will spend eternity in a new, perfected body, on a restored Earth.
I cannot imagine facing the spectre of cancer and death without this. And if I believe this to be true – it completely changes the nature of what’s in front of me. But it doesn’t just give me hope for my future. Believing this is true changes my experience right now.
I have joy in my present because of the hope I have for the future.
To contemplate my absolute spiritual poverty, and God’s absolute love and pursuit of me in spite of it, can bring me nothing but joy. Not the kind of joy that makes me smile and jump around. But it creates this bedrock of joy, that when I drill all the way down through the feelings and fears – where I land in the end – is love, and peace, and comfort. Where I land in the end is that even though I have nothing to offer God, He has given me all things in Jesus. And if that is true – I can hang on to that when I’m feeling lost, fearful, angry, anxious. I can look to Him instead of just hoping that somehow things will turn around.
If God is real and the Gospel is true, there can be no greater news. If there is a god but I’m wrong about him/her/it/xe/ze/they – I may be in trouble. Or not. If there is no god and we are in a completely materialistic universe, then what’s in front of me is oblivion, the best is behind me, and it’s a very sad story. I happen to believe, more strongly now than ever, that the best explanation for our universe, is the one offered by historic, orthodox Christianity. It is not pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking; I believe there are very good reasons to believe it’s true.
I believe Christianity (and the Gospel, its core message) provide the resources to face evil head-on knowing that in the end it will not win. In the end God is going to make the sad things come untrue, and the glory of eternity will be greater for every bit of suffering we endure here.
Everybody faces suffering and pain. At some point, or many points, all of us will face the loss of the things that give us comfort, meaning, value…the things that make us forget we are mortal.
If these words from 2 Corinthians 4 are true – and I believe they are – then in the face of cancer I can do nothing but thank God over and over and ask Him to help me cling to these truths:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:7-18 (ESV)