I’ve never been one to celebrate in the midst of suffering. Not like the writers of traditional bluegrass songs about hard mountain life or African-American spirituals dated in times of slavery or injustice. Those guys were far wiser than me. By the last verse of songs outlining some of the saddest circumstances, they were celebrating their inheritance in heaven and “that trumpet sound” or “that happy day” that they knew would one day come. With desperation for the Gospel in their hardship, they trusted God for their salvation and it brought them joy that caused them to celebrate.
I am a New York PR account executive who, until three months ago, spent my days talking to reporters and checking off tasks to make my clients happy. Then, one day a friend passed by my desk and said, “Hey man, why’s your neck all swollen?”
I soon learned that I had a large tumor next to my carotid artery in my neck. I had surgery to remove it and then was told that the tumor was a sarcoma, one of the rarer forms of cancer that needs to be dealt with aggressively. Tests show that there are still cancer cells in my neck, but that the cancer has yet to spread.
I’ve just completed two and a half months of the most intensive chemotherapy drugs available at max levels. Radiation and more surgery are likely next, but will put important veins and nerves in my neck at risk. At the end of the day, none of these procedures are guaranteed to kill all the cancer cells or keep them from coming back.
It’s hard to accept the limitations of a team of the best doctors in the country. Not only am I more aware of my mortality than ever before, but the comfort of my normal, busy life is being completely derailed by my treatment.
With all of the long days at the hospital, I have had a lot of time to think about the Fall of man and all of the brokenness that it has brought to the world in our sin. People are lonely and unfulfilled by broken relationships. People get sick. People are poor. People die. However, in the deep darkness of the Fall, there the bright light beaming the hope, freedom and redemption of the Cross of Jesus Christ into the hearts of God’s people. Everything I cling to in this world is unsure, but I can celebrate knowing that no matter what, God and heaven will be my own forever because of that Cross. Jesus has written my name into the Book of Life. His favor for me will not be shaken and He will not let me go. This is the one thing that I can count on, it is all that matters and it is my only lasting hope.
Fear of death is much less of a problem for me than losing my comfortable life. Dealing with long periods of helplessness has been the hardest part of this, but I’ve been driven to my knees and am depending on God for comfort and strength in new ways. I went from being a busy New Yorker to some days needing help putting my shoes on. When I can’t keep my food down, can’t go to work, can’t take my girlfriend out to dinner and suffer through direct psychological side effects from the chemo; I feel worthless. I’m frustrated by my situation, but the Spirit is in me and reminds me that not a hair will fall from my head without the all-satisfying provision and perfect will of my redeemer.
Romans 8 tells us that the fallen creation will be subjected to frustration at the will of God in hope that we’ll be “liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” The same chapter also tells us that in all things God works for the good of His people. There is purpose in our suffering. Not only is God making me trust Him more in my desperation and frustration, He also seems to be using this to make Himself known to his people. People are seeing the church serve me. People who see my condition are reminded of the sinking sand beneath their feet and are asking themselves about the hope and purpose in their lives. People that haven’t trusted God for anything before are pleading to Him daily and asking that His hand would heal me and comfort me. There is purpose in my suffering.
A day is coming marked by a trumpet sound when the full restoration and glory of God will come. The Curse that was broken by the Cross will no longer have any effects on us or our surrounding from that day forward. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. Whether I’m cancer-infested or cancer-free in a few months, my suffering is temporary, as are all things of this world. Resting in this lasting and solid hope, I can celebrate my redemption as I live in anticipation of the trumpet sound.