Suffering is a Gift

Today I turn 28.

In the last number of years, especially as a Christian, even though I “knew” in the back of my mind that none of us is guaranteed a long life, I didn’t think much about dying young.

But, when I was diagnosed with Acute Leukemia in December, it only took a day for me to accept that very real possibility. At that point I didn’t know if I would make it to my 28th birthday. I subsequently went into remission (doesn’t equal cured) from the chemotherapy but I still don’t know if I have any more birthdays. Regardless, I see this cancer as a gift.

The reason, I believe, that I was able to come around on the news within a day was this: my theology prepared me for it. What do I mean by that? I mean that I had an understanding of a holy and righteous God, of a sinful human race, of a cursed world, and of a Saviour who bridged the gap between God and us and our world. And, by God’s grace I trusted in the Saviour, Jesus, to carry me and my family through this. It wasn’t a real shock then when I was told I had cancer. Sure I cried with my wife when I first got a phone call about the possibility, but I knew that I wasn’t exempt from the pains of this world.

Allow me to flesh out this theology for you a bit. Three aspects bear special mention.

1) The Current State of the World

Though God created this world perfect and good, we humans rebelled against God, seeking to be gods ourselves. A righteous and holy God rightfully placed this world under a curse in response. Dare we get away with treason? So, death entered into the world. Our relationship with the One who made us was broken.

Cancer exists now. Hatred exists now. Selfishness exists now. This world is a mess.

As such, I’m not surprised I have cancer. I’m a part of this world and not exempt from its pains.

“The creation was subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20).

But only knowing this makes me a realist without hope.

2) Redemption

But God hasn’t left us alone. Though we could not fix the relationship between God and us (after all, we’re the rebels!), God continued to act in history to redeem a people for himself. In the Garden he made the first promise that he would reverse the effects of the curse (Genesis 3:15). He entered into covenant with Abraham, promising that from his seed he would bless the nations (Genesis 13:15; Galatians 3:16). He gave the law to Moses to direct the ways of his people, a grace in itself (Exodus; John 1:16). He gave the sacrificial system to show that sin required the shedding of blood (Leviticus). He set David upon the throne of Israel, a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). His people continued to fight him and so they were exiled for a time in punishment (see the Prophets). But God continued to speak of and promise redemption. Isaiah, the 8th c. B.C. prophet, spoke of the coming exiles for God’s people but also promised that after that would come one who would suffer and justify many (Isaiah 53:11) and bear “the sin of many, and [make] intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). The stage was set.

Then the ultimate act of mercy and grace that was continually promised happened: he sent his Son to die for us. Though you and I deserved his righteous judgment, Jesus was born in the flesh to take our sin upon himself. Two thousand years ago, this Jesus decisively conquered sin and death by being brutally crucified. He satisfied God’s righteous wrath. The wrath you and I deserved (see Romans 3:21-26). And through this he transforms the hearts of men and women to once again honour their Maker.

In the face of suffering I can rejoice that I have received new life in Christ.

“If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

But, a skeptic might argue, “positive thinking people” get through this too. But “positive thinking” doesn’t change reality. There is no future hope in positive thinking since without Christ the best one can hope for is non-existence at death. But with Christ there is future hope.

3) Consummation and Glorification

One day God will totally and completely bring to consummation what he has already begun: the reverse of the curse and our return to Eden (Revelation 21-22). He will completely remake this earth and we who accept what Jesus has done for us will forever be in his presence. He will glorify us with him (Romans 8:30). This is what we were made for. But even now we can know God, the relationship has been restored.

This is hope, grounded in the cross and resurrection of Christ and the promises of that God for what is still ahead.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

The question this poses to all of us is this: How will you respond to this? Will you give your Maker his due? Or will you keep fighting him, denying his work in Jesus all the while living in his world?

Suffering is a Gift

That’s the theology and message I believed before my diagnosis, and the theology and message I believe now. By God’s grace it changes everything. This Jesus, my Saviour, is completely trustworthy and deserving of full adoration and worship. He is completely sufficient. I know this first hand. And I know this through these trials: painful procedures, feeling unhealthy, getting sick with no immune system, facing the possibility of death, etc.

So, in light of my cancer and knowledge of this fallen world, I listen to and commend to you the words of James, the brother of Jesus: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:3-5, TNIV).

I know that Jesus is sufficient for all things and this trial is for my good.

It is pure joy. This suffering is a gift. It is for my joy and yours.

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34 comments

  1. Joseph Gurba

    Wonderful post. My wife has ovarian cancer currently and she has been getting chemo on and off since 2008. We are not sure how this will turn out, and it is a very tough thing to go through. She was not a Christian when she was diagnosed and I had only been for less than 6 months. God has used this great affliction to grow us into monuments of grace for the world to see. Truly seeing the possibility of death up close shortens our sight significantly. Sometimes, only seeing tomorrow is the best thing for us.

  2. Pingback: Suffering – yes, it’s a gift « Goss Church Blog
  3. rockstarkp

    As one born with FSH-muscular dystrophy, I can also attest the fact that one’s theology will shape their view of suffering and ability to see diseases as a gift from God.

    People tell me all time that I am an inpiration becaue of my positivie attidude, but I hope that I will inpire them to cling to Jesus more tightly as I need to every day.

  4. johnbugay

    Hi Andrew — About a year ago (last June), my wife was diagnosed with CMML (chronic myelomonocytic leukemia), which is in the AML (acute myeloid leukemia) family of leukemias. She underwent six monthly cycles of Vidaza, followed up with a bone marrow (stem cell) transplant in December. She experienced a number of complications, but praise God, she has been disease-free in the last 3 “chimerism” tests (which test for her “old” DNA mixing in with her new blood). She is about at day 140 post-transplant, and was 51 years old when she underwent the transplant. Not sure if this would be an option for you, but the Lord has certainly enabled doctors to do some amazing things these days.

      • johnbugay

        Stem cell transplants are a miracle. My wife had some complications that most folks don’t get. Since you are young, you could walk away from it with no problems at all. Praying for you.

  5. T Boots

    Hi:

    I dealing with Stage four colon cancer and these words are exactly how it was with me… I just can’t put them down in writing myself as well as this, so I will be posting this to my Facebook.

    Thanks for making it clear for me… and writting exactly how my “suffering” has worked for me :)

    God bless you in you dealing with your cancer. God is good and knows what he is doingm :)

    Terry

  6. Clay Thornton

    Very well written thanks for writng it and I thank a friend Richard for sharing it with me. I am having a hard time renewing my faith with Jesus and even though that doesn’t compare to Leukemia it is still tough. I will pray with and for you.

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  10. coffeehouseapologist

    Andrew,

    I could not agree more. After celebrating my 2nd wedding anniversary, in 2008, I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. It was hard to envision that the Lord had allowed me to marry, just to take me home. However, God brought me through, and I had the joy of sharing what a blessing my illness had been to my wife and I. God truly uses ALL circumstances for his good and his glory. Been in remission for over three years now!

  11. eurekapbc

    Andrew, My four year old daughter was diagnosed at twenty months with ALL. She received her last treatment three weeks ago after 2 1/2 years and is in remission. My wife and I were blessed to know that God is sovereign which gave us a lot of support, though we shed many tears and felt unimaginable pain (and had our share of doubts). Too, the thought of monthly tests to make sure she is in remission causes us some anxiety. However, this sickness has brought many people who are suffering into our lives that we did not know existed previous to the sickness. Some have been a great encouragement to us. Others,question God, and we have had opportunities to witness of God’s goodness and sovereignty to those we would not have had the opportunity if not for Ida’s sickness. Thank you for this post and we will be in prayer for you. Too, I would like to share the article with others going through similar experiences. God bless, Jamey

    • Andrew Rozalowsky

      Jamey, thank you for your testimony through your suffering. I can’t imagine seeing my son go through cancer or another illness. Thankfully Jesus is sufficient for all and through all things.

  12. Mary Lou

    Thank for you for this. I will be forwarding it on to a Christian sister with cancer. God bless you!

  13. Pingback: Suffering is a Gift | Time For Discernment
  14. Paul

    Its good that you made it through the suffering but you haven’t really explained why suffering is a gift. You have only really explained why your faith in redemption.

    As an Atheist the concept of suffering as a gift is wholly immoral because it makes suffering acceptable. Teaching that suffering is a gift reduces the moral requirement to do anything about it. Thus it is immoral to take this worldview.

    I hope you are doing well in your fight against cancer.

    • Andrew Rozalowsky

      Hi Paul, thanks for your comments and input.

      I certainly didn’t take a lot of time to expound on why the suffering is a gift. I spent more time on how my worldview (or theology here) prepared me to suffer ‘well.’ If you look back at the last section, it does express that suffering is a gift because it is through this trial that my trust in God is strengthened. I could have spent more time explaining that, however, given that it was the title of my post so you make a good point there.

      While I’m not surprised to hear someone refer to the concept of ‘suffering as a gift’ as wholly immoral, I’m surprised to hear it from an atheist. I’m not sure what moral standard you would bring to the table to judge it as wholly immoral. It partly depends on what you mean by “atheist,” of course, since you may be using it to refer to disbelief in the Christian God or disbelief in all god-ness whatsoever. If you are discounting all god-ness and advocating a materialistic naturalism (you can clarify if it is different from this) then I’m not sure what notion of ‘moral’ is being used or how it is even grounded.

      I also don’t want to say that nothing should be done about it. There is no philosophical necessity in my post that leads to that. But I’ll try to clarify that another time.

      Thanks for the well-wishes.

      Andrew

      • Paul

        Thanks for the reply. I wasn’t sure you would seeing as my thoughts are quite different from the rest of the replies. I do appreciate that. This thread is top of the google search results for “Suffering as a Gift” by the way which is how I found it and I wanted to respond.

        I have read a little more on the Christian concept of suffering as a gift and I have softened my feelings slightly towards it.

        Feel free to correct me or let me know if you agree with this. From what I understand the idea is that suffering is seen as a gift because it is an individuals suffering that allows that individual to understand the suffering of others. I think really this is referring to empathy. I think the Christian way of explaining this could be better. I think it would be better explained by saying empathy is the gift and ones own empathy grows through personal experience of suffering. I still think to suggest suffering is the gift is a bad idea because it is open to abuse where some people think that experiencing suffering is a good think. Also I do feel that the from my Atheist stand point that the false hope of an afterlife reduces the significance of human suffering in this life because of the idea you will be compensated in the next.

        I guess you are correct I have a naturalistic world view. I am yet to see a good argument for any objective morality that Christianity purports to offer. I see morality as dealing purely with well being and/or suffering of sentient minds rather than the strange personal preferences of the Christian god. Maybe objective versus subjective morality isn’t the debate to be placing in this particular thread though. I would just say though that for me my empathy for my fellow humans (which is very strong) but I can only see that it in part comes through something that is innate in humans (i.e. though evolutionary means) and also through teaching and the human ability to reason.

        Best Wishes,

        Paul

      • rockstarkp

        Paul,
        If I can jump in here.
        (I commented also at April 30, 2012 – 9:52 am)
        If this life is the only one that I have hope for, then living it with FSH-MD absolutely sucks.
        And without hope in God, I would have killed myself back in 9th grade, because the suffering would not have been worth it.

  15. Pingback: Following Up ‘Suffering as a Gift’ – The Gifts « a living sacrifice

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