Upon writing the post, Suffering as a Gift, I realized I hadn’t spent a lot of time talking exactly about how suffering was a gift, which really should have been the case since that was the title. I spent more time talking about how my theology prepared me to suffer well as a precursor to seeing it as a gift. Thanks to a helpful commenter, I’m reminded to address more specifically exactly how I have seen suffering to be a gift. The other thing I want to tackle is how it can even be appropriate to talk about it as a gift and whether, as the commenter objected to, that view means we do nothing to allieviate suffering. It’s a reasonable objection but one that I think doesn’t hold. I’ll address that in a subsequent post.
In this post I want to quickly highlight exactly how I’ve seen my “suffering” with cancer to be a gift. I list them here in 5 points with short commentary.
1) In my marriage.
A proper perspective is key and my wife and I have been drawn closer together through this time. It is easy to drift in life but when you get news that one of you has cancer and may die, you appreciate each other differently, I think. We had a great marriage as a foundation prior to my diagnosis in December, but our bond to each other has been driven so much deeper and has caused us to have to rely on God’s grace and mercy in new and deeper ways. Will my wife be okay if I die? I know she will be greatly grieved, but she has an even greater hope that will sustain her. And I have to trust that she will be okay because she is in Christ.
2) In my parenting.
Again this comes down to perspective. Not knowing whether or not my son will grow up with a dad has helped me to be more intentional about spending time with him and thinking through what I want to leave to him should I pass away. Primarily what I want to leave to him is intangible but I’m working on it now: knowing that he had a father who loved him and walked faithfully with God as a pointer to an even greater Father, God himself. More tangibly I’m going to write a letter that exhorts him to pursue Christ and shares whatever wisdom I have gleaned in my life thus far. I’ve also taken a few more opportunities to get my books signed by the authors/scholars that wrote them to pass on to my son!
3) In my community.
The church community around us has been amazing to our family through this trial. They have walked with us the whole way and ensured that we would be supported in any way we needed. It has taught us about grace, mercy, compassion and community in amazing ways that I’m so thankful for. It has helped me to become less selfish as a result.
4) Hope in resurrection made more vivid.
Death used to seem so far off in many ways. Any one of us is deceived if we think it certainly is since none of us knows how long we have to live. But being faced with it in tangible ways has brought to light a deeper hope in the resurrection, or, as N.T. Wright says, in life after life after death (not a typo). Our ultimate home is not an ethereal place of clouds and harp music. It is a tangible remade earth where we will forever be in the presence of our God and King. Knock on the desk or the computer in front of you. Hit your feet on the ground. Look out at the clouds in the sky. It will be more real and certainly nothing less than what you just perceived with your senses in this exercise. Thinking through the realistic nature of the future heavens/earth helps my excitement for it and hope in the midst of this current cursed earth.
5) Perseverance, maturity, completeness.
I quoted James 1:2-4 in my first post. Again it says, “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” (TNIV). Without claiming any attaining of perfection (believe me!) I have found my trust in God to be matured through the perseverance that this trial has produced. If you are currently in Christ, no explanation will be needed as to how wonderful it is to grow in maturity and the knowledge of the Lord. We were made for him. We were made to be his image bearers. Getting caught up in this brings meaning and completeness to our very purpose on this earth.
This is perhaps only a sampling of the gifts.
But I get that these are seen as gifts because of my Christian worldview (And this is at least one portion of an apologetic for the Christian worldview in how it handles suffering unlike so many other worldviews). That was a major point of my first post: it was my theology that prepared me to see the time of trial as a gift. Does this outlook then mean I am complacent about rectifying suffering? By no means. That will be the topic of my next post.