In the last two posts, I’ve offered an excerpt from my new “Gold in the Road” book which details my journey through my cancer storm. It will be published in the next few months and as I work with my editor, I offer this excerpt which comes from Part III: Coming to the Other Side. As I completed my year of treatment, I took time to pray about and study the role of suffering in the life of a Christ-follower. Scripture, the stories of the faithful suffering and the writings of Joni Eareckson Tada and pastor Tim Keller aided me in developing my suffering theology. Here is the final installment of that excerpt:
In all my study, I came to the knowledge that Christian teaching on the subject of suffering has been sorely lacking. And this lack of solid, mature teaching on the subject has left us susceptible to shallow theology regarding suffering. Shallow theology can dismiss miracles for our time, teaching that such things were only for the earliest days of the Church and are simply not available to us today. Yet experiences down through the ages tell us this is simply not true! God is still the God of miracles and He does move in miraculous ways in our time!
On the other hand, shallow theology can also place an overemphasis on supernatural healing and miracles. It can promote harmful doctrines such as those which teach that we will be healed only if we have enough faith. Although faith always played an important role in the healings of Jesus, we can be assured our Kind Savior is not measuring our faith quotient on a bell curve and determining our deservedness of healing by virtue of our final score! And how many times have we heard the passage from Isaiah 53:5b “by His stripes we are healed” mistakenly applied to physical healing as if it was a ticket by which we can claim our healing? In context, this passage applies so clearly to the healing which comes to us through salvation in Christ Jesus who suffered and died for us. As the verse says in context and in its entirety, “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
As the Lord taught me more about His compassion for the suffering and His desire to be with us in the midst of it, I found my theology taking shape. It became clear to me that a mature and sound theology requires that we hold two things in tension. In one hand we hold the conviction that God does indeed heal today and that we should not stop praying for our miracle. In the other hand we must hold carefully the truth that sometimes we will not see our miracle healing this side of heaven. Along with these two key truths must come a deeply held assurance that God loves people who suffer. God is not mad at those who are sick and weak! The ministry of Jesus recorded in the four Gospel accounts should convince us that Jesus has deep love and compassion for those who are hurting. Finally, we must have an irrefutable belief that God can and does consecrate and use our suffering for His purpose and glory. Like the awful suffering of Jesus, our suffering, when held in the hands of our Lord, can become not just bearable but beautiful.
These four beliefs – God does heal today; Yet we may not see our healing in this life; God loves people who suffer; and God can make our suffering count for His Kingdom – become the four weight-bearing pillars which hold up my theology of suffering. Yet I know there is much more for me to learn about suffering and about this God who is with us in of our suffering. I learn it from His Word and from the lives of those I serve in my pastoral ministry and in our outreach to cancer sufferers. I learn it from the newly diagnosed who are reeling from the outrageous news that they have cancer and who are scrambling for the right prayer to pray so they will receive their miracle healing. I learn it from the sufferers in treatment who are weary and ragged and who wonder if God has forgotten them. I learn it from those in survivorship who are learning to navigate through their New Normal with God’s help. And I learn it from the dying. These are the ones who have seemingly lost their battle with cancer but in that defeat, have done what John did, the disciple whom Jesus loved. They lay back and rest themselves on their Kind Savior and Friend. (John 13:23)
Yes, my theology of suffering is still being shaped but it reveals itself more and more as I trust this great God who may not have authored my suffering but nonetheless sovereignly superintends it on my behalf. Pastor Tim Keller has said that suffering is only unbearable if we don’t know for sure that God is with us. Our suffering theology will only be sound when God is in the center of it with us. May it be so!
After more than 25 years in parish ministry, Rev. Cathie retired in early 2018 to pursue a quieter life with her husband Philip in the mountains of Central Oregon. Although no longer a leader in congregational life, she continues to follow her calling and passion to minister to those who suffer, especially those with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.