“As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.”
I recently heard Christian suffering explained not as a way to toughen up the Christian to endure more, but to turn our face away from the fleeting things of this world and fix our eyes upon Christ, the true source of our joy. This world is futile. Yet in our sin we continue to put our hope and happiness in our present comfort, not the cross. As Luther said, the heart is an idol factory. Things that should be blessings take the place of God in our lives. When things our going well we think we need God less. Instead of letting us live a lie, God brings suffering our way to teach us true satisfaction in Christ. All suffering, from stubbing a toe to battling cancer, reminds us we live in a fallen state and that dissatisfaction forces us to look forward to the hope we have in Christ. Life eternal is made possible through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. That’s what Easter is all about.
Below is my mom’s last update. Here she summarized all she had learned through chemo, suffering, and facing death. It’s a long one, but also her best.
This year, my “Easter Lilly” was in full bloom on July 4th. A couple of days later, the lovely blooms I had so anticipated were gone. I was shocked, until I remembered Psalm 103, which reminds me of the brevity of life on earth. The Bible repeats this theme with many word pictures.
“What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14).
“All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it;
surely the people are grass” (Isaiah 40:6-7).
“Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble.
He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not” (Job 14:1-2).
Grass, flowers, mist, and shadows. All fragile and fleeting. Our youth oriented culture hides these truths via plastic surgery, retirement homes, nursing homes, hospitals, cancer wards, and mortuaries. Funerals are now replaced with celebrations of life, where the reality of death for the attendees is distanced more comfortably, but the Bible deems this folly.
“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2).
“O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!” (Psalm 39:4).
No amount of money, prestige, celebrity, or efforts to extend health can stop the inevitable and no one wants to face this reality.
“The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them.”
Ecclesiastes 2:14 (event being death)
“Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you,
and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass…” (Job 14:5).
Just as a person galloping on a majestic steed across a beautiful prairie on a cloudless day, unaware of the ravine in which they will soon plummet to their death, we too need a bystander to interrupt our joy ride of life to warn of the impending doom that exists perhaps moments from us. We are in desperate need of true hope, which is found alone in the Bible, the word of God.
“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8)
Not all that read this will agree with me about the Bible being God’s word or even that orthodox Christianity is true. I can appreciate that what I have to say predicates on both being true. I would simply ask you to think logically for a moment. All religions can be wrong, but they all can’t be right, for they contradict one another. All world religions, except orthodox Christianity, are humans working to attain salvation or a higher state of being, with man being in control, or rather, man being in the position of God. Orthodox Christianity alone reveals that man is dead spiritually, and must be made spiritually alive by God, with salvation attained through the works of Jesus Christ and not man. Man receives salvation without merit, as a gift. God is in control, not man. Think also of the eyewitness of the apostles, who though cowardly during the crucifixion, lived lives of persecution, suffering and death for the gospel, after their witness to Christ’s resurrection. What man would do that for a fairy tale?
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:1-9).
Sin, through Adam, brought death to us all to us all, but through Christ, we have eternal life (Romans 5:12-21).
Spiritual death. Physical death. But there is one more face of death….judicial. Here is an excerpt from Joseph Pipa Jr.’s article, “Faces of Death.”
As guilty sinners (we are guilty of Adam’s first sin and all our own sins, Rom. 5:12), we are liable to the punishment of sin. Our guilt places us under the wrath and curse of God. Paul expresses our guiltiness by calling us “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). The apostle John says that all those who do not believe in Christ are condemned (John 3:18) and that “ ‘the wrath of God abides on him’ ” (3:36). Paul indicts us all when he says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Our guilt exposes us to the temporal judgments of God in this life. Throughout Scripture and subsequent history, God has manifested His judgment against sinners. Consider the destruction of the world in the days of Noah; the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; the destruction of the inhabitants of Canaan; and the announcements of temporal judgment on the nations by many of the prophets.
Of course, the ultimate act of judicial death is that which God calls the “second death” in Revelation 20: “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. … And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire”(20:11–15).
These verses describe the final judgment and the reality of hell. Hell is the place in which God eternally punishes all those whom He has not redeemed. The Bible uses many different terms to describe the horror of eternal damnation: “lake of fire burning with brimstone” (Rev. 19:20); “vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 7); “the blackness of darkness forever” (Jude 13); “torments” (Luke 16:23); “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thess. 1:9); and a place of “outer darkness” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 22:13). The impact of God’s righteous judgment is compounded as we realize that these images may be mere illustrations for a much worse reality.
Thus, we see the Bible’s honest and comprehensive description of death. All is not revealed, but not as much is hidden as our agnostic culture would have us think. Let us rejoice that Christ faced all the horrors of death on our behalf.”
As horrible as disease and death are, they are just a taste of hell, to draw our attention to our future. Either one in Christ and therefore a future glory where death and disease will be no more (among other wonderful things) or a future horror beyond words.
So, what about me, you might ask? With all this talk about death and hell, I must be depressed. Not so! I know that some will say that my living with my future glory in view is a waste of the life I have on earth. Again, not so! It is specifically because of my future glory that I can not only endure the hardships of this world, enjoy the blessings of this world, but it is my future that actually gives meaning to my life on earth. I know why I get up in the morning. Why do you? Is life simply something to grab while you can or is it something more? Most people in America believe in some sort of heaven, and some sort of god, but both are to their own making. Truth however stands alone. My belief or unbelief doesn’t make it so. Either God is real or not. Either the Bible is true or it’s not. Heaven and hell are real or they’re not. Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man is either the only way to God or not. Feelings, experiences and personal “truth” matter not. Truth is truth apart from everything else. The question is: Am I willing to bet my eternity on the Christ of the Bible being true? Yes, I am. My question for you: Are you willing to bet your future on your belief? The most important question for you to answer is, “Who do you say Christ is?” Lunatic? (because he thought to be God) Liar? (because he claimed to be God) Or Lord? (because he is God). Only three possibilities.
After a wonderful 7 month respite from chemo, I have begun it again (four weeks ago) to “tame the beast”, Lord willing. Cancer is not for wimps. It is horrible. So is death. So is suffering. We sometimes suffer because of our own doing, but the confusion is when we suffer for no apparent reason. If you don’t know Christ, perhaps it is to draw you to Him. For the Christian, we have to remember that because we are in Christ, we will suffer just because we’re Christians, (Christ’s enemy is ours too) however God is in control of even this and what is meant for evil, God is using for His mysterious and good plan. While we escape the cup of God’s wrath poured out on Jesus Christ on the cross, we will experience suffering. Not without purpose, however and not without a future glory.
“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then (heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:16-18).
While my chemo treatments (weekly for 4 weeks and then 2 weeks of just the other things they’re giving me along with the chemo, then repeating) have been harder on me than expected (they reduced my last dose and it seems to be better), my tumor marker number went down 1000 points after just 2 doses! It was so remarkable that my doctor thought it was a mistake at first. She plans on keeping me on this chemo only long enough to get my numbers down to a manageable level and then I’ll get another respite. (She’s estimating about 5 more months) Her hope is to keep my cancer cells from building up a resistance to this protocol so I can go on it again when the numbers need managing again. It has been 6 years since I was given a death sentence of living only 1 to 3 years, and yet the Lord’s plan has been different. I am most grateful for this great mercy.
I have lost many dear friends to cancer over these last 6 years, and their brave lives have taught me much. Everyone dies, but not everyone truly lives. They have taught me how to live well and how to die well. By the grace of God I hope to do both. Cancer has taught me that I am mortal in a way that I had not really acknowledged before. It has been the means to God’s transformation in my life (as well as my family’s) and has revealed a faith in God more precious than gold. The Bible has taught me that God is not only in control of all that happens, but that He is a good God, worthy to be praised and trusted. Just the fact that He gave me Christ, His greatest gift, to meet my greatest need (salvation) reveals that there is nothing that He will withhold from me, according to His great and mysterious eternal plan. I can’t presume to know why things happen, but I trust the One that does. The bottom line is that I have peace with God through Christ. I pray you do too.
For those of you who are currently suffering and don’t know Christ, I pray that today is the day that you put your trust in Him. God is a God of love, but He is also a just God who will judge us after we die. Either we will eternally pay for our sins, or we will enjoy the mercy and grace afforded by Christ’s dying on the cross for our sins. If you belong to Christ, and find yourself in the crucible of suffering, I pray that you are encouraged by His words, that your suffering is not only purposeful and productive, but preparing you to meet your God.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:1-11).
I know this is a long update, and I appreciate your patience with me if you have made it this far, but I have one more thing to share. I received this from a daily devotion from Joni Eareckson Tada. I hope it blesses you as it did me.
“I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him. Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account” (Ecclesiastes 3:14-15).
Don’t be afraid of this verse. It’s good news! God will one day call your past into account, and He will no doubt see smudges and stains, sins and faults – He will also see the blood of His Son which will cover all (Hebrews 9:14). What else about your past? God will see countless times of obedience and perseverance, trust and confidence in Him; He will recognize your doggedness through hardship and your resolve against temptation – again, it will be His Son who made the provision of grace upon grace. When God calls everything about you into account, you will praise God for the blood and the blessings of Jesus as never before!
You will drop to your knees before Jesus to express thanks and gratitude. The Man of Sorrows will walk from His throne and approach you. He will have absolutely no doubt of your appreciation, for He knows what you have suffered, what you have endured, the temptations to which you said “no.” He will reach toward you with His nail-scarred hands, and when you feel your hands in His, you will not be embarrassed – that’s because your own scars, and all those times you felt rejection and pain, have given you at least a tiny taste of what the Savior endured to purchase your redemption.
Your hardships, like nothing else, are preparing you to meet your God. Your suffering is getting you ready – for what proof could you bring of your love for Jesus if this life left you totally unscarred?
Gracious God, I am full of praise for Jesus Christ. His blood covers my sins, and His blessings of grace help me live righteously. He deserves all the praise!
– Joni Eareckson Tada
If you have read all of the above, I thank you and pray that the Lord will work through these words I’ve shared. May He alone be praised!
September 28, 2012