Friday, November 18, 2005

Now what, God?

A listener to the show has written in, telling us of a dear family friend who is dying of cancer. Diagnosed as skin cancer in August, futher study soon revealed that the extent of the disease was much more widespread. After only three months the cancer has spread to the brain and every method of treatment has so far proved unaffected. What, says the listener, are we supposed to think, to say, or to do? Why is this happening, and how on earth are we going to deal with it? I went to the producer with the letter and shared it with him. His comment was the following:

"Our Blessed Lord was proving himself to be the only one who ever came into
the world to die. The cross was not something that came at the end of his life;
it was something that hung over him since the very beginning."
(Life of

Hmm. He's enigmatic that way sometimes. But, I think I understand where he was going. We come into this world to live, says the Producer, and the purpose of that life is to know, love, and serve God, and to be then happy with Him in heaven. However, we are also called to enter into the spirit of suffering of Jesus Christ, to take up His cross in our own lives by taking up our own 'crosses,' be they roommates, directors, marketing people, or the guy in the truck next to you whose music is really a bit much. Some are called to embrace that cross more fully than others, in the sense that their cross is much more intimately tied up with the death of the cross, rather than the life of it. There are those who teach us great lessons abour grace and about faith, but they do so in their deaths rather than in their lives. Those are the ones whose deaths are visible, prepared for, and agonizingly real for all those involved with it. It's an experience to learn from.

However, I remain at a loss as to what I can really tell the listener. This all sounds nice, but at the end of the day you are still left with a dying friend, a grieving family, and a fist one can but shake at God in frustration. Does theological babble really help? Does knowing that redemptive suffering exists really help? No. You're stuck here, you don't know what to do or say, and you can only watch. I feel for the listener, I reach out to them, but I'm helpless.

This is oddly familiar to me, though. It was exactly this time a year ago that another listener, from an older show of ours, went through this very thing. His friend was diagnosed with cancer, dying barely two months later. What could I say? Nothing. What could I do? Nothing. One can pray, and wait, and be patient, and do a lot of listening.

Good luck, listener. We're praying for you.


  1. >>However, I remain at a loss as to what I can really tell the listener. This all sounds nice, but at the end of the day you are still left with a dying friend, a grieving family, and a fist one can but shake at God in frustration.

    May I humbly suggest that you don't try to TELL the listener anything? I recently went through a spiritual crisis very much like this when my Dad died of cancer, I developed some serious health problems of my own, and a relationship that was precious to me imploded, all more or less at the same time. I raged and ranted at God and he sat quietly and patiently and listened and brought me through it with time and by his grace. God is big enough to take our complaints. I think you are on the right track by merely offering to pray and listen. Suffering is a mystery of God, and pat explanations will not be appreciated. Job's friends began rightly by merely suffering with their friend in silence. Where they went wrong, I think was in presuming that they could neatly explain the ways of God to Job. I don't know why God allows suffering in our lives, but I know he will bring forth some good out of it if we let him.

    Perhaps suffering is a test--not necessarily a test of the person suffering, but a test of the people around the one suffering. God seems to be measuring our ability to respond to another's suffering with true and genuine compassion and service instead of merely talking about it, as we so often do.

    Perhaps also, as C. S. Lewis once suggested, suffering is God's way of demanding our attention--of teaching us lessons we would ignore if he tried to present them any other way.

  2. Oh, I'm not trying to tell anyone anything. Don't worry. I know better than that, now. It took a very hard couple of months last year, though, and a patient friend before I learned the lesson of silence.

    It's hard to be the one who's losing a family member/very close friend. However, it's also very hard to be the one watching that someone losing their 'loved one' (such a hackneyed, overused term--I hate it). Thanks for the comment!

  3. Yes, I agree silence is often best. We lost a very precious pet (a dog my brother and I grew up with) a few years ago. I didn't want to talk to anybody about him for a long time. I didn't want pity, or consolation, or anything. I just wanted to be left alone. Sometimes trying to give people verbal comfort can be worse than just letting them know you're there with a sturdy shoulder and a big box of kleenex and then letting them come to you.

    Yes Fidelio, "loved one" is a ragged, hackneyed phrase! :)