The Voice: Spring 2002
Suffering: God's will and human understanding
By Peter Meyer ('83)
Like many of my peers, I grew up with the perspective that the
world is under Gods tight control and if I thought about it long
and hard enough, then Gods will would fit somewhat neatly into my human
logic and explanations. After all, everything must have a purpose and actions have
Suffering, then, can have many benefits: It can make us confess or correct
our sins; lead us to rely on God, not ourselves; provide an opportunity
to witness or demonstrate Christian character; ultimately make us stronger; make us joyful
and thankful as we are strengthened by God to make it through the
suffering; let us taste a little of what Christ suffered for us and
become more like Him; enable us to help others through their suffering; prepare
us to receive and appreciate the blessings God plans for us.
Im not an intellectual giant or a theological master; just a struggling forty-year-old
terminal cancer patient whose world no longer fits into a nice logical box
I can understand. It has been and still is a two-and-a-half year struggle
with the fairness of this disease and its consequences.
I was originally diagnosed in September of 1999 with an exceedingly rare cancer
of the adrenal gland. God blessed the hands of the surgeons and despite
a seventeen-day coma, I survived the simultaneous chest and abdomen operation.
Unfortunately the cancer returned by the following spring and spread into multiple tumors,
including my liver. This time it was inoperable. The subsequent twenty months of
chemotherapy drugs, among other things, resulted in nerve damage to my hands and
feet so that I now need the help of others to get dressed.
Didnt I do the right things (church, family, Christian school, tithe, witness, etc.)
while I was healthy? OK, I know I can do nothing to save
myself, and Christs blood saves me, but how is it good to leave
a wife and three young children alone in the world? With my limited
understanding and human experience, I love the life I know, and its hard
to want a heaven I dont know. Trying to squeeze Gods plan into
human logic was and is not working.
Like Job we cannot presume to judge Gods will even when it makes
no sense. But the standard advice that others offer us seems to be
of so little help or comfort in the middle of these difficult times.
God doesnt give you more than you can handle, Im told. If this
is true, my wife must be able to handle a lot because this
illness is over the top for me! The Bible makes this promise in
regard to temptation, but I cannot find any scripture that makes the same
promise about suffering and the thought does not offer me strength or comfort.
At other times friends pull back because they do not know what to
Ive found that Im not looking for or expect flashes of wisdom, just
words of comfort. The greatest pain is in feeling alone and the simplest
phone call to check on how Im doing, to express a little empathy
(not sympathy) and to just listen lets me know that the person cares
enough to take a moment out of their day to think and pray
for my family and me. Im grateful that there have been so many
acquaintances, co-workers, and fellow Christians that God has been using as angels of
mercy to not only say hello but also do such mundane tasks as
pick up groceries, carpool the kids to a school event, cook a dinner,
or shovel the snow.
I have not experienced faith as a one-time event that some seem to
espouse, but a frequent, and somewhat continuous cycle, of processing my understanding through
anger, grief, and a return to peace in God through faith. With the
guidance and wise counsel of friends, pastors, and various authors, I think my
faith has broadened and deepened to understand that God did not promise me
an easy life and when He said he would take care of me,
He was talking about my salvation, not my retirement.
God does not have to explain His plan to me, and frankly were
on different thinking planes and I may not understand His purpose until eternity.
My wife and I have drawn great comfort from Philippians 4:5-9 and its
promise that the Lord is near and we do not need to be
anxious about anything. It continues with the assurance that by giving everything by
prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, to God, His peace, which transcends all understanding,
will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
An analogy that Ive found helpful is the comparison of two chess masters
locked in a bitter duel. We know that God is in control and
will ultimately win the match, but the devil has tremendous latitude and abilities
and will destroy many of the game pieces along the way as he
struggles to win. God does not stop the carnage and suffering, but uses
the devils moves to further His plan and win the ultimate match. As
one of the pawns I cant see the human benefit through the pain,
but faith enables me to trust God. The cornerstone of this faith is
that I can dimly see, and know in my heart, that God is
building and strengthening my family and their salvation. The earthly dreams are wasting
away and what is left is truly precious.