The God of Cancer

Today is one of those days where Death lurks in the shadows. Two people I dearly love have called me to share their fear, anger, and hurt over a loved one who's gotten the least welcome news: "We've done all we can do. It's time to get your affairs in order."

Cancer is one of Death's most indiscriminate emissaries, all too willing to snatch good people in the prime of life. It's one thing to ask, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" It's another to watch a loved one fade to the end through pain.

Watching someone suffer like this focuses all our confusion about God. Why does God ignore our prayers? Why does He turn a deaf ear to our pleas asking for healing? Where is our help?

We shake our fists at the sky. We weep and break into little pieces. Our refrain begins as a angry shout and ends as a whispered sob, "Oh my God, where are you?"

This question is one of the central themes of the Bible. You hear it in the story of a tribe of slaves in Egypt, and in the same tribe later lost in the desert. Job finally asks it when his life is broken so much he can't see any way back to a life worth living. Israel asks as its kings grow corrupt, and then again as it falls into exile. Some books, like Lamentations, don't try to answer the question at all.

It's sometimes so dark we can't remember the light.

The Bible's answer surprises me. We're sent a deliverer, God in the form of a man. He's faced with the same suffering and loss that we are.

His response is to weep.

We ask for a God to come in power and glory and clean up this mess. Instead, we're sent a Son who says to forgive, and to turn the other cheek. We're told to lay down our lives for our friends, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

We ask, "Oh my God, where are you," and God says, "I'm right here with you, broken too." God's response to brokenness is to be broken.

The New Testament doesn't take the riddle of suffering and loss and tie them up with a bow. Instead, we're invited to make things better, to feed the sheep. We're instructed to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned.

It's as if God tells us that, yes, things are broken. Life hurts. Now, let's work on it together. You will find strength in being weak, you will be first by being last. In other words, God is there with us when we sacrifice our own gain to help others who've lost.

So, what about cancer? What about such senseless suffering? I don't know why we suffer so. But I've caught a glimpse of insight.

I remember the last time I held my grandmother's hand. She was a light in the darkness for my family, a lamp we all gathered around. We've never been closer to each other than those moments in which we watched her flame flicker and then go dark.

As we fell into the darkness, the Hands of God showed up in the words and deeds of His followers. That little funeral home in the country could not hold all the light that showed up in the darkest moment our family faced.

I found God there, grieving with us.

photo credit: .janu via photopin cc

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