Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Evil crouching near.

They are like a lion hungry for prey, like a great lion crouching in cover.

This verse from Psalm 17 expresses David's great fear of his enemies around him. It reminds me of a line in a Graham Kendrick hymn: 'evil crouching near'.

David's cry like Job's goes up to God, "Why is this happening to me? What have I done to deserve this?"

He can see no reason in it. His prayer "does not rise from deceitful lips," verse 1.

Examine his heart and "you will find nothing," verse 3.

He has kept himself "from the ways of the violent," verse 4.

He has always followed God's path; he's not a backslider, verse 5.

We know this doesn't mean that he is sinless for surely all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). But just as Job's comforters can find no wickedness in Job to justify his terrible suffering, and just as Paul can declare himself "as for legalistic righteousness; faultless" (Philippians 3:6) without claiming to be sinless, so David here is appealing to the justice of God.

"Am I not your chosen and anointed king? Am I not in a covenantal relationship with you? Am I not the apple of your eye?" (verse 8).

So it is that a Christian who finds himself suffering feels like calling out to God, "Why?"

It's easy to talk about God's will and to say, "That's God's business." Isn't that what the book of Job tells us? Job wanted to confront God and ask him why he had to suffer like that. God grants him an audience but he doesn't give him an answer. Instead, he poses a question, "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?" In other words what gives you the right to question how I run my world? You, Job, who don't even know when the mountain goats give birth; would you question my choices? And of course Job acquiesces. "I am unworthy - how can I reply to you?"

Job ends, "I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."

And yet, and yet - we would not be human if we did not rail against the slings and arrows.

David cries out to God and asks the Lord to vindicate him, to strike down his enemies, to save him from such men. He wants to hide in the shadow of his wings. So we may cry out to God in our pain and suffering. We too are the apple of his eye. He has loved us so much that he gave his one and only son to die for us, that we might not perish but have everlasting life. He has sent his Holy Spirit to dwell within us. He has promised that he will not just forget our sins but will dis-remember them - not just an act of forgetfulness, but a positive action not to hold them against us. He has clothed us in the righteousness of Christ, so that when he looks at us it is as if he saw his beloved son. He has made us heirs - co-heirs with Christ.

Why then does it hurt so much? Why do I have this dreadful diagnosis hanging over me? Why am I being poisoned with chemicals? Why am I laying myself open to infection?

I know all the answers - but I still hurt!

The most famous villanelle in English poetry is by Dylan Thomas. The repeated lines are "Do not go gentle into that dark night." and "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." I quote them with approval. They were written by an alcoholic, womanizing atheist; why should I do so?

Thomas was right to rage against death. It is not part of God's plan but part of the curse that we live under. Christ has defeated death; but we are not yet free of it, that part of our salvation is yet to come. When Jesus approached Jerusalem he wept over the death and destruction he knew was to come. When he stood over the grave of Lazarus he wept, even though he knew he would raise him from death.

Of course, we must all accept death but we enter death acknowledging that it is already a defeated foe, and we don't have to like it; it is still a foe.

For those who have an incurable disease let me give this advice: don't be afraid to hate it. I have spent my life fighting cancer; I won't stop now. One former mentor told me, "It is a disease with no redeeming feature." He was right. When you are given the diagnosis, don't be afraid to weep. Cry out to God as David did, as Job did, even as Jesus did on the cross. If necessary use groans that words cannot express (Romans 8:26).

These are your real feelings. If you think you have to put on a brave face you will alienate yourself from your spouse, who will be feeling wretched and wondering how you can face this with equanimity when he or she is so distraught. Honesty between you will break down.

The psalm ends "And I—in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.

That is how it ends.


Pat said...

Just beautiful. Insightful. Provocative. As always.

Anonymous said...

Once again, Terry, your words come at the right time for me.
Being a CLL patient, I have gone through the emotions you are describing.
Today I am unemployed, having being laid off for budget issues. It is very hard. I was thinking about Job earlier today.
Having gone through the cancer stuff, I do wish I could take away all of that "stuff" for you. But, I can't. But, I can say that He has been so good to me and I experienced Him in ways I never knew were possible because of my cancer.
With prayers and thankfulness for your openness about your cancer journey,

Liz W.
St Paul, MN USA

Connie said...

I can't begin to tell you how this touched me, Thank you so much.
I've been thinking of you and praying for you. God bless you. You have been a blessing to so many like me who have cancer.

Marcia said...

I think you are right about not being too brave lest you alienate those who are devastated. However, I am in quite another place. I live alone and am my own sole support. I must keep on keeping on because I have to keep my job in order to keep my health insurance (good old USA). If I admitted to myself how I felt I would be in much worse shape.
But now I see that the Lord prepared me for this in a rather strange way. I raised my children alone because their father left when the youngest was 6 months (I still do not understand it). As a single parent, living far from my family (except my faith family), I just had to keep going. I not only needed to support myself, but also my children. In each case, God has also given me close friends who can see when they should step in and let me rest, and grieve. But for the most part I have not grieved long, and have perhaps not rested well either, as I always feel there are things that must be done. I do not know if this is OK, but that is the way it is...

John Wagner said...

Powerful post. Thank you! You gave me much to think about, particularly because on those fairly rare times I am feeling discouraged, I do try to hide that from my wife as I feel I must protect her. She and I may need to discuss this issue.

In the class I lead on Sunday mornings, we are doing a study titled "Dealing with Hard Times" and is a study from Job, Ecclesiastes, Habakkuk, and Lamentations. We are only to the third chapter of Job. We will probably spend the rest of the year in this study. With your permission, I would like to use this post and two of your other recent posts during our discussion time.

In our class of about 30, we have three dealing with cancer – prostate, breast and CLL/SLL, one widow who lost her husband to lymphoma last year, another lost her second husband also due to a heart attack two years ago, one wife with early Alzheimer's and her husband just lost his father who lived with them, and several with serious problems in their families - health, financial, legal, etc. It is such a practical study and you have addressed several of the issues in your writings so very eloquently.

Again, thank you! You remain in my prayers. Your witness to others is powerful!

Anonymous said...

I have had that Dylan Thomas couplet going through my mind on and off ever since I was diagnosed with cancer. I didn't used to like it but I understand it more now. My father is 96 and a christian -he has been preaching the kingdom for years - but even then, its different when it is yourself. He wants more life still and so do I - I am hungry for life and the unknown is still unknown, even with faith. There is also the fear of the process of death. I like John Donne:
"swear by thyself that at my death thy sonne shall shine as he shines now and heretofore..this having done then I am done, I fear no more." I pray that you will be comforted - your writing comforts me. Lucy

Anonymous said...

Here you are dealing with all of the nuances of your own cancer after helping hundreds of folks with theirs. And still you go on looking beyond your own suffering, sharing helpful thoughts with all of us, worldwide. Thank you, dear young man! May God be merciful to you and heal you, is our prayer. ~~The Hartwicks in California