My grandmother died of breast cancer when I was little. She adored her grandchildren. I don’t have many memories of her since I was so young when she passed, but I know that I adored her right back. I’ve long felt cheated that I didn’t get more time to know her as I grew up, and sometimes I still cry over her absence in my life. I feel like she would have been one of the good ones.
Because I wasn’t old enough to understand what was going on at the time, I’ve pieced together my grandma’s cancer story by asking questions as an adult. I learned that she was surrounded by a lot of people who told her that if she’d just have enough faith, she’d be healed. I also learned that a lot of people didn’t believe she was really sick, because she stayed rather plump and she never lost her hair during chemo. I have choice words for all of those people, but this is a family-friendly blog. I’ll just say that I hope her death changed their minds about a lot of things.
I’ve been given three books on how to find healing in the last month. I’ve had all kinds of things offered to me, from holy water to alkaline water and essential oils to exotic fruit. I’ve gratefully accepted some of those things, and politely declined others. I’ve been told that if I just had enough faith, I’d be healed immediately. I’ve also been told to pray about what sin in my life has caused this cancer so that I may confess and be healed.
A friend of mine struggles on a regular basis with whether or not God is worth believing. She wants to have faith, but she’s unsure if she believes God is really who He says He is. She sent me a text a few days ago saying, “Okay, listen. If you’re healed of this incurable cancer, then I’ll believe in God. Once and for all. Seriously. You’re the nicest person I know. A good God would heal you!”
I responded, “Friend, God is good. I have cancer. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. Don’t believe in Him only if He heals me of cancer. Believe in Him because He’s the only one who can. Whether or not He does, does not change who He is. No matter what happens, He is still love.”
I don’t know what my future looks like, except that at the end of my days here, I’ll finally get the face-to-face with God that I’ve been longing for my whole life. I don’t know if I’ll lose a lot of weight or lose my hair. I don’t know if my friend will ever decide that God is indeed good, no matter the circumstances.
But I do know that God is love. I know that my cancer was not caused by a specific sin in my life, but by the effects of sin in general–because we live in a broken world with disease and hunger and orphans and so many other things that should not be. I know that I’m willing to try almost anything to help me in this fight against cancer, but none of those things can ever take the place of God–Jehovah Rapha, the Lord our healer.
I also know that the people who told my grandma to “just have enough faith” thought they were doing right, but they were so, so wrong. I know that we all think we have the market cornered on certain things, and it’s nearly impossible to get us to change our minds sometimes. But what I’ve learned more than anything else recently is that things are not always as they appear.
My grandma didn’t look like a typical cancer patient on chemo, but cancer claimed her life.
My friend can appear to be smug about her disbelief to outsiders, but she’s been hurt again and again throughout her life. She’s just terrified of letting a God in who will fail to meet her expectations.
And God often appears to be an uncaring, distant ruler because He does not perform as we wish. But the reality is that the problem lies in our expectations, not in God.
So things are not always as they appear. Sometimes we just can’t make sense of the world. We process everything through our own personal filters, opinions, life experiences, upbringing, culture, and so on. What we think we know for sure about life is often tried and found wanting. Our judgments of people are often wrong. Our interpretations of the Bible are often tainted by our own bias or by what makes us comfortable (or uncomfortable, as the case may be). We assign the same loves and hatreds to God that we feel ourselves. We want to be able to point the finger so that we know exactly who’s to blame for whatever’s gone wrong. We want easy solutions for all of our problems. And for the love of all that’s good and right in the world, we want bad things to only happen to bad people.
Well, I have cancer. God is good. I have faith that He can heal me of this disease, but He still may not. And that’s okay. Things are not always as they appear.