Missouri Synod Church in Downtown Memphis

Fear, Death, And This Christian With Cancer

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couple of weeks ago, my wife didn’t like the way I looked. So much so that she called an ambulance. She thought I might be having a stroke. At the hospital they ran some test—but no sign of a stroke.

What they did find however were some spots on my brain and my lung which turned out to be cancerous.

Several years ago I had a melanoma skin cancer, but that was a minor inconvenience that they were able to cut out easily. Looks like some of those cells slipped loose and settled elsewhere. I have lost six immediate relatives to cancer. Now it seemed my fate as well.

I am a Christian. My wife has a successful career. My children are grown and settled. I have stated to others that if God were to call me home right now, I am ready to go. My affairs are settled. Sure, I would like to play with grandchildren and get some projects finished, but if the Lord is ready, so am I.

Such a big talker I am.

The very first thought that struck me when I heard “cancer” is crap, I haven’t finished stripping the old door at church, replacing the lettering on the “Tree of Life” in the Fellowship Hall, fixing the vent in the Sunday School bathroom, plus hundreds of projects at work and at home.

Then I realized I haven’t done any of these projects in the last two or three years anyways. I never finish projects I start. People know that about me. Why panic now?

Yes, I’m going to die. All of us are. Just accept it.

Death is the universal buzzkill—the something we don’t talk about. The ultimate downer. When I bring it up I must be breezy and somewhat nonchalant about it lest I make the the person I’m speaking to visibly uneasy. The subject is meet with downcast glances and an eagerness to deny the possibility of it happening anytime soon. The subject is changed as quickly as possible.

It strikes me peculiar that we Christians should have such an attitude about death. We live in a corrupt sin-infested world. Sorrow and suffering surrounds us. We have God’s promise of an escape from here and a restoration to the perfection originally planned. So why the resistance?

Death is the universal buzzkill—the something we don’t talk about. The ultimate downer.

Do any of you remember the marketing promo that Disney World used to run? The one where the star athlete would be running off of the field of victory and the announcer would say, “Hey [name of big star], you just won the [fill in event]. What are you going to do now?”

To which the athlete would announce enthusiastically, “I’m going to Disney World!”

Why can’t we show this attitude about death? Why do we say, poor Grandma’s about to die, instead of lucky Grandma! She about to cash in on an all expense VIP move to Disney World where she will be living a pampered life in the Cinderella Castle with all of her family and loved ones? Where everyday will be a new and exciting adventure that constantly redefines perfection in every way possible. Where there is no hunger, want, or disease, no loneliness or hurt feelings, no politics or dissension, no too hot or too cold, no old jokes or stale food.

I don’t know why we Christians can’t have that attitude. I don’t know why, but I recognize it. In spite of the arguments I make, I can’t seem to work up much enthusiasm for dying either.

Still, regardless of one’s attitude, it’s out there waiting.

So what if we turned things on their head? What if death were the normal that we accepted and ‘life’ was the thing we dread? Crazy? Maybe.

Let’s start with the premise that in the beginning, all of God’s creation was perfect and that we were prefect. Sin happened and changed all of that bringing our inescapable death.

A Christian’s death, as we understand it, is a reset. The details are not clear, but we know that at the other end is a new heaven and a new earth—a kind of reset to the original condition except this time not everyone gets to be on the winning team.  In the meantime, prior to our death, we are a prisoner held captive in this sinful world.

However, what if prior to our birth we saw ourselves in a state of perfection, but that we knew that we were going to have to spend time on earth. What a torment that would be. Here we would know what it was like to live in perfect communion with God, not to mention all of the amenities that go along with perfection, and that we would lose it all for an undisclosed period of time. What if we had knowledge that the Great Deceiver would work day and night to wreck our faith and in doing so rob us of our salvation. What if we knew that our period of time in a sinful world could very easily be made a permanent situation or worse? And by permanent, we mean eternal, endless, for all time and some. What if we knew that we were entering a situation where we could be closed off to God forever and that we would know the reason why. Now THAT would be something to fear.

God, in his kindness and mercy has deemed not to put us through that. We land here on sinful earth in a state of bliss, ignorant of the peril we face. All of us arrive here already convicted, pre-condemned, separated from salvation. Without a saving faith, Christ’s death is meaningless to us.

We sometimes hear cynics ask how a loving God can allow sin and suffering. That’s a total misunderstanding of the situation. We sinners brought the sin and suffering. God can do away with it at any time. Once God launches Last Judgement mode, sin and suffering (at least for the Elect) is past history. So why doesn’t our God of Love put his plan into action? What’s the delay? Why does a loving God prolong the suffering? Why doesn’t He get us out of here? Because He is truly a God of Love.

God did not choose for us to live in this sinful world and He certainly did not choose for us to be robbed of our salvation. That is why He is biding his time as it were, before he blows the whistle, before he closes shop, before He shuts down the operation. From God’s point of view there are still many who have yet to be saved. Shut the door and they are lost for all time. Keep the door open and all of us suffer. It’s that simple. We suffer through our days on earth and experience not just our own death but the death of everyone we know and love. But this suffering is just a blip in our lives compared to eternity of salvation. In the big picture, it’s such a tiny price to pay. Yes indeed, there are those that suffer much more than the rest of us. There is no attempt to distribute suffering evenly. Yet, even THAT, the unfairness, is part of the punishment that we must endure.

For the Christian, it will ALL be over soon enough. Best we can tell there will be no memory of the misery and sadness of our sinful state. Living in a paradise is…well…paradise. It is the very definition of perfection. There will be no room for improvement, nothing could possibly be better. Even in this veil of gloom, God has shown us sunsets and rainbows and glorious hints at what is to come.  It is what everyone has to look forward to that call themselves Children of God. No tears, no sorrow, no regrets, no discomforts, not so much as a skinned knuckle or a torn nail. Perfection. I’m ready (almost).