It was not a simple question that my father asked me a few days ago: “What do you say to your people at church who are going through something like this?” My Dad’s wife, Sandra, has advanced-stage lymphoma and has been struck with a series of setbacks in recent weeks. While there is always the possibility of new medical advances, my Dad is facing the real possibility that this may be his wife’s final days. And so he asked his son, the professional pastor and amateur theologian, what he would say to bring comfort. In truth, I suspect that my opinion is not the one being sought by my father; I suspect he really wants to hear from God.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20–21 (NIV)
So, what would I say to the people at church who are facing a journey that traverses the ‘valley of the shadow of death’? First and foremost, trust in the fact that God is able to do things that our finite brains cannot fathom. He is able to eradicate lymphoma, lung cancer and brain cancer; He is able to overcome depression and addiction; He is able to restore what was once lost. I would want those who stand at the precipice of this world, looking toward the next, to know that God is able and I would want them to hold onto the hope that a cure, a remission, a breakthrough is always possible. While it is true that God does not always act in the ways we think He ought, we can take comfort that He is always able to accomplish His will.
Secondly, God’s power is at work within us. He has given us, who trust solely in the person and work of Jesus Christ, His Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Truth, the Comforter, the Advocate. Because we have the very presence of God with us we are not alone in our struggles and sorrows. He comforts us amidst our tears and knows the pain we face. He uplifts and encourages us through His word and His people. He has promised to never leave us and never forsake us. While it is true that God does not always act in the ways we think He ought, we can take comfort that He is always with us through it all.
Thirdly, all tragedy, even this tragedy, can be something which glorifies God. Our suffering is not God’s fault, but ours – our sin, and the sin of our forebears, brought death into the world. To know that God himself, in the person of Christ, endured excruciating death for our benefit enables us to endure death (even excruciating death) for His glory. If we know that Jesus is our redeemer, Lord and savior, we know that death is not the end but rather a glorious beginning to our eternal life with Him and our loved ones who have gone on before us. While it is true that God does not always act in the ways we think He ought, we can take comfort that He will keep that which has been committed to Him until that day of glory before His throne.
Life is not easy. Death is not easy. Our only hope is that God is able, He is powerful and He is glorious. My prayer is that these words might bring comfort to my Dad and to all those facing impossible odds.
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27 (NIV)