This post is #41 in a year-long series ... Through this series of posts I plan to share our family's experiences during our 17-year-old daughter's year-long battle with brain cancer, which began in February of 2008. My desire is to process through the events of that year from the perspective that a decade of time has brought ... for myself, really. But if you'd like to follow along, you're welcome to join me.
There's nothing like a cancer diagnosis to pique one's interest in the subject of suffering. I think that as Christians, we often assume that if we "do everything right", we should be immune from suffering and hard times. God should see all the good things we are doing ... going to church, giving our tithe, reading our Bibles, praying for missionaries ... and exempt us from pain and heartache. But I think most of us have figured out by now that it doesn't really work that way. So how do we keep our faith from falling apart like a cheap lawn chair when suffering or tragedy comes our way?
I think one way to keep that from happening is to prepare for suffering ahead of time. When I learned how to scuba dive, I spent a great deal of time in a classroom, watching videos, reading manuals, and learning how to use the equipment before I ever did a Jacques Cousteau off the back of a boat. And breathing through a regulator under water (a totally unnatural feeling) was completely different than breathing through a regulator in my classroom at the Scuba Doo Dive Shop. Without the prior preparation, it would have been easy to panic when taking that first breath underwater. But because I had been prepared, I was able to relax and survive that first diving experience. In the same way, spending some time consciously preparing for the suffering that will inevitably come into our lives enables us to survive it when it comes.
So how do we prepare for unknown future events? Randy Alcorn devotes many, many pages to the importance of our worldview in his book If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil. I love what he says about God's omniscience: "God knows everything, including every contingency, and He knows what is ultimately best in ways we cannot. God can see ultimate purposes and plans that we can't. He can know it is better for someone to die now rather than later: 'The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil' (Isaiah 57:1). We have no way of knowing, for instance, whether a disability might be used to cultivate personal qualities that would more profoundly honor God and bring the person greater eternal reward in Heaven. Because God knows all things in the past, present, and future, God is uniquely qualified to know when to ordain or permit evil and suffering and when not to."
For me, just knowing that God is fully cognizant of the big picture and that He is constantly working out His purposes is a huge help to me in understanding suffering and its purpose. We would never, ever have chosen for Hannah to be diagnosed with brain cancer at the tender age of sixteen ... but in His total omniscience, He permitted that in her life. Knowing that, and fully understanding that truth, makes it a little bit easier to face the absence of her physical presence in our family. And gives us the assurance that her (and our) suffering will one day be fully redeemed.