God’s Story in the Drama of Human Suffering: Applied to an Incurable Cancer Diagnosis

I wanted to share something I wrote on April 14th, 2010. I was still in the thralls of my treatment; I was totally beat up! I had gone through 6 cycles of very hard-core chemo, had lost over 50 pounds, and came close to losing my life without the intervention of the oncologists; i.e. from the treatment. At this moment they were just giving me time to recover to prepare for surgery (that would happen until May 6th). As I gained strength back, having a break from my chemo, I gained strength to write; and so I produced the following reflection on the story of Job. Here’s what I wrote:

In Bible study (or literary studies) there is a “device” called “dramatic irony.” The perfect example of this is found in the book of Job. We as the readers have a birds-eye view of the whole story; we see God’s discussion with satan in heaven, we see God giving satan space to slam Job for a “season.” Then we see the unfolding of satan’s attack upon Job, we go through all the false accusations of Job’s friends; we see Job in great pain and affliction, we see him wondering what’s going on, wondering where God was. We see Job in great mental, emotional, and physical anguish. Then we turn the pages and see God responding to Job — not in the way we might think either — and finally we get to the end of the book; we see how it turns out, how Job is blessed, even more so than he was before — mostly because He came to know the LORD in ways he never did before. My point, is that with Job we know he’s going to be okay (we know the end of the story); Job didn’t have our vantage point, he had to go thru it.

As I think about this, and my own precarious situation, it is amazing to think about dramatic irony; there is a story that has already been written by God, there is a so-called “back-story” going on here. To learn from Job, God is sovereignly in control of all the circumstances of my life; when I cry out to Him and wonder where He is and what He’s doing, to learn from Job, God is in control and every circumstance is ordered by Him. Beyond this there is a time of refreshing and rest coming; in ways that me and my family have never known (since we’ve never known the depth of suffering we are currently experiencing). There is great hope in looking at Job. God is in control, and He doesn’t want to keep that a secret; He also doesn’t want to hide that He is a God of great comfort, who doesn’t answer to us, but instead lovingly comes to us in His way, in His time. Dramatic irony is an ongoing reality, in my life, and in all of our lives; unfortunately we don’t know, specifically (we do in general as Christians), how each of our particular stories end (whatever kind of suffering or trial we are currently facing in life as God’s children). The good news is that God knows how each of our stories end and begin; He’s in control, and He just wants us to trust and rest in Him (I say to myself). [originally posted here]

As I contemplate this over 6 years removed from that time I am able to look back and see more of the story, but I still do not know the whole story of course. Like Job, like someone like Lazarus, just because my body has been “raised from the dead” “delivered from the valley of the shadow of death” I am still human and I am still facing my mortality on a daily basis. I have a greater confidence in God’s care and capacity to intervene, to break into my life in a very personal and concrete way. I have come to understand that my life is indeed but a vapor, but that ‘vapor’ is the LORD’s; He is in control of the vapors. The further out we get from my cancer free date (May 6th, 2010), the further away we seem to be removed from that strange world. But in honesty I don’t really feel that removed from it. I still have a 12 inch scar running from the bottom of my sternum to the top of my groin; I still have a horizontal scar running about 3 inches across my upper right chest from where they embedded my port under my skin; I still have some neuropathy in my feet from the chemo; I still have one less kidney; and I still have 6 inches of gortex holding my inferior vena cava together. Beyond that, and this is the more blessed part: I still have not forgotten the dramatic in-breaking of God’s life into our lives during that season. His provision and presence was other-worldly; He spoke with His still small voice into my heart words of encouragement; He pointed me to passages of Scripture before I even knew they were passages of Scripture and spoke those words into my life.

In a small way we have experienced the dramatic irony of God’s dealing with our life. We can look back at that part of the story and see how God has worked. More broadly we can look to God in Jesus Christ and have confidence that this same God from In the beginning to the amen has written the story of all of our lives in the life of Jesus Christ. We can read the drama that this life produces over and again from the Alpha&Omega of God’s finished work in Jesus Christ and know that the story ends very well; just as it did in a temporal sense for Job; just as that happened for Lazarus; and just as it has happened for me in this instance of living through (thus far) an ‘incurable cancer.’ Soli Deo Gloria!

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3 thoughts on “God’s Story in the Drama of Human Suffering: Applied to an Incurable Cancer Diagnosis

  1. Amen, Bobby. Your cancer-free date will be easy for me to remember, it’s my birthday – now I’ll have another reason to celebrate on that day! My aunt just finished chemo and radiation for stage 3 lung cancer. I spent a week with her and tried to be present with her. Like Job’s friends in the beginning, I didn’t say much because there just aren’t words … just tried to figure out something she could eat. She’s a very young 80. This week is the PET scan. She survived breast cancer in the ’80s and a recurrence in 2002, now this. Seems like she’s had more than her share.

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  2. Hi Eric,

    Thanks for sharing. Okay, I’ll keep your aunt in prayer. I had an uncle like that. He survived colon cancer, a serious heart issue for years. He finally succumbed to the heart issue years later (he was about 80), and went home to be with the Lord a few years ago now.

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