I’m reading Walter Wangerin’s book, Letters from the Land of Cancer, published 2010. He’s still battling lung cancer (from 2005), and this book is a remarkable read. Here’s a passage that pertains to my point in this post . . .
“We don’t talk of cancer’s ‘cure.’ Surely we don’t have that right, given what continues in my body. But even if all signs of it vanish, this easier condition remains a ‘remission’ of the disease. It’s a wise distinction. My sister-in-law—she of the double-mastectomy, five years in remission—still bewares the specter hovering above her. This isn’t morbidity. It is evidence of the weight of her surgical and recuperative experience past. It is her proper recognition of the statistical facts, that having had cancer once makes the possibility of her having cancer again very high” (p. 124).
How does one live with that “specter hovering above”? How does one live with 11 years of cancer tests and treatments, and the “side effects”?
I have my own disease—primary lateral sclerosis. It’s progressive, but not fatal. It weakens me and pains me, but won’t kill me. So how can I whine when one of my favorite authors and his sister-in-law suffer so? Even when I realize their hardship doesn’t relieve mine an iota, I still feel guilty. (And you, kind reader, must be weary of my whining or at least my talking about my troubles. By the way, there are more than 100 of you readers a day, with a dozen countries represented and about half of the U.S. states. Thank you from a guilty-for-complaining blogger! You should be glad my load is relatively light!)
Besides feeling guilty for getting down when others endure so much worse, I’m also feeling trapped. No, not my old, sick body. Well, yes, by that. But what I feel trapped by is Jesus. Here’s the story . . .
Jesus has told a gathered crowd, “‘Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood, abides in me and I in him’ . . . When many of his disciples (those in the crowd, not the 12) heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ . . . ” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?'” (John 6:56,60,66,67).
The trap is set. Hear it in Peter’s answer: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68,69). Jesus’ hard words sound like cannibalism. The Twelve doesn’t understand them any better than the others do. But they’re trapped between a rock and a hard place—and know it. If Pew Research polled the Twelve, “Do you like Jesus’ hard words?”, I expect 100% would say no. They don’t want to munch on Jesus’ ankle bone. But it’s either that or lose eternal life, because the one with hard words speaks eternal words. (I know Jesus wasn’t promoting a cult of cannibalism!)
I fancy Peter does a quick calculation. “Let’s see, no cannibalism (maybe MacDonald’s) with death (not a critique of MacDonald’s) or a cup of blood and eternal life? We’ll take life and (gulp) a small blood, please.” What else could he do? A brief, bloody meal was a small price for eternal life.
Trapped. That’s how I feel.
Look, you can say I’ve got PLS because we all live under death’s curse. I just happened to pull the PLS card. Or, you can say, Satan sent this. He’s the evil one who wants to feast on your faith (just a light meal much of the time). But, God is sovereign, even over Satan. (Job shows, Satan’s on the Lord’s short leash). Being sovereign, God is ultimately responsible.. “I form the light and create darkness. I make well-being and create calamity. I am the LORD, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).
Therefore, still praying for healing, I find myself surrendered: “Lord, this appears to be the hard path you’ve chosen for me. Even so, where could I go? You have the words of eternal life.”
It’s a trap I ignorantly walked into. (I can’t say he didn’t warn me about tribulations on the way to the kingdom–Acts 14:22.) It would not be my first choice. But now that I’m here, I know the deal. There is suffering—and ultimately death. Yet even in the suffering there are blessings, the foretastes of eternal life. But when the chosen path here ends, comes the great gift Jesus trapped me for—the fullness of eternal life, which is seeing him face-to-face forever.