In one respect, that makes sense. There are many things in life we may or may not need to understand. So our default habit is not to learn about something unless and until it happens to us. That's practical. Often, that's necessary.
There is, however, a high likelihood that a Christian will experience personal tragedy. It is imprudent to wait until tragedy hits close to home before beginning to work through the problem of evil. If you wait that long, you may wait too long.
Many people have a habit of treating evil in abstraction. They know it happens all the time, but they are shocked if it happens to them:
It is at times like these that we need to keep firmly in mind the distinction between the intellectual problem of evil and the emotional problem of evil. You and your friend are obviously suffering emotionally from the severe losses that you have each experienced, she of her parents and you of your friend. Nothing has really changed to make the problem of innocent suffering more difficult intellectually. You and she were already aware of innocent persons who died in airline crashes, not to mention those who perished in the tsunami of recent years. Yet these deaths did not cause you or your friend to lose your faith. What has changed is that the problem of evil has now become intensely personal. There is an emotional component to these losses that was not present in the deaths of those other persons.(Source)
What this implies is that you need to be taking steps to deal with the emotional problem of evil. Now more than ever you need to maintain your devotional life, to be involved in daily prayer and Bible reading, to participate in meaningful corporate worship, and to fellowship with other Christians and share your burden with them.
Having a theodicy can help you cope with tragedy. However, intellectual preparation can only take you so far.
It's useful to see how some Christians grope, flail, struggle, and muddle through the pain, anger, and confusion, when they don't have all the answers. In the end, it's grace and faith that get us through:
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.(Source)
At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.
I was happy before I ever met H. I've plenty of what are called 'resources.' People get over these things. Come, I shan't do so badly. One is ashamed to listen to this voice but it seems for a little to be making out a good case. Then comes a sudden jab of red-hot memory and all this 'common sense' vanishes like an ant in the mouth of a furnace.
Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?
Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not 'So there's no God after all,' but 'So this is what God's really like. Deceive yourself no longer.'
After the death of a friend, years ago, I had for some time a most vivid feeling of certainty about his continued life; even his enhanced life. I have begged to be given even one hundredth part of the same assurance about H. There is no answer. Only the locked door, the iron curtain, the vacuum, absolute zero. 'Them as asks don't get.' I was a fool to ask. For now, even if that assurance came I should distrust it. I should think it a self-hypnosis induced by my own prayers.
Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery's shadow or reflection: the fact that you don't merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief. Do these notes merely aggravate that side of it? Merely con- firm the monotonous, tread-mill march of the mind round one subject? But what am I to do? I must have some drug, and reading isn't a strong enough drug now. By writing it all down (all?—no: one thought in a hundred) I believe I get a little outside it.
An odd byproduct of my loss is that I'm aware of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet. At work, at the club, in the street, I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they'll 'say something about it' or not. I hate it if they do, and if they don't.
Whenever I meet a happily married pair I can feel them both thinking, 'One or other of us must some day be as he is now.'
At first I was very afraid of going to places where H. and I had been happy—our favourite pub, our favourite wood. But I decided to do it at once—like sending a pilot up again as soon as possible after he's had a crash. Unexpectedly, it makes no difference. Her absence is no more emphatic in those places than anywhere else. It's not local at all.
Many bad spots in our best times, many good ones in our worst.
It is incredible how much happiness, even how much gaiety, we sometimes had together after all hope was gone. How long, how tranquilly, how nourishingly, we talked together that last night!
When I speak of fear, I mean the merely animal fear, the recoil of the organism from its destruction; the smothery feeling; the sense of being a rat in a trap.
We both knew this. I had my miseries, not hers; she had hers, not mine. The end of hers would be the coming-of-age of mine. We were setting out on different roads. This cold truth, this terrible traffic-regulation ('You, Madam, to the right—you, Sir, to the left') is just the beginning of the separation which is death itself. And this separation, I suppose, waits for all.
I cannot even see her face distinctly in my imagination. Yet the odd face of some stranger seen in a crowd this morning may come before me in vivid perfection the moment I close my eyes tonight.
The reality is no longer there to check me, to pull me up short...The most precious gift that marriage gave me was this constant impact of something very close and intimate yet all the time unmistakably other, resistant—in a word, real. Oh God, God, why did you take such trouble to force this creature out of its shell if it is now doomed to crawl back—to be sucked back—into it?
What pitiable cant to say, 'She will live forever in my memory!' Live? That is exactly what she won't do...As if I wanted to fall in love with my memory of her...
He meant he was going to weed and water and generally tidy up her grave...That was his symbol for her, his link with her. Caring for it was visiting her.
You never know how much you really believe any- thing until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you...Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief.
If H. 'is not,' then she never was. I mistook a cloud of atoms for a person. There aren't, and never were, any people. Death only reveals the vacuity that was always there. What we call the living are simply those who have not yet been unmasked. All equally bankrupt, but some not yet declared.
But this must be nonsense...I will never believe—more strictly I can't believe—that one set of physical events could be, or make, a mistake about other sets.
What chokes every prayer and every hope is the memory of all the prayers H. and I offered and all the false hopes we had. Not hopes raised merely by our own wishful thinking, hopes encouraged, even forced upon us, by false diagnoses, by X-ray photographs, by strange remissions, by one temporary recovery that might have ranked as a miracle. Step by step we were 'led up the garden path.'
Aren't all these notes the senseless writhings of a man who won't accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it?
And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps, more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn't seem worth starting anything. I can't settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.
One flesh. Or, if you prefer, one ship. The star- board engine has gone. I, the port engine, must chug along somehow till we make harbour. Or rather, till the journey ends. Like in those dreams where nothing terrible occurs—nothing that would sound even remarkable if you told it at breakfast-time—but the atmosphere, the taste, of the whole thing is deadly. So with this. I see the rowan berries reddening and don't know for a moment why they, of all things, should be depressing. I hear a clock strike and some quality it always had before has gone out of the sound. What's wrong with the world to make it so flat, shabby, worn-out looking? Then I remember.
Feelings, and feelings, and feelings. Let me try thinking instead. From the rational point of view, what new factor has H.'s death introduced into the problem of the universe? What grounds has it given me for doubting all that I believe? I knew already that these things, and worse, happened daily. I would have said that I had taken them into account. I had been warned—I had warned myself—not to reckon on worldly happiness. We were even promised sufferings. They were part of the programme. We were even told, 'Blessed are they that mourn,' and I accepted it. I've got nothing that I hadn't bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination. Yes; but should it, for a sane man, make quite such a difference as this? No. And it wouldn't for a man whose faith had been real faith and whose concern for other people's sorrows had been real concern. The case is too plain. If my house has collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards. The faith which 'took these things into account' was not faith but imagination. The taking them into account was not real sympathy. If I had really cared, as I thought I did, about the sorrows of the world, I should not have been so overwhelmed when my own sorrow came. It has been an imaginary faith playing with innocuous counters labelled 'Illness,' 'Pain,' 'Death,' and 'Loneliness.' I thought I trusted the rope until it mattered to me whether it would bear me. Now it matters, and I find I didn't.
Bridge-players tell me that there must be some money on the game 'or else people won't take it seriously.' And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horribly high, until you find that you are playing not for counters or for sixpences but for every penny you have in the world. Nothing less will shake a man—or at any rate a man like me—out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.
if my house was a house of cards, the sooner it was knocked down the better. And only suffering could do it.
All that stuff about the Cosmic Sadist was not so much the expression of thought as of hatred. I was getting from it the only pleasure a man in anguish can get; the pleasure of hitting back.
suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless...What do people mean when they say, 'I am not afraid of God because I know He is good'? Have they never even been to a dentist?
I have gradually been coming to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted.
I think I am beginning to understand why grief feels like suspense...So many roads lead thought to H. I set out on one of them. But now there's an impassable frontier post across it. So many roads once; now so many culs de sac.
To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he's had his leg off it is quite another...he will always be a one-legged man. There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it...His whole way of life will be changed. All sorts of pleasures and activities that he once took for granted will have to be simply written off. Duties too. At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again.
Tonight all the hells of young grief have opened again; the mad words, the bitter resentment, the fluttering in the stomach, the nightmare unreality, the wallowed-in tears. For in grief nothing 'stays put.'
How often—will it be for always?—how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, 'I never realized my loss till this moment'? The same leg is cut off time after time. The first plunge of the knife into the flesh is felt again and again.
Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape. As I've already noted, not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago. That is when you wonder whether the valley isn't a circular trench. But it isn't.
Here, for instance, is a new phase, a new loss...Today I have been revisiting old haunts, taking one of the long rambles that made me so happy in my bachelor days. And this time the face of nature was not emptied of its beauty and the world didn't look (as I complained some days ago) like a mean street. On the contrary, every horizon, every stile or clump of trees, summoned me into a past kind of happiness, my pre-H. happiness. But the invitation seemed to me horrible. The happiness into which it invited me was insipid. I find that I don't want to go back again and be happy in that way. It frightens me to think that a mere going back should even be possible. For this fate would seem to me the worst of all, to reach a state in which my years of love and marriage should appear in retrospect a charming episode—like a holiday—that had briefly interrupted my interminable life and returned me to normal, unchanged. And then it would come to seem unreal—something so foreign to the usual texture of my history that I could almost believe it had happened to someone else. Thus H. would die to me a second time; a worse bereavement than the first. Anything but that.
Did you ever know, dear, how much you took away with you when you left? You have stripped me even of my past, even of the things we never shared. I was wrong to say the stump was recovering from the pain of the amputation. I was deceived because it has so many ways to hurt me that I discover them only one by one.
Imagine a man in total darkness. He thinks he is in a cellar or dungeon. Then there comes a sound. He thinks it might be a sound from far off—waves or wind-blown trees or cattle half a mile away. And if so, it proves he's not in a cellar, but free, in the open air...Either way, a good, good sound.
It doesn't matter that all the photographs of H. are bad...I want H., not something that is like her. A really good photograph might become in the end a snare, a horror, and an obstacle...And this, not any image or memory, is what we are to love still, after she is dead.
Once very near the end I said, 'If you can—if it is allowed—come to me when I too am on my death bed.' 'Allowed!' she said. 'Heaven would have a job to hold me; and as for Hell, I'd break it into bits.'
In the providence of God, 5 days ago I was given a diagnosis of "uterine papillary serous carcinoma." Statistically, only 1 percent of women with my symptoms have this diagnosis. It is classified as an aggressive cancer that spreads quickly. And it has the worst prognosis of all the uterine cancers, especially if it has already spread. At this point we do not know the "stage" (spreading) of the cancer. This type of papillary serous is automatically given a Stage III (second worst spreading) until proven otherwise. I am scheduled to see the gynecologic oncologist on Monday afternoon (August 10), and surgery is expected soon thereafter. After surgery we will know better the stage of the cancer in my body.(Source)
You might be wondering about the work God has given to us in Ethiopia. Until God shows us differently, and puts a complete road-block in the way, we will continue the work.
August 9, 2009
As I looked at the others in the waiting room at UNC, and listened to their talk, my heart was torn for them. What a lonely, desolate journey Life is without the Savior. Those living without Jesus are like sheep wandering on the hillsides, trying to care for themselves, trying to protect themselves – so vulnerable, so desperate.
It is without doubt the most aggressive cancer of all the uterine cancers. And it has the worst prognosis. We don't know my "stage" yet, but assuming the best stage, you could flip a coin to determine if I live or die. If it has spread even a little, the survival rate is 40%. If it has spread more, the rate drops to a mere 20%. These rates assume complete surgery and full chemo and radiation to follow.
Do these statistics make me anxious? No. Honestly, no. Why? Because God doesn't operate by statistics. It is as easy for Him to make me one of the 20% surviving as to make the sun stop rotating (as He did when Joshua was fighting a battle and needed more daylight). Nothing in nature is too hard for Him.
August 10, 2009
For myself, as I look at this cancer, not knowing the future, looking at bleak human statistics, I have settled the matter. My life belongs to the Lord Jesus. He may do with me as He pleases.
August 18, 2009
With surgery, chemo, and radiation now an imminent reality, and having never walked this way before, the Evil One has been trying to get this game started with me. It's a sort of dart game. He throws out an idea, a "what if," and before I can process the idea, along comes another "what if." In fast succession they come...What if the blade cuts the ureter, or bladder, or bowel? What if the prednisone I've taken for rheumatoid arthritis all these years keeps me from healing? What if I hemorrhage? What if I get an infection? What if the doctor is on drugs, or has had a fight with his/her spouse the night before and is in a foul mood, so he/she doesn't care about doing a good job? What if I'm in bed in pain, and no one comes when I call? What if the radiation burns a hole in good tissue?
What if.... What if..... What if.....
You know what I mean.
As the thoughts go round and round in my head, my whole body tenses. Fear becomes dominant. God has gone. Suddenly I'm so vulnerable!
August 20, 2009
In my own life, there is scarcely a trip to Ethiopia that doesn't have its moments of extreme stress...In the past 2 years especially, we have had times of extreme danger that has left the soul seared with pain and stress, forever stamped with the event.
August 29, 2009
As I've been lying here in bed the past 5 days, I've been thinking a lot about pain. The bone pain in my legs has been horrendous! It is beyond description. I have a new appreciation of the skeletal system, and am appalled at how much I've taken it for granted all my life. The chemo attacks many normal cells in the body as well as the cancer cells. The nerve cells, the hair cells and the GI cells in particular get hit with the Taxol and Carboplatin I was given last Thursday.
Do you know what it is like to have your leg bones feel like a hot branding iron is touching their centers? It's far off the scale of pain! No amount of morphine will touch it...not even in the least bit. Only given Dilaudid (known as 10 times more potent than morphine) directly into my veins did I get any relief.
Then the pain shifts...into ankles and feet. My legs want to crumple with the least amount of weight-bearing. To put any pressure on them, I can feel the pain ascending as the pressure increases.
And the night hours, when all are asleep, and the darkness covers the earth, knowing nothing can be done...I just must be brave. It will pass....at least that is what they say. Just a few more days, and it'll be OK. Just hang in there. Try to distract. Try to be productive with projects of the hands & mind. Try to pray, to read, to meditate.
So many things to be genuinely thankful for!!!! I've thought much about Kura in Burji these past weeks. He was a young man, about aged 17, just beginning his life. In the providence of God, he was struck with brain cancer. I was the first to diagnosis him, when he came to me asking why he had suddenly gone blind. In the providence of God I was able to find pain medicine for him. I didn't give him 6 months, but he lasted 18 months. Just weeks before his death, I visited him in his home....a mud hut, full of holes, rats. His bed was made of hardened mud. His blanket a dirty rag. Oh! How blessed I am!
September 24, 2009
At the beginning I was in denial. "It's too soon to have this side effect. This must be in my head." The literature said radiation side effects didn't usually start until 2-3 weeks into treatment. So I kept pushing myself, disciplining myself to get things done. But as the days passed, there was no escaping, and the depth of fatigue was growing. Soon I was panicked.
Then I went to the other extreme. "I don't think I can make it!" My dear husband has heard that cry from me on more than one occasion in the past 2 weeks. Counting down the days of radiation....oh! it moved so slowly!
January 8, 2010
Less than 48 hours ago the results of the CT scan were read to me: "Two enlarging pulmonary modules compatible with progression of pulmonary metastases"
Metastases. The medical term for spreading. My uterine cancer was now spreading to my lungs.
"But Lord, I thought I would get a rest now. I thought now I would have at least 6 or 8 months of normal life. ... no chemo appointments, no radiation, no bone pain, no baldness, no fatigue. Lord, I want to have rest & normalcy. I want to focus on other projects for awhile."
The CT scan was routine follow-up on some suspicious nodules seen 2 months ago, just before we went on the Ethiopia trip. I knew full well that the rate of recurrence of my type of cancer is 60-90% within 1- 1/2 years. But I didn't expect it this quick. Now what?
After I hung up the phone, I cried a little, then told Dave. And we sat together gathering our thoughts. We had to decide how we were going to deal with this. Of course, there was the usual research that had to be done. Three different types of chemo treatments were suggested; we needed to research these treatments, learn side effects & potential benefits, and be prepared for our meeting with the doctor to discuss and decide which one we were going to do.
That was the easy part. Mechanical research. Logical thinking. Tapping into the expertise available to us.
The other part of responding was intangible... choosing a perspective, settling on a mental course, deciding the base from which I would digest this happening.
Dear Family in Ethiopia,(Source)
As you know, God in His mercy and goodness sent me a disease called cancer. We became aware of this gift in August, 2009, just after a trip to Ethiopia. And since that time, while we have continued the ministry, we have been receiving many health treatments. We have had surgery, radiation, several chemo therapies, and Cyber Knife. The cancer moved from my uterus, through the lymph glands to my lungs, but it has not yet spread to other parts of my body.
So it appears that perhaps God is starting us on the last section of this Journey.
February 10, 2012
For some reason, it has hit me harder this time around (with the news) than before. And this morning the reason for this finally dawned on me. I am not willing to sacrifice the joy I get in helping people!
February 14, 2012
Since my last bone and CT scans, I have sensed that God has brought my life to a sort of fork in the road. These scans showed that the cancer is continuing to grow in multiple locations in the lungs, that the lymph nodes are now involved, and that the cancer has spread to 3 places in my bones. Humanly-speaking, it is not a "happy" picture.
Compounding this picture is the reality that I'm at the end of proven medicine. True, there are many more chemo therapies that I could take....but none have been studied and shown effective for my kind of cancer. There are no radiation or surgical options open for me.
So, in my mind, God has brought me along in the Journey to the point where Medicine is likely to be ineffective in treatment. The fork in the road before me presents 2 options: healing or transfer (death).
My perspective of where I'm at in the Journey. I'm at a fork in the road. One fork leads to miraculous healing, and one to physical death. If God puts me on the path to healing, then I pray for it to be done in such a way that He (and only He) gets the glory for the healing, and that the healing issues forth a life that accomplishes His purposes. If God puts me on the path to physical death, then I pray that He will allow me to do more damage to the Enemy of our souls than I have done throughout all my life.
March 22, 2012
I had woken up at 5 a.m. sharp on Wednesday, October 24, 2012, with the most excruciating pain imaginable in the left upper quadrant of my abdomen. Immediately I knew that something in my abdomen had ruptured. My mind went over the side effects of the medical treatment I was taking. Until that moment, the lists of potential side effects somehow hadn't registered as being for me. They were side effects for other people, but certainly not for me.
I was alone on the farm. Dave and Nigusse were at the seminary for their classes. After crying out to the Lord to help me, the "nurse" in me kicked in. My first concern was whether or not I was going to go into shock, which meant losing consciousness, which meant calling 911 immediately. So I did some "shock tests," and found that I was functioning fine. So I suspected that my spleen and vasculature were probably OK. Of course, the shock could come later (it might be a slow leak), but for now I was safe to plan my course of action.
I struggled into my bathrobe and slippers, and drove carefully, being mindful of having enough response time to pull over if I began to lose consciousness. In 20 minutes I was walking into the ED, thankful that no ambulances were parked at their door. "I have an acute abdomen," I announced to the bewildered receptionist.
December 5, 2012
Our medical oncologist has informed us that there are no new treatments available in radiation or chemotherapy. If we aren't seeking healing, why don't we just quit all treatments? It's called stewardship.
And so we begin another little leg in this Journey. We're trying to be good stewards.
December 16, 2012
Lately I've been thinking about the matter of resilience, that power to get up and keep going. We all have events in life that knock our breath out momentarily...the foreclosure notice that finally came, the walking out of a spouse, the discovery that our child is on drugs, the termination notice at work, the IRS audit. This is life, and sometimes these horrific events occur. The issue is not that they occur; the issue is how we respond to them. And the key "proof" of resilience is joy.
May 18, 2013
For almost five years you have journeyed with me. Since my diagnosis we have had many turns and unexpected events. But God has worked out His perfect plan as He always does.
Last fall after suffering a stroke, emergency surgery for bowl perforation, and a blood clot we, set aside chemotherapy and tried an alternative treatment.
It is now apparent that the alternative treatment is not working against the cancer, and in the last two and half months we have seen a rapid decline in my body. We have a strong sense that I have rounded third base and am headed for home base.
I have asked the Lord to set a watch before my mouth and around my attitude so that I do not complain. I do not complain about when He is taking me or how He is taking me. He is God and He always does what is right and good and according to His perfect wisdom.
The race is not done. God still has work for me to do. God still has challenges for me to conquer by faith. God still has ministry for me, even as my body is failing. And I want to be faithful all the way to the end. And that means taking every advantage to influence others for Christ. That means pushing through the fatigue, pushing through the pain, pushing through the discomfort to pray, to communicate, to obey the Spirit.
And now my dear friend, I want to say a special word to you. I want to tell you as clearly as I can that there is nothing, nothing, nothing in this life that is worth the cost, and worth the sacrifice, except the Lord Jesus. Everything in life will fail: marriage, children, career, money, prestige, possessions, relationships, all things will turn to vanity. All things will fail you. Only Jesus will never fail. Only Jesus will stand by you in thick and thin, in peace and in turmoil, in feast and in famine, in illness and in health. Only Jesus will never fail. So I want to say to you, my dear friend, give your life to Him, dare to obey Him, dare to live in the reality of who He is, dare to believe that He is who he says He is and that He does what He says. If you will do, this listening to the Holy Spirit as He makes the Scriptures alive in you, then you will have your feet upon the Rock, you will have your shelter in the storm, you will have your reward that does not fade, and you will know the joy of the Savior.
Rejoicing in my Lord Jesus,
July 7, 2013