Most of us grow up with a sense of immortality. By the time we're 25 or 30 we realize that we will not live forever, but something more subtle then occurs: We presume we'll live another 50 years, enough to put off indefinitely the prospect of death. Life is too rich, full, and busy to waste energy on the possibility of earlier departure from this world we know. That was my assumption until the day I learned my chronic hoarseness was due to a chest malignancy rather than a virus. I likened my previous mortal security to that of a climber resting safely on the middle of a large, flat plateau. The news of cancer moved me metaphorically to the very edge of that plateau, looking down at the abyss below. The diagnosis of cancer brought with it the hidden blessing of immediate and total focus. God had my attention. Several friends attempted to empathize, stating in various ways that life is a "raw deal." Others suggested honest anger toward God. They expected me to ask, "Why me, why this, and why now?" But why not me? What makes me different from the next person? Yes, we all want to be spared life's hardships, but that is not reality. The Apostle Paul identified his thorn in the flesh specifically as a "messenger from Satan." We should be angry at the fallen state of creation, not the One who told Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect through weakness." God's grace in my case meant His use of illness to transform my priorities. He gave me peace in knowing that the months ahead were to be a time in which God would be glorified as others would be drawn to Him, and that I was to seek reconciliation in relationships. With this peace came the hope revealed in Romans 15:13: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." God's character is defined by hope. Furthermore, joy and peace come freely, not from our labor, but as we trust in Him. His gift of hope is to overflow in our lives, not simply to ebb and flow. And this free gift is obtained not by our effort, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Now after living with cancer for 10 months, it has become almost familiar, if one dare say such a thing. As the conclusion of my formal therapy approaches, there lurks ahead the inevitable waiting period when one asks, "What next?" Make no mistake, fighting cancer is like a war with many battles; it is not a skirmish. One's defense cannot end with the conclusion of the surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Accordingly, the most encouraging experience for months has been my participation in a nondenominational healing ministry of prayer called the Order of St. Luke the Physician. Each week a prayer team meets to address my physical, emotional, and spiritual concerns. This experience has led me to reconsider why God allows suffering and how He heals. I've learned that healing is not just about one's physical state; it is a move toward wholeness in all of one's life. While wholeness is a goal fully realized only in heaven, in this life we can deal with areas of unrepentant sin and old wounds that have never truly healed. We should realize that God may use illness for His own purposes. When Jesus' disciples asked who had sinned so that a man was born blind, He answered that the man was blind so the work of God might be displayed in his life. Illness and suffering may indeed be a calling for some through which God may be glorified. But perhaps we underestimate the importance of prayer for healing. Today the notion of physical healing as the product of faith and prayer is often associated with fringe groups and questionable theology. In fact, the phrase, "If it be Thy will" may be a disclaimer for some who dare not question how God might heal. And yet, while God certainly uses modern medicine, we need not presume that He is constrained by the limits of science. And, thankfully, God is in control. There is no magic incantation or right formula that produces healing or guarantees a certain end result. It is, finally, a matter of His will, and we know from the Gospels that Jesus loved to heal.
-Chip Morgan is a physician practicing in Asheville, N.C.