My Hope Through Terminal Illness

In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

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Tragedy has always been a comfortable distance away throughout my life. However, amidst the pandemic in 2020, my eyes were opened when a friend my age was diagnosed with ALS and a hero lost his 20 year old son. Suddenly, I found it easy to envision how suffering might come for me too.

Theologically, I saw the trials and afflictions others faced as a shadow of what will come sooner or later, but only from the perspective as an outsider looking in. I knew I wasn’t immune to the realities of a fallen world. Jesus said so in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Would the low-grade, everyday hardships be my only difficulties in life? At 35, I was not afflicted by suffering in a personal way. I was busy being a husband, a father to 3 young boys and pursuing an upwardly mobile life through a recent promotion. I have a full life to live, a family to raise, a God to serve!

My own tragedy struck

Then, the tidal wave of suffering came straight at me. After an abrupt, traumatic surgery, I was told unimaginable news. I had brain cancer and there is no known cure. My life would likely be painful and shortened by this terrible disease. There's not even a category of remission for this diagnosis.

Where can I turn? Will my life ever be the same? What will happen to my family? Questions mounted and fears of the future were suffocating. The perception others had of a man with “strong faith” started to look a lot more like flimsy self-reliance.

Comforts are hard to come by and when they do, sift through my fingers like sand. The only surety I had was my situation was uncertain. I look at my boys now and long to be present throughout their lives. This season truly revealed how much I “rely on myself.” Can all my dreams and desires be swept away through this storm?

In the early months after my diagnosis, I spent a good while reading through the Christian hope in the resurrection of The Lord Jesus Christ. The final chapters of 1 Corinthians and the beginning of 2 Corinthians were worn, tear-covered pages in my bible. A familiar verse I’ve tended to gloss over shined bright in the darkest moment of my life.

Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
- 2 Corinthians 1:9
Living with a terminal diagnosis has felt, at times, like I've been given a death sentence. I’m not headed to the gallows, but the verdict has been pronounced. My outcome as sure as the best doctors can determine.

What is your hope?

Despondency pressed in asking, what hope do you have facing inevitable death? The cure I longed to hear about from my doctors, I heard afresh through God's word.

Sitting on my in-laws' guest bed, I silently raised my hands in praise. It was the word I needed to hear. A reminder of the hope I cling to even when all else is lost. Jesus is the one who, by his wounds, heals our sentence of death (Isaiah 53:5). David Powilson helps me to see God's grace through suffering writing:
When God has written his name on you, suffering qualitatively changes. Pain, loss, and weakness are no longer the end of the world and the death of your hopes. Whatever you must face changes in the light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise that you, too, will live.
- David Powilson

Be still my soul and trust in the “eternal rock” (Isaiah 26:4). Life built upon Jesus can withstand the raging floods that will come in this life (Matthew 7:24-27).

Take it to heart, God will do nothing less than raise you from the dead!