Now that the dust has cleared from my surgery and I'm feeling a good deal better I thought I would update you all in greater depth about the events of the last few weeks. Of course I am still so new into my experience with cancer that I don't have the perspective of lots of time to look back and reflect on things, since the "things" just happened. But I figure I can at least give you some tidbits of thoughts and reflections that are just now forming.
I did wrestle a bit about whether or not to blog much about this - blogging of this type can be a kind of emotional exhibitionism and I don't want to do that. There is much in this experience that I will keep just between me and my wife and the kids. But on the other hand, I've had such great love and support from the blogging community that I am happy to keep you informed and praying.
Also, when asked about what it was like to find out he had cancer, Lance Armstrong said it is like getting run off the road by a truck. I and my family got run off the road by a truck a few weeks ago and the truth is, everyone will get run off the road by a truck at some time in their life. It may be cancer or some other serious illness, it may be a sudden loss, or it may be having to go through some tragic circumstances with a loved one. So, maybe my reflections will be of some help for you when your day comes and maybe they will help someone else who is in the ditch to know they are not alone. I know that has been the biggest thing that has helped me these last few weeks - the stories of those who have been where I am and all of the words from people who have assured me I am not alone.
Today I thought I would tell you about how I think God may have been spiritually preparing me for this a few weeks in advance.
The physical symptoms that led me to think something was wrong and which led me to the doctor and so on and so on started before thanksgiving, but some time around then and maybe a little before I think God was preparing me spiritually for what was about to happen.
I have been teaching a Sunday School class this fall using Mark Driscoll's book Death by Love as the basis for the lessons and in one of the lessons he had a couple of paragraphs on the theology of the cross vs. the theology of glory. I had heard of this before but at this point this resonated with me in a new and fresh way. So, I did one Sunday School class as an extended lesson the theology of the cross vs. the theology of glory.
I'll stop for a commercial break here and list a few resources on the theology of the cross vs. the theology of glory. This was most famously expressed by Luther and the theology of the cross is not so much a theology about the cross as it is an entire way of looking at life and theology which finds that God is revealed most clearly in the cross. Here are a few resources on this subject for those who want to dig:A Theology of Glory and a Theology of the Cross by Don Matzat
Theology of the Cross
The Theology of Glory vs. the Theology of the Cross - The Old Adam Lives!
The theology of glory looks for God in the midst of the big, the spectacular, the powerful, the victorious - it is a triumphalistic approach to the Christian life. The theology of the cross says that God's clearest revelation of Himself is in the cross - therefore if you want to find God you will find Him in the midst of suffering, He will hide Himself from the world rather than display Himself before the world in great glory, and He is present in defeat as much as or more so than victory.
All of this started working on me around Thanksgiving and into December and one of the thoughts that came into my head as an application of this is that we tend to give God the praise when He delivers us from suffering. In other words, we believe we have found God and He has shown Himself at the moment of deliverance and this is the stuff of our testimonies - I once was suffering but now I'm free - praise be to God.
But it occurred to me that such a testimony only has resonance in the affluent west. What do we say of Chinese believers and others around the world whom God delivers unto suffering, not from suffering. For many Christians throughout history their testimony has not been the typical western testimony, it has been the testimony of illness, homelessness, and persecution, to be followed by further persecutions, beatings and death in anonymity.
And so it seemed to me that a theology of the cross meant that God would display His glory through deliverance into suffering. I've recently come across a couple of comments from Carl Trueman that say this better than I just did:
The implications of this position are revolutionary. For a start, Luther is demanding that the entire theological vocabulary be revised in light of the cross. Take for example the word power. When theologians of glory read about divine power in the Bible, or use the term in their own theology, they assume that it is analogous to human power. They suppose that they can arrive at an understanding of divine power by magnifying to an infinite degree the most powerful thing of which they can think. In light of the cross, however, this understanding of divine power is the very opposite of what divine power is all about. Divine power is revealed in the weakness of the cross, for it is in his apparent defeat at the hands of evil powers and corrupt earthly authorities that Jesus shows his divine power in the conquest of death and of all the powers of evil. So when a Christian talks about divine power, or even about church or Christian power, it is to be conceived of in terms of the cross—power hidden in the form of weakness.
The implications of the theology of the cross for the believer do not stop there. The cross is paradigmatic for how God will deal with believers who are united to Christ by faith. In short, great blessing will come through great suffering.
Also, back on December 16th I posted the following quote from Luther on my Facebook page.
As one who has spent his life reading and speculating in order to be a theologian this quote hit home - it hinted that I was quite deficient in my theological preparation.
So this is the kind of stuff that had been rattling around in my brain from somewhere around Thanksgiving until the middle of December. During that time it was pretty much intellectual stuff for me - things to ruminate on, to teach about and maybe even debate a little.
But now it seems that God was bringing all of that to my attention for other reasons. In another post I'll tell about learning I had cancer and how it has affected me and my family so far.