Sunday, July 23, 2006

Thoughts from the Ash Heap

The past four years since I was diagnosed with CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia) have reinforced my long-held conviction that most western Christians do not know how to handle suffering from a biblical perspective. When fellow believers have learned that I have what is essentially an incurable disease, they have tended to respond in one or more of the following ways:

1. Hyper-faith: "Healing is always God's will. So don't accept what you have and claim God's promises."

2. Faithlessness: "How tragic! How can a good God allow such a thing! You must be angry with God, eh?"

3. Quick Fix: "I had a friend who went on this special diet and the cancer went away. You should try it!"

4. Denial: "Don't worry. Be happy! After all, the Bible says to rejoice in all things!"

5. Avoidance: "Let's not talk about this. I don't know what to say."

6. Resignation: "Well, I suppose your life and usefulness is winding down. Better start planning your legacy."

Now, I recognize that there are elements of truth in all of these responses. And I try hard not to get annoyed by the "friends of Job" that invariably arrive whenever one is going through trials. But lately, I am finding that I would rather sit on the ash heap (cf. Job 2:8) by myself. At least part of me does. Part of me would still like some company, but it is hard to find those who will sit and pray and accept that suffering often involves mystery that requires faith, not sight; trust, not explanations and solutions.

I am satisfied with the knowledge that God allows nothing to come into my life that does not first pass through his sovereign Hands. I trust that He is accomplishing His purposes in and through my life in a way today that He could not do if I were perfectly healthy. Living with a keener sense of mortality is not altogether a bad thing. It tends to bring an edge to your life than is often missing otherwise. You know that you have one shot at life in which to accomplish God's purposes and so you'd better make the best of it. Could this be why many Christians who live under the shadow of persecution are making a greater impact on the world today than those of us who live in relative freedom? We live with diminished sense of urgency.

Anyway, my biggest struggle right now is not retreating to the ash heap, seeking to escape the well-intentioned. I hope that someday they will join me, though, trying to listen to the voice in the whirlwind (Job 38:1).


Eunice said...

It takes a while to learn how to sit on the ash heap with someone. It seems only out of your own deep pain that you can begin to sit with someone without feeling you have to 'pontificate'. I am alert to your situation each time I read one of your weblogs or read an article or report you have written. I sense God's grace in you. During my husband's illness I became more aware of what the Lord meant when He said to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you." I realized there was no problem, no pain that was bigger than His grace. That was a lifesaver for me.
How did your recent check up go?

Anonymous said...

Be assured we're beside you, praying; as we are with the suffering brothers and sisters that God has laid on your heart. It will be interesting to see how God is honoured through your faithfulness and theirs in the midst of "the ash heap." Eternity will be wonderful, won't it?

Glenn Penner said...

Thank you so much for your prayers. My weekly checkups over the last two weeks have gone well. My white blood count has not dropped terribly and so I should be able to continue my chemo treatments. Today, in fact, I undergo my second treatment (CHOP, for those of you who know what that means). Pray that I will continue to feel as well as I did after my first treatment three weeks ago.

Jeff Atkins said...

Dear Glenn,
I appreciate so much the work and ministry that you and your team are a part of. I use your weekly information to lift up those in the articles and let others know about what is going on in the persecuted church. I'm lifting you up in prayer for your healing, continuing spiritual growth during this time, and other unspoken personal needs. Thanks for sharing, especially your comments and thoughts "...from the Ash Heap." Some in the Church need to take a page from your words and post them on their wall (in big letters). We'd see a lot more wisdom shared in our pews and fewer
too-hasty promises thrown around (with the subsequent personal fall-out). Above all God is in control and we can trust in Him to do what He knows best. My prayers are with you for God's healing touch and for strength and discernment of His plans as you walk with Him during this time, and the days ahead.
Together In Him,
Jeff Atkins

Comfort said...

I did say in a comment to one of your web logs that every christian will face some kind of suffering or/and affliction if indeed he or she is living as a true disciple of Jesus Christ in this world, even if living in a country not terribly hostile to our faith. I did not know at the time that you were actually facing a battle with a kind of cancer. I think this is one of the things I had in mind when I wrote the comment. In my part of the world (Nigeria) where many ‘alternative’ medicines exist, many with such ailment would abandon Christ for the many idolaters called ‘herbalist’ scatterred around the country. And of course, for you, the counsels of the many well-meaning, but ‘misearable comforters’ could actually afflict one’s soul, yes? Like I said in the comment reffered to earlier, the physical and mental torture our brethren face in many parts of the world are something some of us cannot begin to imagine, but EVERY ONE of Christ disciples must of necessity bear a cross before he can ever hope to wear a crown. I bless the Lord for the way He is helping you and will yet help you. The scripture that came to my heart as I read your article is the one the Lord said to our brother Paul when he prayed ‘three times’ for the thorn in his flesh to be removed. His abundant grace shall indeed be sufficient for you and yours in a way I cannot even begin to imagine. Through all the changing scenes of life, our Father remains faithful still. May the Lord help me not to cease to pray for you.