“Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!” Mark 9:23-25
Over the last year and a half I’ve seen half a dozen friends and acquaintances get cancer. About half of those do not have a good prognosis. At all. It stinks. And it’s scary.
They’re being eaten alive. The doctors try to hold the inevitable at bay, but pushing out the finish line a little is about all they can do. One I know through work watched two of his own family go, and then was diagnosed himself right on top of that. Some are Christian, some not. I don’t know how those without faith can cope. I’m not always sure anymore how those with faith do it. Some are keeping the faith. It just obviously isn’t easy anymore.
I’ve had three brushes with death. It seems at least some of my physical make-up came from the shallow end of the gene pool. So I feel I have a slightly better understanding than most of our mutual friends as to what it feels like when the tendrils of the grave snake out like a horror movie monster and grab ahold.
I’m watching the inexorable slide to the open tomb, fingers leaving furrows in the ground as each one seeks one last hold on life. Not gonna happen, though. Life is one huge spoiler alert. From our youngest days we’ve seen this movie over and over. Great grand parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, our contemporaries. Sometimes the end is a mega-volt shock.
With cancer it’s happening in slow motion, just like a replay of a gruesome sports injury. Remember Joe Theismann? We’re not allowed to look away. Hell, we can’t even close our eyes. Now it’s just a matter of how much longer it will last. How much more it will hurt. The tendrils of sin and death have laid their inevitable claim. It is their historic due thanks to one lousy choice Adam and Eve made on humanity’s behalf. Did I say thank you? No? Good!
I once felt I had great faith. No more. I have faith, but it isn’t the confident, sin-do-your-worst, bring-it-on faith I thought I had. Now it’s more like, I’ll do this but I’ll probably scream like a little girl en route (my apologies to little girls). Kinda like talking smack about riding the baddest roller coaster on the planet…right up to the moment you summit the first big hill, then wish you’d stuck with the merry-go-round.
My first look at my torso after my last operation made me cry. I saw that fresh, eight-incher along with the double-bypass scar and three others, and I just had to lose it. My only upside was the possibility that I might get work as a body double if they ever do another Frankenstein movie. These cancer victims makes my situation look like a series of paper cuts.
I’m writing this, hoping to figure out SOMETHING that’ll make sense by the end. Before starting, I went to biblegateway.com and entered “Salvation” for the search. I almost searched “Death,” but I feel like I’ve got more than enough data on that right now. I knew I’d need something positive by the time I got just part way through this. There are over 100 entries. Most are in Psalms:
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:1-3
The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1-3
But I pray to you, Lord, in the time of your favor; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation. Psalm 69:12-14
But as for me, afflicted and in pain— may your salvation, God, protect me. Psalm 69:28-30
My soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in your word. Psalm 119:80-82
My eyes fail, looking for your salvation, looking for your righteous promise. Psalm 119:122-124
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:1-3
Did you read those? I mean REALLY read them well and slowly? Did you feel the sometimes confidence? The sometimes cry of barely-there belief?
Did you notice where the focus is every time? Not on self, but on The Rock, the One and Only, the Never-Say-Die Forgiver From Before Time, The Father who loves you and me…despite our being the wretched children of Adam and Eve, riddled with sin and disease, and ensnared in the tendrils of the grave, dragging us to our doom. Fast or slow.
And, when we land with a sickening thud in the soft, wet dirt of that grave, just before the ugly, fanged mouth at the base of those tendrils takes a bite, something will happen. We’ll see a light. A bolt hole that we always – usually – believed was there will pop open. A strong hand with a hole in it will shoot out and tell the beast, “This one’s Mine,” and pull us out of our corpsey shell and out of the grave. And into His marvelous light.
Some of us will die with few trials. A car wreck, a plane crash, or something in our sleep and pffft! Some of us leave pieces of ourselves along the way like lepers. Our faith is challenged, the great Satan whispering wonderful-sounding warnings in our ears about what bull manure this whole salvation thing really is. He whispers that we don’t believe enough, we’re not good enough, we’re not (your temptation here) enough.
And that’s the trick, isn’t it? He’s putting the focus back on us. He’s pulling our eyes off of God and back into the mirror. It’s the First Commandment. Why not start tempting from the top down? It worked on Adam and Eve. Should work on their children.
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Philippians 2:11-13
Yup. Fear and trembling. ‘Cause that ol’ Devil is prowling around, looking for someone stupid enough, unguarded enough, to listen to his crap. It’s so easy to say “Enough!” It would seem to be such a relief to quit fighting it and yield to the supposed inevitable.
Sometimes he wins on the first swing. Sometimes he bunts his way to victory. He wears us down like water dripping on stone.
But we don’t have to fight alone. Jesus fought the battle for us and won. All we need do is ride His coattails. Keep praying and believing. Ask for help when you need it. It’s there.
Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? Hebrews 1:13-14
Sometimes I say I believe with a lump in my throat. Sometimes I’m a giant with thick-veined biceps bulging with faith; Arnold Schwartzenfaither. Just sometimes.
God gives us more than angels, though. He gives us each other. That’s why we are exhorted to gather together, build each other up, and study the scriptures. Focus on The Author of Life and not ourselves.
I felt pretty lousy as I started writing this. It’s taken a couple hours to get to this last part. But I feel OK at this point. I stopped looking at myself for now and re-focused on God.
Maybe that’s how they do it. Maybe their God-focus is better than mine. Which is why I need to continue to work on my own salvation with fear and trembling. Just so I don’t lose it.