As once I followed up with an old friend who had been wrestling, with some success, a serious health problem, a sudden update on his condition was devastating. What had seemed to be a good course of treatment proved to be less effective than expected. The condition had worsened, and the prognosis was not good.
It was disappointing news. Yes, a real kick in the gut. It was the kind of news that one hopes never to hear, yet which happens all too often—especially in this time of so many health crises for people of all ages. With modern medical innovations, marvelous things are done today. And yet, the brutal fact is there are terrible, terminal illnesses that cut short the lives of many people. This is a cruel fact, but when it is someone with whom we have a close relationship and great affection, it is shattering news that makes us cry out to God for His intervention and mercy. It makes us agonize over the question of “Why? Why this person? Why now?" These are questions that individuals and families have asked for millennia as unexpected, life-threatening situations strike. We know that God heals and yet, at times, He refrains.
It is very sobering to contemplate one’s life being cut short or the prospect of extended suffering until death comes, giving a release. It causes anxiety and stress. There are so many details to attend to; so many unfulfilled responsibilities; so many adventures unrealized.
In this situation, a person’s priorities abruptly change with the realization that time is limited. What was once important may suddenly be irrelevant. All unnecessary activities are shelved and essential matters come sharply into focus. Time evaporates as one concentrates on medical visits, treatments and therapies. Frustrating, debilitating, irritating, but required activities soak up the days and nights. Energy wanes. Interest fades.
Yet, it is part of the human condition. In the Book of Job, this sobering but realistic evaluation of the human experience is found: “Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He comes forth like a flower and fades away; he flees like a shadow and does not continue” (Job 14:1–2). Paul eloquently put suffering into perspective: “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair.… Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:8, 16).
For the person who understands the Truth contained within the Bible, there is a hope that is often spoken of in Scripture. The Creator God has a great plan of salvation for all mankind and especially for those who are called and chosen and who have His Holy Spirit. For those who are seeking His Kingdom and His righteousness and who overcome until the end, there is the promise of eternal life in the Kingdom of God, on this earth, ruling with Jesus Christ as kings and priests.
So while serious terminal illnesses and other human tragedies do occur, Christians can look forward to the promise found in Revelation 21:3–4: “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’”
This is why James, the Lord’s brother, could say, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2).
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