John writes about a young family member who fought cancer for six years. He and his wife nursed her during the last three months of her life when she was in terrible pain and had incessant vomiting. They prayed, believing that God would answer. James says that “the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick” (James 5:14-16). “There was no answer.” John says that the situation “left me doubting the validity of prayer.” Our prayers “were not selfish.” “We simply wanted [God] to ease her pain and stop her vomiting.” But it “did not happen.”
A RESPONSE FROM RICH: I so much appreciate your submission on our website, Room For Doubt. My heart breaks as I think about your situation. There are no magic words, and no simple theological ones, that can eliminate the pain that you all have experienced. I am greatly saddened as I sense your understandable agony. I do hope and pray that, in time, you and your family will find growing comfort and even encouragement from God’s ultimate healing and restoration. A year ago in July, our 33-year-old daughter-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer. Within a few weeks, she had a double mastectomy and began very rigorous chemotherapy. There were times when we prayed for things that were different from what we got. Yet we could sense God’s support and the amazing encouragement by Christian family and Christian friends. Fortunately, it appears that she has been given a reprieve for now. The outcome was different for my beloved father-in-law—a man of incredible Christian integrity. He lived with my wife and me for five years and was diagnosed with colon cancer a few years ago. My sabbatical from teaching one semester gave me the opportunity to be his primary caretaker in the final months of his life. I saw his strong body deteriorate with each passing day. There were times of deep heartache. Nonetheless, I was grateful for the privilege to serve him during that time. And his faith in God’s promises remained firm to the very end. I make no pretense about being able to justify why specific things happen as they do. I do believe that we suffer the consequences of a fallen world and that only God can eventually restore it. The admonition in James 5 directs us to pray, but it offers no guarantee for any particular circumstance. Inevitably, death will overcome any possible healing. That should lead us to focus on the important, long-term truths about what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Corinthians 2:9) and that our sufferings are not to be compared to the glory that is to come (Romans 8:18-23). This is the hope Christians have—a hope that allows us to grieve, but not like those without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). I trust that you will find comfort from the love of God who allowed His own Son to die a horrendous death in our behalf so that the sting of death might be removed (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).
Sincerely, in Christian love and empathy, Rich Knopp.
–Dr. Rich Knopp, Program Director, Room For Doubt; Professor of Philosophy & Christian Apologetics, Lincoln Christian University.