The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘cancer

“My God is True! Lessons Learned Along Cancer’s Dark Road”

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My God is True! Lessons Learned Along Cancer’s Dark Road by Paul D. Wolfe

Banner of Truth, 2009 (168pp, pbk)

The author of this book – a Westminster Seminary student during the period in question – had the script of his life all sketched out.  When he was diagnosed with a form of cancer (non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) he was forced to face the fact that God’s script differed radically from his, and was full of unwelcome stage directions and unplanned lines.

Wolfe carries us through three stages of his life with regard to cancer: discovery, endurance, and life.  For each stage he makes experience and truth walk hand in hand, first outlining the history and then peeling back the covers and taking us to the underlying issues.  This provides an excellent and lively balance to the whole book, and enables us to keep pace with Wolfe in his own odyssey.  There is a full-orbed humanity to his writing: no crippling distinctions between the physical and the spiritual here, but both recognised as interacting in the complete identity of the whole man.

The writing is honest and witty.  The book is genuinely funny at many points as Wolfe wryly reflects on his thinking, feeling and doing (or not) as a cancer patient.  It often reads as gallows humour of the kind you find in hospitals and on battlefields, and demands a smile even when potentially morbid.  However, someone at the threshold of this experience, rather than coming through it, looking back on it, or watching from a distance, might find it a touch mordant.  If you give this book to someone who is only just entering into their battle with cancer, bear in mind that they might not be ready for what, to them, might seem somewhat casual or even flippant.

At the same time, the book will call forth abundant tears, whether of painful memory, deep sympathy, or true empathy.  The author is helpfully blunt about the realities of life in a fallen world – false promises and empty hopes, even those offered with sincere and good intentions, are given short shrift.  This clears the ground to face the issues as they are.  Here, Wolfe considers not so much the question of cancer but the fact.  That is, he is less concerned with why he (or anyone else) should suffer in this way, and more concerned with what he and others should think, feel and do in the face of that suffering?  How does one face the fact that God writes the script of all lives, given that even the lives of his children are often inscribed in heavy black lines?

It is here that Wolfe excels.  Simply and clearly he faces those issues with an open Bible and brings the Word of God to bear.  He is magnificent when dealing with the importance of accurate spiritual punctuation: the imagery of exclamation and question marks rightly applied to promises and doubts is profoundly helpful.  He seeks out the genuine and lasting comforts, and is not afraid to face the eternal perspective.  At points, he abounds with helpful practical advice.

Wolfe survived, and his faith in God and grasp on the truth as it is in Jesus was only strengthened by the experience.  Being tested, he came forth as gold (Jb 23.10).  Like most of us, he knows others who have not.  What comes to the fore is not only the reality of the curse of sin and its effects but the reality of hope that is obtained in Jesus Christ.  We both smile and weep at the beauty of the blessings and joys that God can weave out of the darkest threads.

This book is not just for those who are wrestling with cancer, either in their own bodies or in the body of someone they love.  All those who are suffering (especially chronic illnesses) will face similar questions, and find help in the answers that this friend draws from his Bible.  Those who are suffering alongside others, carrying the burdens of caring and serving, will likewise find help here.  Pastors and others who will minister particularly to the soul will find careful and practical guidance for the task.  Alistair Begg writes of this book, “My search is over for the one book to give to someone battling cancer.  This material is exceptional – the most helpful I have read on the subject.”  For clarity, simplicity, brevity, and sincerity in bringing God’s truth to bear on this awful experience, he may well be right.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 23 November 2009 at 11:45

Posted in Reviews

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Serving and being served

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In his excellent book My God is True: Lessons Learned Along Cancer’s Dark Road (which I hope shortly to review), Paul Wolfe makes some comments about serving and being served.  Although these are made in the context of his suffering cancer, the principles are worth remembering for all who have opportunities to serve or be served:

What stands out about those two examples [of friends who served Paul Wolfe and his wife, Christy, after his diagnosis of cancer] is that, in both cases, those who cared for us did not wait for us to ask them for help.  They came up with concrete proposals and then proactively sought us out to make them a reality.  By their example those friends taught us a valuable lesson: though there are times when ‘Let me know if there’s anything I can do’ is all that can be said, there are other times when a more proactive approach is called for.  Instead of ‘Let me know if there’s anything I can do’, try ‘Let me tell you what I’d like to do to serve you.’  Christy and I learned the value of others offering specific assistance without waiting for those in need to ask for it. . . .

Learn to see beyond earthly similarities and differences within the body and love others for Jesus’ sake.  Do not make the excuse, ‘Well, your church sounds great, but I don’t find mine to be all that loving.’  You don’t?  Well, try this tune: ‘Let there be practical love in the congregation to which I belong . . . and let it begin with me.’  In other words, if you want to encourage tangible service among the members of your church, just do it.

For example, are you the one who is suffering alone, your trials and your needs unknown to others in the church?  It may be that the first step is yours to take.  You may have to go ahead and tell others about your needs before they inquire, and then ask them to help you in concrete ways before they offer.  Remember: your duty – indeed, your privilege – is to let others serve you.  Listen again to the Apostle Paul: ‘Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ’ (Gal. 6:2).  Would you deny your brothers and sisters in Christ the opportunity to fulfil his law?  No, there is nothing heroic, nothing admirable, about shouldering your burdens, silent and solitary, if those burdens are plainly too heavy for you to bear alone.

Or, are you the one who has become aware of the needs of another?  Then do not wait for him to ask for help.  Step up and serve him.  And if someone in your congregation is battling cancer, consider seeking and serving him months after he is diagnosed.  By then he may have faded from people’s minds.  By then the flow of cards and visits and phone calls may have slowed considerably.  That is a great time to show him what God is like, the God who promises never to leave, never to forsake.

In short, there is faithful giving, and there is faithful receiving, too.  Model them both.

Are you in a position to show the grace of serving?  Do not be too lazy, too callous, too dull, too slow, too carnal to do so.

Are you in a position to show the grace of being served?  Do not be too proud, too remote, too arrogant, too stubborn, too ungrateful to do so.

“There is faithful giving, and there is faithful receiving, too.  Model them both.”

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 12 November 2009 at 15:18

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