Love Overcoming Fear of Cancer
Dan S. Oh
There is not much that I am afraid of in life. I'm not afraid of failing to get my work done. I have no fear of meeting new people. I'm not afraid to deal with people's relationship problems. But I have been afraid of death—not just any death, but death from cancer.
The Lord has been dealing with this fear over the last several years. I have wondered whether I would be able to praise and glorify his name, if I were dying of cancer. I was once "comforted" by a friend who told me that he was afraid of drowning. We both laughed.
Well, I have been struggling with my health over the last six months. It has been a long journey, with successful surgery to remove a complex cyst on my left kidney. Leading up to this surgery, as one of my friends told me, the Lord was pursuing me. In his great love, God pursued me, by working in the most vulnerable area of my life, so that I would be more like him.
How has God pursued me during the last six months? He pursued me with his word. My Palm Treo, where my NIV Bible resides, never left my sight, whether I was awake or asleep. God's comforting words were there, whether I was in the depths of despair or in the heights of praise during worship.
The most important thing I learned from his Word was that God loves me. As I read Psalm 139 one night, God taught me that he loves me, no matter what is troubling me—whether I am bipolar, or depressed over dying of cancer, or afraid of living alone, or afraid that a relationship is breaking up. He knows all my frailties, my inmost struggles and thoughts, my hopeless circumstances, and yet he pursues me because he loves me.
Over the last six months, there have been many times when I simply had to wait for information about my health. My anxiety was no different than the anxiety that others have as they wonder about an uncertain future. Sometimes we just have to wait to find out whether someone likes us, or what we are supposed to do with our life. My problem is that as I run through possible scenarios in my mind, I tend to dwell on the worst possibilities. Through a friend, God's love for me was again shown from his Word, this time from Psalm 20.
Psalm 20:1, 4 says, "May the Lord answer you when you are in distress.… May he give you the desire of your heart." These are pronouncements of blessing from God to his people. We ought to pray to the Lord for what is in the depth of our heart, just as we did when we were children going to our parents for help. Another friend shared with me that it is OK to say, "I am not ready to go. I want to live longer." Our prayer should be specific and express the desire of our heart. Psalm 20 goes on to say, "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God" (vs. 7). The doctors may be good and intelligent, and their treatments may be the best methods available, but our comfort comes ultimately not from them, but from God. He is the one who created, sustains, and gives life to all, whether that life is here or in the hereafter.
Psalm 73:24–28 says:
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.… But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.
When the circumstances of our life make us aware that we have no control over it, God graciously allows us to say, "Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you." We depend completely upon God and not upon ourselves, friends, family, or doctors. The psalmist is courageous here. Even if his emotions are a wreck, or his body is failing, he has confidence in God.
These thoughts are paralleled by Psalm 23:1–3:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Whenever I read Psalm 23, I imagine myself lying down beside a crystal clear and quiet stream trickling through a grassy meadow on a sunny day, desiring only a smile from the Lord. He allows us to be still and not panic for "his name's sake." Wow, did you hear that? God has put his reputation on the line for us! We can rest assured that he will be with us and protect us from evil. We can have a sense of peace even when we walk through "the valley of the shadow of death" (vs. 4). Right before my surgery, I was amazed that I was completely at peace with God. I had no fear!
When I have been waiting for news, and expecting the worst, my heart has sunk very low. During such times, comfort came from Psalm 112:7–8: "He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes."
This passage does not say we will always receive good news. Rather, he who trusts in the Lord "will have no fear of bad news." Why is it that "his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. His heart is secure, he will have no fear"? It is because "in the end he will look in triumph on his foes." We know the outcome of the battle. We will triumph over the ultimate foe, death. Christ has died in our place, so that we will be victorious at the end when death will be swallowed up.
When I received my pathology report, I felt very blessed. There was "bad news," since the cyst contained cancerous tissue. I did not want to hear that, but I was completely at peace with God, just as I was right before the surgery. I was encouraged to hear that there is a 95 percent cure rate after surgery. My heart was steadfast and secure, with no fear.
I am overwhelmed by God's love for me, as revealed in these psalms. Each psalm came at the right time, when I was in anguish. I don't know how those who do not know the Lord live without him. He walks with me, talks with me, lives with me.
One of my favorite songs is "In Christ Alone." It is hard for me to sing that song without getting choked up as I consider the love that Christ has for me. The fourth stanza goes like this:
No guilt in life, no fear in death. This is the power of Christ in me. From life's first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny. No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his hand. Till he returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I'll stand.
Yes, Christ commands my destiny. Whether it is full of good health or bad health, I must rejoice and be glad in it, for my loving, sovereign God has chosen a path for me. I will stand firm next to Christ on this earth, because he has put his good name and reputation on my life.
Lastly, God accomplishes his loving, comforting, and sovereign will through the prayers of his saints. How can a person like me, who is afraid of cancer, have no fear before surgery? How could my heart have been at peace when I received the bad news that my cyst contained cancerous tissue? I told the surgeon right before the surgery that he was under great pressure because so many people were praying for me all over the world. He jokingly said, "Yes, that means the surgery will be easy." Yes, God answered the prayers that many of you offered on my behalf. There is a word in Korean, "tun, tun," which means "feeling secure with strength." I knew I felt "tun, tun" when I knew that there were prayers being offered by God's people throughout the world (in Korea, the U.S., Canada, and Greece). God accomplished his love for me through the prayers of his saints.
I am not done yet. I have no fear of living—and living for the Lord. One of the worst things for me over the past six months has been my obsession with self. I look forward to the day, perhaps tomorrow, when I am back to full strength, serving the Lord with even more vigor. I look forward to meeting new people, inviting them over for dinner, going to mission works overseas or in the U.S., working with people on relationships, and enjoying friends and family. One thing is for sure: I am better able to sympathize with, minister to, and be an encouragement to those who are ill. Oh yes, I am also ready to ride my bike through the Route 127 loop, surpassing the fifty-mile barrier, a distance I have not yet achieved. Yes, God loves me.
The author is a ruling elder at First Presbyterian Church, North Shore, in Ipswich, Mass. He quotes the NIV. Reprinted from New Horizons, February 2008.