Two weeks ago I attended one of the quarterly pastors' roundtable discussions hosted by the local Biblical Counseling Center. The guest speaker was Judy Asti, author of A Spiritual Journey Through Breast Cancer. In 1998 Judy was diagnosed with level 3 (out of 4) breast cancer. The following year she underwent aggressive chemotherapy, radiation treatments, a mastectomy and reconstruction surgery. She introduced her talk with the following statistics from the National Cancer Institute:
- More than 1,400,000 NEW cases of cancer (all kinds) will be diagnosed this year in the U.S.
- One in 3 women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.
- One in 2 men will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.
- An estimated 213,000 NEW cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed this year.
- 1,700 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.
- More than 41,000 patients will likely die of breast cancer.
- At today's rate, 1 in 7 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
One of the points Judy made is that the American church has an anemic, if not non-existent, theology of suffering. Years ago I heard John Piper give a series of lectures (which, if you're familiar with Piper, are really sermons by another name) on suffering in the life of the pastor and his people. I don't recall the exact quote but he said something about his desire to teach his people to so know God that when they are called upon to suffer, they do so well to His glory. I know the widow of a man who died of cancer. She's told me of how his faith bore much fruit in his dying days, of how he grew more bold in telling others about Christ. She also told me of his firm assurance that even in this God had a purpose and was to be trusted. His wife and adult children were left with the memory of their beloved husband and father dying in faith and suffering well. What a legacy. I pray that I may so know the Lord and that I can be instrumental in others so knowing Him.
"Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" is a minor-key hymn in a church that prefers a strict diet of major-key choruses but it is a song that must be sung if we are to be faithful to our Lord and of benefit to His people.