By Cecil Willis
First, let me state that I did not volunteer to write this article. It was assigned to me. Furthermore, I would feel much more comfortable if it were to be an article detailing the blessings from God which I could enumerate nearly endlessly. Indeed, there have been “showers of blessings” (Ezek. 34:26) in my life. I could rehearse, with joy, how God blessed me throughout my college years, almost directly supplying my needs. He then blessed me abundantly as a young preacher, and is yet doing so. And then there were the times, here and there, when he snatched me from the fire. Indeed, he often saved me from myself! But this is not what I was asked to write.
When I opened the letter asking me to write on this subject, I was at first a little shocked to learn that I had an incurable disease, and then I was a little amused. I remember chuckling to myself, and saying, “Don’t we all have an Incurable Disease . . . Its called our Mortality.” An old preacher once wrote another old preacher and commented: “I am glad to hear that you are still in the Land of the Living. ” The second replied: “I am not in the Land of the Living; I am in the Land of the Dying. ” And so are we all. Ever since God announced, “Thou shalt surely die,” all mankind has lived in the Land of the Dying. About forty years ago I memorized a little poem that went something like this:
“Death comes with a crawl, or he comes with a pounce,
Or whether he is slow or spry;
It’s not the fact that you are dead that counts;
But only how did you die.”
The Universality Of Death
Death is the creature that stalks us all. Job expressed the universality of death in these words:
“Why died I not from the womb?
Why did I not give up the ghost when my mother bare me?
Why did the knees receive me?
Or why the breasts, that I should suck?
For now should I have lain down and been quiet;
I should have slept; then had I been at rest,
With kings and counselors of the earth,
Who built up waste places for themselves;
Or with princes that had gold,
Who filled their houses with silver
Or as a hidden untimely birth I had not been,
As infants that never saw fight.
There the wicked cease from troubling;
And there the weary are at rest.
There the prisoners are at ease together;
They hear not the voice of the task-master.
The small and the great are there:
And the servant is free from his master” (Job 3:11-19).
Or as Solomon expressed it: “the dust returneth to the earth as it was, and the spirit returneth to God who gave it” (Eccl. 12:7). It matters not what your affliction may be; we all have one! It is called our Mortality. “For the living know that they shall die” (Eccl. 9:5). So it should be no surprise to you to hear that “I Have An Incurable Disease. ” We all are afflicted by one! The only difference is that some of us already know the name of ours.
My Incurable Disease
Mine is called “End-stage Renal Disease,” or ‘Chronic Renal Failure. ” In my case, one of my kidneys has atrophied until it now is totally non-functioning, and the other is now working at only 20 percent of normal. The kidney problem is complicated by several attacks of Acute Pancreatitis. When one has kidney failure, he cannot assimilate calcium properly, so the body begins drawing calcium from the main calcium body storages: the bones. So I have considerable pain in my bones.
However, I do not want to leave the impression that my doctors have told me that I am going to die right away from this disease, for that is not the case. My blood pollution levels (Blood Urea Nitrogen, and Creatinine) do indicate that I am very close to having to begin the use of a kidney machine to clean up my blood. That process is called “Hemodialysis.” It is a tedious process. It takes about six hours each time one dialyzes, and it usually has to be done three times a week. And in most cases, one has to go to a “Dialysis Center,” which usually is in a hospital, for his treatment. Because of complications connected with the Pancreatitis, I am not considered a candidate for a Kidney Transplant, nor do the Nephrologists I have consulted recommend to me the Peritoneal dialysis (the kind you wear while it works). So hemodialysis is the only alternative I have been given. Different individuals can tolerate different levels of blood pollution. Dialysis sometimes begins as early as 6.0 on the Creatinine Test. My level is now 5.5; normal is .7-1.5. Loss of kidney function is irreversible. Hence the disease is incurable.
So you know what my health problem is. It is not as bad as those problems very many of you brothers and sisters out there have to bear. I would be- embarrassed to bring up my little problems (which are little in comparison to many others), but I was asked to write a few words about what Christians think who have an incurable disease, or what Christians should think about an incurable disease. I am not presumptuous to think that every Christian should think about such matters as do I. I am quite sure my thinking needs further refinement. 1, therefore, can only tell you how one Christian tries to deal with his circumstances.
Dealing With Fear
Admittedly, there are some diseases that are very frightful. But I do not look upon mine in that way. In 1956, my Grandfather Willis died with cancer of the liver. He suspected he had cancer for some time before it was so diagnosed. My Grandmother asked him what he was going to do if the doctor verified his cancer scare. His reply: “I am going to come right back home, and go about my business. Cancer cannot do but one thing: kill you! And if it doesn’t, something else will.” About a month later he was dead. Some cynic has said: “You’ll never get out of this world alive.” And that is true, unless the Lord comes during your lifetime.
You know what frightens me most about my “incurable disease”? It is how much it can cost. Dialysis costs from $30,000 to $50,000 a year! Most insurance companies do their best to squirm out of their responsibilities, and mine is already squirming. Fortunately, our government has some financial help programs that will assist in some cases, but the amount varies from state to state. My Texas doctor tells me that Texas pays about 40 percent of the cost involved. Nearly any kind of chronic disease today involves cataclysmic expense. A lady here in Fairbanks fell recently, in her yard, and broke her leg. The initial hospitalization expense was $16,000. Now that is frightening to me.
When you get too zeroed in on your own pains, stop to it think about how many other things are happening to other folks about you. There are tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, pestilence, nakedness, perils, sword, death (read Rom. 8:31-39), sorrow, pain, fears, testings, problems, criticisms, disappointments, vexation, aggravation, anguish, anxiety, difficulties, trials, reversals, hardships, etc. But remember, Paul said none of these can “separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39). Listen further: “thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57). Whatever you face, remember that John said: “perfect love casteth our fear” (1 Jn. 4:18), and “this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith” (1 Jn. 5:4).
Fellow-suffer, whatever you do, do not raise up your face to rail at God! It was through sin that death entered the world (Gen. 3:3; Rom. 5:12). The Devil is the Father of sin and suffering (Jn. 8:44; 1 Jn. 3:8). Do not fall into the old “Why Me?” syndrome, the old “Curse-God-and-die” mold. Remember, it is not what happens to you that counts, but how you react to what happens to you. And the Christian should react differently than those outside the Christ.
I remember, years ago, standing shoulder to shoulder with a young preacher whose wife had just died suddenly with a brain hemorrhage. He was repeatedly crying out bitterly, “God killed my wife! ” He had accepted an unhealthy view of providence in which God was responsible for everything that happened to him. His logic now drove him to the above words of despair. Last night I read a little one-finer from the April, 1988, Reader’s Digest. It offered some pertinent advice: “Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is a little like expecting the bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian.” There is evil in the world, and some of it is going to happen to you. Do not fall into the old “God-is-punishing-me” trap either. Do you really believe that illness, accidents, and suffering always happen because it is God’s punitive will for you? Think that question over. If you answer yes, then it would be a sin to take an aspirin for a headache, or to have a tooth filled to stop its ache. It would be to act contrary to God’s will.
Suffering Tests Us
Certainly, we often enter the valley of sorrow, the waters of trouble, the furnance of affliction; perhaps even the baptism of blood. Instead of railing at God, give thanks that you have the privilege to be tested and refined by fire. “He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver; that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness” (Mal. 3:3). Peter said that “manifold trials” come upon us now “for a little while” to purify “your faith, being more precious than gold that perisheth though it is proved by fire” (I Pet. 1:6,7). And James added: “Count it all joy, my brethren, when ye fall into manifold temptations (trials); knowing that the proving of your faith worketh patience (stedfastness). And let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be made perfect and entire, lacking nothing” (Jas. 1:24). Very near the close of I Peter, the author tells us that we must “withstand stedfast in your faith, knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world. And the God of all grace, who called you unto his eternal glory in Christ, after that ye have suffered a little while, shall himself perfect, establish, strengthen you” (1 Pet. 5:9, 10). Edwin Hubble Chapin expressed it this way:
The brightest crowns that are worn in heaven
Have been tried, and smelted, and polished, and glorified through the furnaces of tribulation.
Let me put this a little bluntly: You are not the first Christian to suffer a headache, or a debilitating, life-threatening disease, All are either now facing one, or soon will be doing so. While in a Dentist’s office last week, I picked up a little tract that contained these helpful words:
The fact that we are called upon to endure trial shows that the Lord Jesus sees in us something precious which He desires to develop. If He saw in us nothing whereby He might glorify Hisname, He would not spend time in refining us. He does not cast worthless stones into His furnace. It is valuable ore that He refines. The blacksmith puts the iron and steel into the fire that he may know what manner of metal they are. The Lord allows His chosen ones to be placed in the furnace of affliction to prove what temper they are of and whether they can be fashioned for His work.
Expressed in another way:
God desires us to see fight in all the baffling, heart-rending experiences that come to us. He wants us to learn once and for all times that there is healing in the bitter cup of suffering, cleansing in the waters of sorrow, refining in the fiery furnace of affliction. He desires us to see the necessity of a broken self-strength to find the strength of God; of a lost fortune, to find the riches of heaven; of a crumbled earthly pleasure quest, to find the joys of the Lord.
What passages console me most when I suffer? One of the first that comes to mind is the one that calls the sufferings of this life (Paul’s included) a “light affliction ” (2 Cor. 4:17). Let me advise you: Read a little of the sufferings of our ancestors (ancestors – both in the flesh and in the spirit). Untold millions bore child-birth, sickness, pain, and horrible deaths without any of the modem medical facilities, and pain-killing drugs available today. Those folks knew what real suffering was!
Recently I finished re-reading Eusebius’ Church History (written in 324 A.D.), and am now reading Josephus’Jewish History. Try those books if you want to know what real suffering was. Read about those tender little teenage girls who endured the cruelest torture for days, rather than recant their faith, and then tell me about your “suffering.” Yes, it is true. There is pain, and there is suffering, and there is real grief. There is “the bread of adversity” (Isa. 30:20); there is “the water of affliction” (Deut. 16:3). But Paul says all these can be called “our light qffliction, ” and he tells us that these work for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of gloiy” (2 Cor. 4:17).
And as we bear such “afflictions,” let us be careful not overly to complain. One writer gave this bit of instruction that is timely: “We are heavenbound, and should show the attractive part of our faith. We should not go as a crippled band of mourners, groaning and complaining, all along the journey to our Father’s house.”
But my very favorite passage on suffering: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to usward”(Rom. 8:18). And that lovely Shepherd Psalm expressed it in these words: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I willfear no evil;for thou art with me, Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. . . . And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psa. 23:4,6).
There is an old song that expresses my feelings very well. It said:
Every cloud has a silver lining,
Though veiled by shadows gray;
There the sun will again be shining;
And clouds will roll away . . . soon roll away.
Maybe you are asking: How is it going to be with you when that hour comes? I am not so bold as to try to predict how I will do in that hour. But I can tell you what comes to mind now, as I contemplate that Final Hour. The Song, “When I Cross the Bar” comes to mind just now:
Sunset and Evening Star.
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the Bar
When I put out to Sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home, turns home.
Twilight and evening be
And after that the dark
And may there be no sadness of farewell
When I embark.
For though from out our borne of Time and Place,
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Father face to face
When I have crossed the Bar.
Just one closing thought:
“The mountains may depart
And the hills be removed;
But my loving-kindness shall not depart from thee
Neither shall My covenant of peace be removed,
Saith Jehovah that hath mercy on thee” (Isa. 54:10).
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 17, pp. 522-524
September 1, 1988