Strange as it might seem, I was actually looking forward to seeing her, and wondering how she would react to seeing me. Two years ago my dear wife Denise was stricken with cancer. She received excellent treatment, and faced her challenge like a hero. It was my habit to accompany her to the chemotherapy room, where we met several young ladies that worked there. One seemed particularly compassionate, talkative, and fun. What will she think, I wondered, two years later, when Denise waltzes in here to accompany me for my chemotherapy treatments? Who would have thought a husband and wife, still comparatively young, would both fall victim to cancer within the space of two years?
The sweet nurse was surprised to see us, which didn’t surprise me. After we reintroduced ourselves she set about her work. She had some difficulty finding a vein with her I.V. needle, which didn’t surprise me either. After five or six jabs she succeeded. She then leaned close to me and whispered, “Do you ever get angry?” I smiled at her, knowing how frustrating and embarrassing it can be to try to get a needle in the right place. “Mercy no,” I told her, “I know you are doing your best. I’m sorry my veins are so lame.” She then explained that I had misunderstood her question. What she wondered was whether I ever got angry with God. “Why,” I asked her, “would I ever get angry with God?”
“Well,” she continued, “don’t you ever think that since you’re a pastor, since you’ve devoted your life to God, that He shouldn’t have allowed you to get cancer, let alone both you and Denise? Don’t you ever think that this is a pretty lousy way to repay you?” I gave thanks to God for the opportunity to help this sweet young woman. “I don’t get angry with God. He doesn’t owe me anything but His wrath. But that’s not why He gave me cancer. He gave it to me because He loves me, just like He gave it to Denise, because He loves her. This is neither punishment nor permission. This is a gift from Him.”
Paul tells us that it is right and appropriate, in times of hardship, that we should mourn. I didn’t tell the nurse that every day with cancer is like a day full of sunshine. (As I write this morning, it has been more than sixty hours since I’ve been able to eat anything.) Hardship, though it be for our good and His glory, is still hardship. And so we mourn. But, Paul tells us, we do not mourn like the world. They mourn without hope, while we mourn with hope.
There is an immediate and sound deduction we can reach here. Why would our mourning differ from the world around us? We know where we are going. We know what end is in store for us. Any sadness or hardship that we experience is, on any appropriate scale, brief and mild. Our suffering, after all, cannot be compared with the eternal weight of glory. The suffering of those outside the kingdom is but a prelude, a small taste of an eternity of agony. Our suffering, on the other hand, is but a speed bump on the way to Glory Road.
What we must not miss, however, is the reason for our different ends. Our grief is infused with hope not merely because we have a bright future. Instead our grief is infused with hope because of our past. We look forward, in the midst of our grief, in hope, because we look backward, in the midst of our grief, with joyful gratitude. My future is bright because the wrath that I am owed has already been spent. The difference is in the cross of Christ. Whatever sorrow God calls me to go through, He calls me to go through for the express purpose of remolding me into the image of His Son. Every cancerous cell growing in my body, every deadly chemical that the nurses pour into my body to fight the cancer, all of it exists to make me more like Jesus.
Stephen, we are told, while he was being martyred, saw heaven open up. He beheld the glory of Christ, as He stood, a witness for this witness. The joy was not merely that Stephen would be found innocent. The joy was not simply that Stephen would be with Jesus. The greatest joy was that Stephen knew that what he saw, that he would become. John, remembering that we ought not to mourn as those who are without hope, gives us this greatest hope, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears, we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). He knows the plans He has for us, plans to give us hope and a future, a future so grand that eye hath not seen or ear heard, nor has it entered into the mind of man.
May we be blessed with the courage to believe His promises, even in the midst of hardship. May the world witness us, the witnesses of Christ, as we attest to His goodness, through mourning with hope. May they behold His glory, as we move from mourning to dancing.