A few weeks ago I was happily bouncing around the kitchen to the radio, making a quick lunch. As one song ended, a pre-recorded blurb aired that went something like this, “My sister was diagnosed with cancer two months ago. She had surgery to remove the tumor, and just got back from her check-up and she is cancer free. I just want to say that God is bigger than cancer!”
My whole countenance shifted as my mind began to flood. Oh, God is bigger than cancer? Really… because your sister is fine? Was God bigger than cancer when my grandma died?! Is God bigger than cancer for our friends who are in another round of fruitless treatments with their daughter?!”
Have you ever been surprised by your own feelings? Thoughts and emotions come pouring out that you didn’t even know were there? These moments are startling—but they’re some of the most honest. And if we don’t quickly shoo them away in embarrassment, they may be some of our most transformative.
As I went through the motions of lunch and clean up and got back to work I continued to mull over this woman’s proclamation and my instinctive response. Yes, of course it’s thrilling for a family member to be cancer-free. And no, I shouldn’t have rolled my eyes at her good news and excitement. And yes, of course we should praise God and proclaim his power when goodness and health triumph.
But what about when they don’t?
It’s so easy to say these things when everything works out. It’s so easy to add #blessed to the happy moments, the new house, and the big promotion. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do this. Of course we should praise God for every good thing that comes our way… cancer free? PRAISE GOD! Landed your dream job? PRAISE GOD! The adoption went through? PRAISE GOD!
But God is who he is even if the cancer isn’t gone, or the deal doesn’t come through, or your marriage continues to unravel. There’s nothing wrong with stating that God is good and faithful and for us when things work out—except it begs the question, “Is God still ‘bigger than’ when things fall apart?”
This is where I struggle. Maybe it’s because proclaiming God’s goodness asks more questions than it answers—hard questions as to why some people are healed and others are not. Why some people are born disabled and others the picture of health. Why some people live robust, unscathed lives while others experience severe trauma or chronic illness. Why I’m here in my bright and airy home waiting on an Amazon package while a Syrian woman fights for the lives of her family in an unimaginable, war-torn landscape.
I don’t have the answers to these questions—and I don’t think you do either.
I’ve wrestled. I’ve ignored. I’ve re-engaged and gotten upset. I’ve devoured books on theodicy only to be left just as unsure—just as shaken. And here’s where I’ve landed: Maybe we’re ok with the questions. Maybe we’re ok with the unknown—and maybe this is real faith.
Maybe we need a starting point that isn’t steeped in our own experiences or current circumstances. Let’s start with what God has revealed, with what we know to be true. Let’s believe that God is good. Let’s believe he is powerful. Let’s believe he is love. Let’s believe that he’s bigger than and above all things. And let’s believe these things in our core, even if we can’t find a neat and tidy answer for the sickness and pain around us.
This is how Jesus describes faith in John 20: believing without seeing. In fact, he says those who do so are #blessed. This means we believe even when we don’t see how it’s true, or why it’s true. Even when all that’s in front of us points to the contrary, we cling with everything we have to our faith in God’s good, powerful love.
Please don’t tell me God is bigger than cancer—unless you’re going to say it in sickness and in health, when the diagnosis is clear, or when hospice enters the picture. If it’s not true all the time, it’s not true at all, and I don’t want to hear it.
If we’re gonna praise and proclaim in the good, let’s praise and proclaim in the hard. Sure, it’ll look different, but it’s just as true and it’s just as good for our hearts (maybe even better).
So let’s try this…
I couldn’t use my left arm today. #GodisbiggerthanMS
I hate my life and I hate myself. I wish I didn’t feel this way. #Godisbiggerthandepression
The bank is foreclosing on our home. #Godisbiggerthanunemployment
Another day without any improvement. #Godisbiggerthanlupus
Not sure I can manage another week of 2 jobs + 3 children alone. #Godisbiggerthandivorce
Still no relief from the pain. How can I go on like this? #Godisbiggerthanfibromyalgia
Found out the treatments didn’t work—time to make some hard decisions. #Godisbiggerthancancer