A TESTIMONY OF COURAGE, THANKSGIVING, and HOPE
Written by Dennis Andrews 11/15/16
Living with cancer is a daily and sometimes a minute by minute episodic experience. Our (my wife and I) cancer story starts in 2007 with a diagnosis of prostate cancer. Cancer is a difficult word to hear as it opens the mind to all kinds of “what if?” and “what now?” thoughts. Radioactive seeds were implanted, and external beam radiation was next. After the surgery, the doc told us the cancer would be easy to control. He was incorrect as the cancer had spread; now it was Stage 4. The old Christian hymn, “Just as I Am,” with the line; “fighting within and fears without….” was appropriate. So began the questions: “what do you do next”? We began to “set things in order”. Drug therapy began which included an injection administered every 12 weeks. The cancer subsided. Every 12 weeks became……a hurdle to jump every 12 weeks! 12 weeks turned into months, and now more then 12 years!
So how did, (and do) we LIVE with hope with cancer?
Prior to the 2011 diagnosis of the progressing cancer, the LORD impressed upon me a section of Scripture. Romans 4:18, “in hope he believed against hope….” I did not understand this! I began a study of the Romans passage, 4:18-5:5, spending months on this study. At one point I really got angry and set down the Bible and walked away! Two days later I came back and opened The Book and started the study again. I am not the arbiter of truth, but I know who is, therefore I needed to come under the truth no matter how much I was struggling.
“18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he has promised.22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone,24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord,25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. –Romans 4:18—5:5 (ESV)
As stated, this scripture study began before the cancer was found, in fact I preached a sermon on this text three months earlier (almost to the day the cancer was found). Studying this text brought both my wife and me to realize what hope really is; Biblical Hope, that is. In the following words I hope (pun intended) to show you how essential Biblical Hope has been to saints of old, continues today and in the future.
My gleanings: The word “hope” is used more in the book of Romans than any other New Testament book. This was surprising to me as I had always viewed Romans as a very doctrinal book, especially in the doctrine of salvation. We are coming to realize more and more the book is much more than the doctrine of justification by faith. I could not get away from the word “hope”. How could one “hope against hope”? Well, more study was necessary! Essentially, Abraham could hope because of his faith in God which was based on the promises given to him by God. How could we arrive at this? Well, we must study the context of the verses or the context of the text of Scripture. The promises made to Abraham take us back to the book of Genesis. God’s promises to Abraham are in Genesis 15:5, 17:5. His faith is based on these promises which result in the hope of what is to come. What are these promises?
Genesis 15: 3-6 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”4 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “this man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.”5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 17:5 “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.”
Abraham’s hope was in the promises given to him by God; not in the hope of what Abraham could see. Trusting in God’s promise versus what I think and see. “Hope against hope.” Abraham’s focus was towards the future in his hope, trusting God as life unfolds according to promise; not trusting rewards due him based on performance. This is shown throughout the Scriptures but just continuing though Romans 5:5 we see a progression. Along the way, I noticed the crux of the issue for Abraham; he believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham was looking for the coming Savior of the promise, Jesus Christ! We are saved the same way as shown in the text. My premise is based on the promised Savior that has come and died for me and my wife and for all who believe in Him. We believe the promise to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ, witnessed in history, who lived perfectly as the Son of God, was crucified, died on the cross, was buried, and was raised from the dead; according to the promise for His people! My struggle months before “cancer” was based on Romans 5:2-5.
2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. –Romans 5:2-5
Verse 2 speaks of rejoicing in hope of the glory of God after obtaining access by faith into this grace in which we stand! So, how am I to rejoice in suffering?! Again, this was taking place before a diagnosis of “cancer” entered our lives. Who rejoices in suffering? When reading this I was so frustrated about how this tied to salvation in Christ! I was mad. I have read this hundreds of times, but not this way. Justification by Faith, yes, but rejoicing in sufferings–no way. After three days, I went back to the Bible but prayed before picking it up. My prayer was based on the knowledge that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, I needed to get under the Word and learn rather than sit in judgement on the Word of God. I had struggled years earlier on a similar passage in the Book of James, (“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds. for you know……- James 1:2-3) It was the “knowing that” trials, persecutions, etc. produce something. They produce growing in grace and wisdom and understanding. Romans 5:2-5 also has a “knowing that”. Who rejoices in suffering? That is how I viewed the text. I was putting a period vs a comma after the word “sufferings”. I am supposed to know something.
Scripture states after rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God, we are to rejoice in suffering. Why?! Because of the results of suffering Biblically. Suffering according to the Bible has various avenues of description. Affliction, temptations, persecutions (which includes for our faith), illness, depression, etc. The book of Romans spells out in more detail in later chapters. Essentially, suffering is to produce the likeness of Christ in us! Look again at Romans 5:2-5 with my emphasis. Rejoice in suffering, (why?), because suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, BECAUSE, God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. A process is detailed here. According to the Biblical text we are looking at, we are to know this. How do we know this? First, by believing the Bible. Second, by going through the process. It is part and parcel of maturing in Christ. Growing in maturity as a Christian.
Before I bring in more scripture to support this, please think about parenting. I will use a simple illustration; learning to ride a bicycle. Your child wants to ride a bike but does not know how. He/she needs to be instructed. The instruction process starts as the excitement builds for the child. Excitement turns to fear, and instructions fall on partially deaf ears; why? It becomes part and parcel of the process. The child is fearful of wrecking!!! Don’t you remember (bleeding knees and elbows). If falling does not take place in the training process, it does later as overconfidence follows. Sometimes the learner does not want to go on in the process of riding, at least for a while. The suffering in this case does not produce much, it seems. But, if the learner keeps with the process of learning to ride and becomes proficient in the riding we can say, suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope to continue learning, and hope follows. This simple example points to the process but does not have the same level described in Scripture. The Holy Spirit is maturing the Christian. We parents want our kids to grow in character, knowing there will be struggles. We see endurance develop over time. Larger tasks, maturity, begin to be seen.
Romans 8:28-29. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
This is the Father’s purpose in calling us to Christ.
Back to my difficulty with my own studies. Sometimes we just do not want to mature in Christ because of the hurts or difficulties perceived in our mind’s eye! Sometimes we want to be right where we are and do not want to grow in maturity anymore, to be truthful. We have had enough! But God, being rich in mercy, will have his Beloved to grow in Christ to the maturity He has ordained for that person. His plans will not be denied. Why? Because He loves us. Remember, the love of God poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Please look to Romans 5:6, For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Romans 5:2-5 is bookended by the Gospel. Justified by faith in Christ, He died for His people when we were/are ungodly. We are bookended by the gospel and promised that we will grow into maturity as we live. I have spoken to many people about trials, persecutions, suffering and no one wants this. The apostle Paul stated that he had learned to be content, no matter his circumstances and he wrote that while he was in prison. Even in prison he stated that he was a prisoner of Christ. Most of us struggle with contentment. Most men and women who confess Christ want to know the love of God poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Many do not know this. Some do. As we encounter trials, we must remember God’s Holy Word. During this study I looked up the words “knowing that.” The reason? I was not “knowing that” …… I was amazed at the number of times this phrase or the phrase, “don’t you know?” are used in scripture. We are supposed to know! We know through the processes our God has ordained to make us conformed to His Son. We are becoming more Christlike.
I love Romans 4:18- 5:6. After much prayer, cross referencing scripture and reading several commentaries, I began to see the Lord working His work in me. I desperately wanted the love of God to be poured into my heart through the Holy Spirit. I can tell you this is continuing to happen. I know, almost tangibly, the love of God for me. He sent His Son, for me.
Our HOPE continues!
We want others who suffer to truly “know” and to truly have “hope”!