By Kayleen Reusser
A young Christian friend of mine learned that his cancer treatments had stopped working. Zach, a 31-year-old loving husband and father of two, was told after a three-year battle with colon cancer that he had weeks to live.
It seemed so unfair. After earning his MBA and CPA qualification, Zach was being groomed for the job of administrator of the large retirement community where he worked. He and his wife, Jenny, loved kids and planned to adopt underprivileged children from other countries. When Zach was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in 2010, their plans came to a screeching halt.
Even with such a discouraging prognosis, Zach maintained a marvelous outlook on his Christian faith—something I learned while interviewing him for a local newspaper. “I believe God gave me this cancer for a reason,” he said. “If I can redeem it and make an impact on the world, it may be the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Purpose in Tragedy
In October 2010 Zach and Jenny started a non-profit organization in Haiti they named the Cancer Redemption Project (www.cancerredemption.com). With the help of Loving Shepherd Ministries (www.loving-shepherd.org), an international adoption agency, Zach and Jenny have established a goal of raising money to build homes in Haiti for orphans.
Partnering with a church near Las Cayes, the couple hopes to develop a 10-acre campus in Haiti that would house 48 children. The campus will include a church, soccer field, and fellowship building. When his health permitted, Zach traveled to Haiti twice to visit the site of the ministry. “It’s our way of semi-adopting many children into Christian homes,” he said.
Zach is secure in his knowledge of Heaven and God’s love. But it still hurts me to think of this fine, young Christian man being diagnosed with a deadly disease. Why, when it seems he had done everything right in his life and had so much to look forward to, would God allow this to happen? Why did his family have to suffer?
In her early 30s, Jenny had to face the prospect of becoming a widow and single parent. The families, church friends, and neighbors of this couple continue to help the family, but it seems cruel that this faithful wife should be without her loving husband and their two children without an adoring father.
Each time I hear about a friend or acquaintance facing a similar tragedy, I try not to question God’s plan for their lives but to rely on the promises in God’s Word. But sometimes my understanding of God’s purposes remains unresolved. Studying Psalm 37 has helped resolve some of my angst in these matters.
Why Do the Righteous Suffer?
This psalm could have come from the book of Job. Psalm 37 was written by King David in his mature years (v. 25). He had seen enough of life to understand the spiritual dilemma believers sometimes face when the righteous suffer and evil seems to triumph.
Trusting the Lord is a key theme in this psalm (see vv. 4, 5, 7, 34, and 39). The word wicked is mentioned 14 times. Like many mature believers who have experienced their share of suffering, David encouraged readers to remember God’s promises and wait on him for judgment. In this psalm he offers many assurances to believers who may question God’s actions.
The Lord can be trusted (vv. 1-11). The word fret used in verses 1, 7, and 8 means “to burn” or “to get heated.” Some of God’s people were tempted to abandon God because they believed he couldn’t be trusted to care for them. David’s message was, “Cool down!”
He reminded them that the Lord promised to care for the land of the faithful (see vv. 9, 11, 22, 29, and 34). The promise in verse 3 may be translated, “feed on his faithfulness, enjoy security.”
When we see evil in the world, it is right to feel holy anger at its presence (Ephesians 4:26). But to envy the wicked leads to anger (v. 8). David’s argument was that like grass that fades and is cut down, the wicked are temporary and will one day be gone (see vv. 9, 22, 28, 34, and 38).
If we are faithful to God, he will be faithful to us. Faith and works go together, so we should do good as we wait on the Lord.
Delight in the Lord (v. 4). The word delight comes from a Hebrew root word that means “to be brought up in luxury, pampered.” It speaks of the abundance of spiritual blessings we have in the Lord.
In Jesus Christ we have all God’s treasures. If we delight in the Lord, the chief desire of our hearts will be to know him better so we can delight in him even more.
This is not a promise for people who want material things but for those who want more of God in their lives. God will reward our faithfulness with peace.
Commit your way to the Lord (vv. 5-7). Commit means “to roll off your burden” (see 1 Peter 5:7). God doesn’t take our burdens so we can become irresponsible but so we can serve him better.
Be still means to be silent and rest and describes calm surrender to the Lord. The ability to be still before the Lord seems like a rare commodity today, even in church. For some, silence can be difficult to tolerate. Unless we learn to give God our burden and wait for him to act, we will never experience his peace.
Though the wicked plot against the poor and needy, the Lord knows judgment is coming. David uses images to illustrate God’s judgment of those who reject him and rebel against his law: the image of a court trial (vv. 32-34) and a rescue (vv. 37-40).
Despite David’s integrity and Solomon’s great wisdom, the judicial system in Israel was far from efficient. It was easy for the rich to oppress the poor and take what little they possessed. But the Lord is the highest judge. He not only judges the wicked but also rescues the righteous from their clutches.
He upholds the righteous (v. 18) and sees to it that they have what they need. He blesses them with provision of their daily needs (vv. 21, 22) and protection (vv. 23, 24). As a seasoned saint, David trusted God’s faithfulness to him and his descendants. Since God can be trusted, we should not fear.
By dwelling on the promises contained in Psalm 37, we can make sense of seemingly senseless tragedies like death, disease, and violence. Those things are not outside God’s realm of control and purpose, even if our understanding is obscured. Just as the sun can be obscured by clouds before it breaks through again, it does break through again. God will always break through and supply the needs of the righteous. And he does have an eternal purpose.
Zach said it well in a statement he made for the newspaper article: “I want to redeem my cancer by creating something good that would have never happened otherwise. Dealing with cancer is easier for me if it causes other people to be in Heaven.”
Kayleen Reusser is a freelance writer in Bluffton, Indiana.
Evaluate Your Trust
Most of us would say we trust God; but do we really? Think about these questions as you pray for a deeper trust.
1. When hardship comes, do I lose my sense of peace and purpose?
2. When’s the last time I took a risk because I felt it was something that honored God?
3. Whose opinion do I consider first when I’m making a decision: mine, God’s, or someone else’s?
4. Do others seek me out for my confident, godly wisdom?
5. When I have a hectic day and something needs to be cut from my schedule, what goes first?