Throughout my life, when asked about my dream job, I would always say that it was sitting by a fire in a cabin, on a mountain lake, writing fiction, with my Saint Bernard (my wife and kids are a given so not mentioned in this dream). Yesterday it dawned on me that I was sitting by the fire, in an old house (rather than a cabin), on a mountain lake, writing fiction, with my Saint Bernard at my feet.
If this was still my days of magical thinking, 30 years ago, back in my hard-core evangelical epoch of my life, I would twist this into God did all of this (cancer and all) just to get me here, writing fiction, by a fire, on a mountain lake, with a Saint Bernard at my feet. I would stand up and share this in church with a big smile on my face as a supernatural miracle (but then go home and cry into my pillow where no one could see me).
In those days, we had Romans 8:28 well memorized, although out of context or without thoughtful exegesis or hermeneutics. It was the stuff that made great greeting cards, song lyrics, posters, or cliches when we wanted to look spiritual to impress other evangelicals. But it wasn’t well thought out.
So, if this was God’s plan all along, giving me cancer, destroying my kidneys, giving me this god-awful neurological disorder, allowing me to live through hellish suffering for the first nine months of 2019; then to have me laid off and my career suddenly ending, just so I would be sitting by a fire, on a mountain lake, writing fiction, with a Saint Bernard at my feet; it would make this God very small, ignorant, and profoundly masochistic. It would be like me telling one of my children, “Yes, I chopped both your legs and arms with my axe, gouged out your eyes with a screwdriver, just so you wouldn’t have to go to work any more, and trust me, I did it because I love you.
But more than that, it makes that theology not God-centered as we thought. We would always boast how big our God was, how our relationship with this God was better than everyone else’s, and that he would orchestrate every detail of our lives just to fulfill our wishes. That notion sounds precious, but really, it makes us the chief of narcissists.
For example, if this was all God’s plans for me, then think about the impact it has had on others, just to serve my interest. I can’t begin to describe Denise’s hell this year, for weeks saying goodbye to a husband she was sure she was loosing to death’s grip. That just scratches the surface for her. But then think about other people, my kids, my family, or my patients.
I’ve talked to several of my patients since it was announced that my headache clinic is closing. Some of them are devastated, not just about missing me, but knowing without a doubt (from their previous experience) that they will not get the level of care that they got from Dr. Moren and me anywhere else. It is not boasting, it is factual. So, how does God working this all out so I can sit by a fire, in a house, on a mountain lake, with a Saint Bernard at my feet, writing fiction work out for their good? I could go on and on in this convoluted web, but this over-simplified theology puts Mike (meaning me) at the very center of the universe and God, in a bottle in my back pocket, like a genie, fulfilling every wish and qualm that I have. It is, “It’s All About Me” theology.
But it does make good posters, greeting cards, and shallow conversations around coffee in the vestibule of an evangelical church. I am often attacked by these evangelicals when I dare say that my suffering was not God’s intent, that he feels my pain and comforts me, not as an impotent friend wiping my brow with a wet cloth and saying he’s sorry, but as one of such hugeness and mystery that I can’t even start to think what this is all about. So I don’t bother trying. Certainly, I can’t put him in a box . . . or bottle.
What am I saying?
Of course I trust God in the big picture and if I hear one more evangelical tell me that I don’t have the right faith because I don’t believe God designed this suffering, I am tempted to punch them in the face. I will then tell them that God made me do it for their good. But I know that God could not love me and intend for me to suffer as I have, and certainly not make me suffer so much simply so I can sit by a fire, in a house, on a mountain lake, with a Saint Bernard at my feet and write fiction. We have to stop this silly nonsense of trying to contain God within our thoughts. I know that evil is real and for some reason the evil has touched my life this year. What I do know that it was not payment for anything I did wrong. I also know it wasn’t God’s doing. But I look to Job as an example where God is a willing bystander to evil and suffering. Yes, of course I believe that God could intervene and cure me today and I am continuing asking him to do just that. But, I also respect him when he doesn’t. But in the end, somehow he brings us glory. Believing this is the essence of faith.
Now, one may ask, I must be very content to see my dream fulfilled like this, meaning, sitting by a fire, on a mountain lake, writing fiction, with my Saint Bernard at my feet. In many ways I do! I do love this part of things. But, take away the, now 11 days, of continuous diarrhea related to my chemo, take away my constant myoclonus (twitching and jerking), take away the nasty cancer crawling in my marrow whose intent is to kill me, and I would be as euphoric as hell, without a doubt.