I know that’s kind of a depressing headline, but it’s something I’ve experienced within the last five years. Of the two, I think cancer is preferable. But it’s not that cancer is easier (there’s nothing easy about it), but that losing a job that you’ve had for seventeen years is a real gut punch – cancer is merely less of a gut punch.
In both cases, there were no precipitating causes. I was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue – I’ve never smoked, dipped, or chewed tobacco and never drank alcohol (the main causes). My job was teaching Bible and History at a Christian school – seems like a sure thing, doesn’t it (as long as I don’t do something to get fired, which I didn’t). But against all the odds, I got cancer and I got canned.
One of the reasons cancer is easier is that there’s really no one to blame, at least no one that you know physically, in person. Theologically, some would want to blame God, but I can’t do that because I’ve been teaching Bible Doctrine for the last seventeen years and I know that God is good, and therefore not to blame. I could blame Adam, since his sin is the cause of all misery, sickness, and death, but he’s been dead for a long time. Then you could switch back and try blaming God again because you think He could have stopped it, but didn’t. Then you sit around wondering why. I’ve always told my students that when you ask God a “why” question, the answer is always that it’s His secret will that He doesn’t reveal to us. So you might not ever know or find out and you just have to trust God, because (again, just to remind you) He’s good. So you gradually come to terms with God’s will and trust Him because of His goodness and power and knowledge.
But a job loss is something entirely different – there are people to blame! Especially if the boss is an unpleasant fellow. You really feel that you have some sort of justification for your feelings of betrayal, your wanting some revenge, and that everyone needs to know something has gone horribly wrong! Why?! Why?! Why?! For some reason, the “why” answer about God’s secret will just isn’t as satisfying when you start to think about losing your income, your insurance, and your ministry, and that certain people have messed it up. But satisfying or not, it’s still the right answer.
What’s really bothered me through both of these events is how easy it was to trust God when my life and health were at risk as opposed to trusting God when my income was at risk. Or how it was easier to trust God for healing as opposed to trusting God to find another job.
One of the books that I’ve been reading lately that has helped a little is Jerry Bridges’ Trusting God. Here’s what he says on page 174:
We may think we have true Christian love until someone offends us or treats us unjustly. Then we may begin to see anger and resentment well up within us. We may conclude we have learned about genuine Christian joy until our lives are shattered by an unexpected calamity or grievous disappointment. Adversities spoil our peace and sorely try our patience. God uses those difficulties to reveal to us our need to grow, so that we will reach out to Him to change us more and more into the likeness of His Son.
And then this on the next page:
It is not the adversity considered in itself that is to be the ground of our joy. Rather, it is the expectation of the results, the development of our character, that should cause us to rejoice in adversity. God does not ask us to rejoice because we have lost a job, or a loved one has been stricken with cancer, or a child has been born with an incurable birth defect. But He does tell us to rejoice because we believe He is in control of those circumstances and is at work through them for our ultimate good.
There it is – two of the three major fears that we all dread are what I’ve gone through in the last five years and it’s the same answer that I’ve been teaching for the last seventeen years. A Puritan author somewhere in my reading talked about real adversity being a major wound and not a just a small scratch. It’s not easy, not easy at all.
I remember at one point in my cancer treatment thinking, “This is the hardest thing that I’ve ever done.” Four and a half years later, I lose my job (which I really loved and really thought God had called me to do) and I’m thinking, “THIS is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.” Perhaps my memory has failed me, but perhaps not.
As I write this, I’m still in search of a job, so I can’t give a “happily ever after” ending. At least not yet. Trust continues to alternate with discouragement, but the still small voice of hope keeps coming through. And that’s what faith and trust are all about, even when you get cancer and even when you lose your job.