Finding Courage in the Shadow of Cancer
From Gospel Translations
Seven years ago, I had cancer. It was rare and fast growing and came out of nowhere. Despite my trust in Christ, and knowing that I would be with him if this cancer took my life, the fear I felt was persistent and, on a few terrible days, crippling.
Fear is a deeply unpleasant — even if deeply human — response. In the Bible, the command to “not fear” applies to a myriad of situations: armies advancing, trials pressing, authorities arresting, angels appearing, and even Jesus materializing. When the risen Christ suddenly stood in the locked room with the disciples, his first words to them were, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). In other words, Calm down. There is no need to fear.
But how do we obey God’s command to not fear when the feeling overwhelms us?
Walk the Tightrope
Imagine you have been challenged to walk a tightrope across a section of the Grand Canyon. You would be 1,500 feet in the air, faced with a 1,400-foot walk on a two-inch cable, buffeted by 30-mile-per-hour winds. If you succeed, you are guaranteed financial security for life.
You learn that you would be trained and guided by Nick Wallenda, expert tightrope walker, who has successfully made this and other equally terrifying trips before. You have complete assurance that you will not fall, because Nick will take every precaution to bring you safely to the other side. You decide to trust Nick, because he is trustworthy, and you agree to walk the tightrope.
Do you think for one moment, despite your complete trust in Nick, you will not feel some measure of fear while you are trekking across that cable? Of course you will! But as your trust in the guide grows, your assurance will gradually quiet the fear as you forge ahead with courage and fortitude, completing the challenge and claiming the prize.
But there is more. The Grand Canyon is beautiful. With Nick behind you, and despite the intense butterflies in your stomach, you can look up and enjoy the view through the danger of the task. You can appreciate the vistas, the river far below, the incredibly blue sky, and the stark white of the distending clouds. You might catch sight of an eagle in its nest or witness a Bighorn sheep climbing the craggy cliff face. You would behold wonders you might never have seen had you not taken the challenge of the walk.
Fear Bows to Faith
Facing cancer felt a lot like being on that tightrope. I knew God was behind me (and before me), but the intensity of the fear made it difficult to trust him. However, the joy that trumped that fear and pervaded my soul came with meditating on God’s assurance that his grace is truly sufficient for me (2 Corinthians 12:9). If I died, if I lived, if I suffered, if my quality of life declined, I still had him (Hebrews 13:5). The emotion of fear finally bowed down to the God-given action of courage. A deep and satisfying peace mingled with and muted the intense feeling of fear, and I was able to walk safely to the other side.
And, because of my grace-fueled courage, I was able to look up and notice the absolute beauty in the skill of the doctors, the kindness of the nurses, and the camaraderie of my fellow patients at the cancer center. Common grace became personal, and the fear, though I still felt it to some degree, became dim next to God’s greatness and immense and peculiar love for me.
Just because we feel some measure of fear does not mean we have no faith; it just means that our faith isn’t perfect yet. Our temporal flesh is broken and weak, and God knows that. That’s why he “gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). As we look to God in faith, his Spirit gives us strength to act from an eternal perspective and to resist cowering in our temporal frailty.
Of course, there is a fear we must possess, a feeling reminiscent of the knee-knocking fear we’d face while standing on a ribbon of nylon over the Grand Canyon. That is the fear in the presence of a holy God (Psalm 102:15). God means for this awesome fear to feed our souls.
However, in the face of all our earthly fears, God intends for us to trust his promise in Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Though we may feel afraid, we need not let that fear determine how we act. Our God is guiding us on the tightrope, and he himself will soothe our fears as we take his hand and start walking.