by Deanna Hanson
I recently lost my dad and my mother-in-law to Stage 4 illnesses. My dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 Liver Disease and died within 3 weeks. My mother-in-law’s diagnosis came and allowed us to enjoy 2 great years with her before her body was overcome by Stage 4 Lung Cancer. Both of my parents experienced death and suffering so differently. Our human nature does not want to endure hardship like a good soldier (2 Timothy 2:3), follow Christ’s example (1 Peter 2:21), or rejoice in suffering (Romans 5:3). But it is at Calvary, at the cross, where we meet suffering on God’s terms. My mother-in-law, Sue Hanson, achieved this for most of her life, but it was most evident during her last 2 years here on earth.
John and I attended the 2005 Desiring God’s National Conference in Minneapolis entitled “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God.” We were deeply affected by the messages. We heard testimonies from Joni Eareckson Tada, Steve Saint, and John Piper about the hope and joy that can come from immense heartache and affliction. Steve Saint explained how suffering is relative and different for each person. “My definition of suffering is our expectation divided by our experience.” He goes on to say that “people who suffer want people who have suffered to tell them there is hope.
They are justifiably suspicious of people who appear to have lived lives of ease. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the reason that Jesus suffered in every way that we do, while he was here. First Peter 2:21 says, ‘[Your] suffering is all part of what God has called you to. Christ, who suffered for you, is your example. Follow in his steps’ (NLT).” Sue understood that this was God’s sovereign plan for her life and followed Christ’s example. She lived her last two years demonstrating His love for others while she was sick, continuously serving and encouraging those around her. She radiated joy and hopefulness when she shared about the cancer that was spreading through her body. While she was suffering and dying, Sue did just as Philippians 2:3 says: “in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Her example reminded me of what Joni said at this 2005 conference:
“To this you were called because Christ suffered for you, leaving you this kind of example that you should follow. He endured the cross for the joy that was set before him (Heb 12:2). Should we expect to do less? So then, join me; boast in your afflictions. Delight in your infirmities. Glory in your weaknesses, for then you know that Christ’s power rests in you (2 Corinthians 12:9). You might [have cancer] on all sides, but you’re not crushed. You might be perplexed, but you’re not in despair. You might be knocked down, but you’re not knocked out. Because it says in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 that every day we experience something of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, so that in turn we might experience the power of the life of Jesus in these bodies of ours.”
Let us learn from Sue and Joni and die to ourselves each morning and live in Christ for the glory of our great God!
If you would like to listen to the 2005 conference messages from this Series, the video and audio are available for free by clicking here: Suffering and the Sovereignty of God.
Deanna Hanson is a member of FCC.