The end of 5 long weeks: F-WORDS & SUFFERING
It has been 5 weeks since we last posted an update on our current situation. A number of reasons come to mind:
- It has been a long haul, littered with regular ups and downs (physical, emotional, spiritual and relational), as it is expected.
- What does one say in such a situation, anyway? Too much hope borders on simplicity! Too much realism is depressing! Too much spiritualisation is not helpful! Besides, daily changes are so many, that any statement made in the morning no longer applies by the afternoon.
- This stint required a lot of quiet reflection, composure and sheer grit.
However, here we are at the end of 5 very long and demanding weeks of daily radio-therapy (Monday to Friday) and weekly chemo-therapy (every Tuesday). With the exception of one chemo session (due to very low immunity), Claudette pulled through. It hasn’t been an easy spell. Nausea, excessive tiredness, constant questioning of whether it is worth it or not, coupled with the challenges of regular life, made this period demanding (an understatement).
However, thanks go to all who prayed for us, cooked and encouraged us, sent letters \ emails \ FB \ WhatsApp \ Viber messages, supplied us with regular flowers and encouraging cards, phoned and visited to reassure us of their prayers and support, took time off work and travelled thousands of miles to be with us and look after our needs, thought of us in so many ways. We are grateful for all your help. Each one of you, according to your abilities has done something for us and we are grateful and consider ourselves blessed to have you all as friends and family. Indeed, so many others in this world do not have a fraction of the love we receive in so many ways. Our thanks will always be inadequate and insufficient to express our gratitude. However, here is a meant: Thank you!
Claudette has a 3-weeks break, before an intensive session of internal radio therapy (9th September). During this time, we pray and hope that her body will get a chance to recover, as the doctors warned about the side effects being most severe 2 weeks after the conclusion of the radio \ chemo period. This will also be a period of exploration of other unexplained phenomena, in an otherwise battered and bruised body. We shall also look into what options are available to us for rebuilding her strength and immunity to the point where her body can successfully fight not only the side effects of the treatment, but especially, the cancer itself.
The boys made it through the summer holiday, in spite of the changes required to the original plans. The highlight of their summer holiday was being able to spend 3 weeks with Eilidh, Cal and Fin who travelled all the way from Australia to be with them. Exciting times! Our biggest highlight is that our 8 years old will begin P4 next week, while our baby, Jason, will start P1. It is almost unfair on them that a lot of our attention is somewhere else, to experience the full emotions associated with this landmark. Scary, how fast time passes. We must be getting old!
Since the tone of the above is already reflective, perhaps I may be allowed to continue with some insights I gleaned from a lovely Christmas present I only managed to get around and begin to read this past week (‘Preaching to a Post-Everything World’ by Zack Eswine; with thanks to Petra and Libor who regularly challenge me to be a better communicator). In the context of addressing the demanding task of speaking with relevance about God in today’s world, the author points out four realities, which every preacher has to wrestle with during any public discourse:
- The Fallen Condition: ‘identifies one’s inner tendency towards temptation and evil’. This manifests progressively: in an outright ‘hardness of the heart’ in one’s engagement with God – a consistent refusal and rejection to engage in any meaningful way; in turn, that leads to ‘warring desires’ characteristic of internal conflict between that which we know intuitively to be right (taking God seriously and responding to His actions) and the convenience of satisfying our own desires; the ultimate result being ‘fleshly fruit’ – the natural consequences of previous two struggles as evidenced by greed, fights, competition, anger, etc.
- The Finite Condition: a reflection on the reality that our condition is limited by our knowledge, understanding, emotional capacity and physical ability. This is neither ignorance nor outright refusal, but rather recognition of our being created, in relation to our Creator who will always know \ understand \ have the capacity to experience more than we ever will.
- The Fragile Condition: we are in need of God not because of something we have consciously done or even our own limitations, but because we ‘have been sinned against or have felt the effects of sin in general by circumstance of living in a fallen world’. Our vulnerability is caused by circumstances outside our control and as a result our mental and physical limitation and propensity for fragility is fully exposed.
- The Faltering Condition: ‘a person falters between what he or she professes is true and what actual living requires of truth’. We are caught between on the one hand, the logical conclusion of our beliefs \ reason and, on the other hand, our inability to fully live out those realities in light of our own fallen, finite and fragile condition – a point of inconsistency.
I referenced the above, because of the many questions, which arise vis-à-vis suffering:
- Some are content and find it easy to consider suffering to be the outright result of our fallen condition: a particular sin \ wrongdoing \ violation of some practical or transcendent law. No doubt that every one of us makes choices which have direct consequences on one level or another, some with immediate effect, while others observable only in the long run. Thus suffering is explained as a direct consequence of wrongdoing e.g. smoking can lead to lung cancer, stress leads to a plethora of medical conditions, etc.
- Others recognise that our own limitations predispose us to either misunderstand the issues at stake or indeed, have very simplistic \ inadequate and sometimes even wrong ideas of what is going on. In this context, suffering recognises that there are realities we are not even vaguely aware of, which are at play on a far larger scale than we can even begin to imagine. A sufferer in this case, may be content with admitting serious inadequacy in offering any coherent and reasonable explanations e.g. Job’s example in the Bible.
- The reality of the inheritance passed on to us either directly through genetics or indirectly through living in a progressively broken world is observable on every level and being a Christian does not exempt one from the outworking of evil in this world as seen in sickness, injustice, violence, natural disasters, wars etc. E.g. John the Baptist languishes in prison while Jesus performs miracles outside the prison walls.
- The reality of living in this world, caught between that which we know (in part) about God, love, heaven, grace, eternity & the real world in which we live ridden with evil, disease, pain, death, adds to the already unbearable suffering people endure. We oscillate between Faith & Observable reality. Point of inconsistency. Suffering in this case flies in the face of everything promised and hoped for.
The past 5 weeks have been marked by tangential reflection: while dealing with the practical implications of life as we have it, we tried to maintain a sense of perspective, humility, realism and hope. While a definitive answer explaining our circumstances does not exist (as yet) and may never become apparent this side of heaven, the points made above provide some faint lines in the sand of human search for understanding which makes the uncertainty a wee bit more bearable. In the meantime, we recognise that together with you all, we belong to a fallen, finite, fragile and faltering reality, while holding on to the hope (faith) that one day soon, that which is fallen will stand up again, that which is finite will increase it’s ability to know and be known, that which is fragile shall be made strong and that which is faltering will become humbly but resolutely perfect.
Our love to you all,