On Suffering Well and The Wasted Life

Matt Chandler, center, holds hands with his son Reid, 4, left, and daughter Audrey, 7, in Flower Mound, Texas as they take a walk after a treatment for Matt's brain cancer. (AP Photo/LM Otero)


Yesterday, Eric Gorski from the Associated Press published a fantastic article on Pastor Matt Chandler’s battle with brain cancer. If you’ve not read it, you absolutely must.  

In the article, Gorski wrote,  

Matt Chandler doesn’t feel anything when the radiation penetrates his brain. It could start to burn later in treatment. But it hasn’t been bad, this time lying on the slab. Not yet, anyway.  

Another cancer patient Chandler has gotten to know spends his time in radiation imagining that he’s playing a round of golf at his favorite course. Chandler on this first Monday in January is reflecting on Colossians 1:15-23, about the pre-eminence of Christ and making peace through the blood of his cross.  

Chandler’s hands are crossed over his chest. He wears a mask with white webbing that keeps his head still when metal fingers slide into place on the radiation machine, delivering the highest possible dose to what is considered to be fatal and incurable brain cancer.  

Yesterday I was listening (briefly) to Tapestry on CBC Radio One while on the way to read a book and drink a warm beverage. I caught a snippet of an interview with William Lobdell, a journalist who became a Christian in his twenties, served as the religion reporter for one of the biggest newspapers in the U.S. since become an atheist.  

In talking about the Christian worldview, he said something that really caught my attention, which was that,  

Christians see this life as a fleeting moment in light of eternity. So to waste a day, a month, a year… it’s not really a big deal. They think they’ve got all eternity. But for an atheist, because we know this is all there is, we take as much joy as we can and make the most of every moment (my paraphrase).  

Going back to Chandler for a minute,  

At church, he has deflected sympathy with reassurances that this is a good thing, that he is not shrinking back. Chandler has preached the last two weekends and is planning trips to South Africa and England. He recently lost his hair to radiation but got a positive lab report last week and feels strong.  

Chandler would rather this not have happened. But he is drinking life in — watching his son build sandcastles at the park, preaching each sermon as if eternity is at stake — and feeling a heightened sense of reality.  

I look at these two drastically different stories and it breaks my heart. 

It is tragic that Lobdell apparently never saw Christians living with a sense of urgency, or seeing this life as having any value. That he perceives living in light of eternity as a call to inaction.  

Reading this has reminded me of the book of James. In it, James writes,   

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil (James 4:13-16).  

James says that we are “a mist that appears for a little time then vanishes.” But this does not mean that the time we have is unimportant. Christians are not to ignore the time we have been given on this earth.  

We’re to remember that we live on borrowed time. 

None of us knows what tomorrow will bring. I could wake up tomorrow and go to work and do the same thing for the next 40 years. Or it could all be over before this post publishes. To live without a sense of urgency, as if we have all the time in the world, is to boast in our arrogance. And “all such boasting is evil.” 

The next 24 hours do not belong to me or to you. They belong to Jesus.  

And they’re all about making His name great.  

Matt Chandler knows this. By suffering well, he is truly living in light of eternity.  

So how will we live today?

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  • http://michaelkrahn.com/blog Michael Krahn

    I have numerous atheist friends who try to sell me the same line of reasoning: “Why waste your life on THAT? You only have one life to live!”

    Sigh, this is a life of great joy. Lobdell’s assertion is ludicrous and can only possibly apply to the most nominal “Christian”.

    On this I agree with MacArthur: when statistics tell us that Christian’s lives are no different than non-Christian’s (eg divorce stats), then the people producing such stats need to refine their definition of “Christian”.

    Good post. I just read that Chandler article this morning too.

    • http://hardwords.wordpress.com Aaron Armstrong

      Agreed; thanks for the shout-out on your blog, by the way.

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  • Keystone

    My brother, Joe, has a wife named Sherry. She and I were laughing our heads off for three hours, in the hospital one day, during the first week of December, 2009.
    This first week in February, she resides with jesus Christ, albeit her ashes are with my brother still. She died of cancer at age 52 and the memorial service was last Sunday.

    Sherry was Cherokee Indian and proud of her heritage.
    I am mongrel, with a love of Christ and a concern that Sherry would wisp away before we discussed Him. Too late!
    When we spoke of Christ at the hospital, she had been appraoched by an evangelical strain of Christian….doing their “duty” and pointing at her loudly proclaiming “Be Healed!”.

    Sherry was in deep pain and had no desire to be healed.
    She was already well acquainted with Christ (as I quietly learned in our three hour visit) but held a deep repect for nature as her heritage had taught.

    These two items are not incompatible, for Christ was the author of nature and often proclaimed parables using it…so we could understand the language of God, as He used language we could understand.

    Switching here a moment, it concerns me that we classify “Christians” especially with divorce stats and the rest. This is error at all times.

    Few would dispute that Mother Teresa and her work in Calcutta for decades, using Nobel Peace money she was awarded, to aid the least among us, was a Christian. But she proclaimed in her last days that her faith was always a challenge for her and wondered at times if she had it.
    Amazingly, her works proved the Holy Spirit was at work in all her life.

    My concern with attempting to believe “divorce stats” or “college sex levels” and the like between Christians and non Christians being similar means the Christian in discussion is in some kind of Caste system, as employed in india.

    Christians sin! To think otherwise is folly.
    Paul blasted away to “Stop siinning!”, but the issue was let’s sin more and more so that grace may abound. Paul noted we are dead to sin as Christians.
    Well, Paul had to be blinded by God for three days to “get it”.
    Most Christians I know come to it via gradualism, not a lightning moment.

    Even Augustine, a true Church writer, or early blogger if you will, wanted to sin like crazy and proclaimed “O Lord make me pure….but not yet!”.
    Imagine that!
    Fortunately, intercessory prayer works and Augustine had a momma named Monica who understood the value of intercession for her son. She prayed and asked God to intervene in Augustine’s life. The issue of free will precludes God from doing so, but intercessory prayer trumps free will, as God is dying to step into all of our lives. We say “no thanks” but intercessors say “Go for it God”…..and He does.

    I am deeply disturbed at classifying someone in sin, whether from sex, drugs destroying the temple of the Holy Spirit, divorce, disobeying in any form, and hugely denied….Idolatry at our way of life, as nominal Christian.
    James says “work out your salvation”…or maybe it was Peter (I did not look it up, but James comes to mind).

    The Cross has already done that, yet we are told to work it out.

    Challies recently had dialog with an atheist three times.
    Christ has told us that when you come to a town (person) and they refuse the message, kick the dust off your shoes from that area and move on.
    We are not to debate atheists, but proclaim Christ and explain if asked more.

    That seed of information will grow in fertile soil in any heart.
    It is now the job of the Holy Spirit, who knows each heart status intimately.

    Cancer falls in the area of “take up your cross”.
    “Your cross” comes in many forms (even Paul asked to have his cross removed three times and was told “My grace is sufficient for you”.
    THIS all came AFTER he was an atheist, blinded, turned follower and author, evangelized like crazy, yet had a cross to bear and murmered it was tough).

    So too, with sin in the lives of people who proclaim they are Christian.
    They are also human, and only one has lived without sin.

    Let us edify and build up those who are in different stages of Following Christ.
    There is room at the table for sinners. Christ always made sure of it.
    Can we not do the same?
    Otherwise, I am doomed.

    • http://hardwords.wordpress.com Aaron Armstrong

      Thank you for sharing this, Keystone. I’m sorry for the loss of Sherry, but am grateful that she is now with Jesus waiting for the wedding supper to begin.

  • Lark

    Very true post.

  • http://atimetorend.wordpress.com atimetorend

    I agree it is tragic that Lobdell had that perspective as a Christian and also that he views Christians as being limited that way. But I can also understand how a Christian could lean in that direction, believing the most important part of existence is yet to come, eternally after death. While Christianity offers that hope for an afterlife not afforded by atheism, the desire to cherish every day given to us is not exclusive to either set of beliefs.

    I honestly don’t know how anyone with young children could ever have Lobdell’s previous perspective. The photo and caption you included with the post is a perfect illustration of that. Very moving story.

    • http://hardwords.wordpress.com Aaron Armstrong

      I really appreciate your comment, especially the last point. As the dad of a young girl, I’m consistently amazed at the amount of joy that I get to experience seeing her grow up–and the great gift that God has given me as a parent.

      Thanks for coming by today :)

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