Tuesday, July 24, 2007

July 24, 2007 - Providence

Yesterday, I was supposed to have a PET/CT fusion scan and an accompany- ing CT scan. That didn’t happen, because the PET/CT fusion scanner broke down. Atlantic Medical Imaging called yesterday morning to tell me not to bother to come in. Of course, I’d already drunk half a bottle of the chalky contrast fluid the night before, as instructed.

Oh, well. I’ll just have to repeat the procedure on Wednesday night, for my rescheduled Thursday scan. Through a fortunate error, they gave me an extra bottle of the lovely stuff, so at least I don’t have to make an extra trip to their facility to pick up another.

I wonder what medical-imaging companies do when their high-tech machinery breaks down? Call the repair service, I guess. Does the dispatcher tell them, “Make sure somebody’s there tomorrow, sometime between 8 am and 4 pm?” I have visions of some guy showing up in a panel truck, wearing a toolbelt over his greasy, low-riding jeans, saying, “OK, show me where ya got dis here PET scanner...”

Today, I’ve been reading an excellent article, “Security Check,” from the July 10 issue of The Christian Century. It was recommended to me by Carol, a friend and ministry colleague. It’s an excerpt from an upcoming book by Scott Bader-Saye of the Unversity of Scranton, Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear (Brazos Press).

Bader-Saye tells the story of an acquaintance of his, a cancer patient named Steve, who received a letter from a well-meaning, but theologically clueless friend. This woman knew – she just knew – God would heal Steve, if he would only believe.

The letter didn’t bring a whole lot of comfort, because Steve was astute enough to realize the implication: if he did not receive a gift of miraculous healing, it would be his fault, because he did not have enough faith.

Steve was offended enough by the letter to venture a reply, even though – because of his weakened condition – he had to call on his brother to write down his words:

“I share your faith in the almighty power of God to heal and sustain us. There may be times, though, when God's greatest miracle is not the miracle of physical healing, but the miracle of giving us strength in the face of suffering. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12 that he prayed God would remove a thorn in the flesh, but God answered simply, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness . . . for when I am weak, then am I strong." Also, Jesus prayed in the garden that he might not suffer, but it was God's will, and he faced that suffering with a perfect faith.

As I read the Bible, God's promise is to remove all our suffering in the next life, though not necessarily in this one. In this world, we will sometimes weep, suffer and die. But in the New Jerusalem, ‘God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away’ (Revelation 2:14).

I sincerely hope that if my cancer continues to grow, no one will see it as a failure of my faith in God, but that perhaps people can see me as faithful even if I die while I am still young. I do not claim to understand God's will, but I do know that I am in God's hands, whether in life or in death.”

Commenting on the woman’s letter, Bader-Saye speaks of the theological doctrine of providence, which many people take to be synonymous with a promise of protection. It’s not:

“She mistook God's promise to provide for a guarantee to protect, and once she had done that, she could only lay the blame for Steve's cancer at his own feet. Once she had ruled out the possibility that the cancer could result from chance or misfortune (and her understanding of providence left no room for contingency), she assumed that someone had to be blamed for the illness. This perverse theological form of adding insult to injury results from misunderstanding the connection between providence and security. Providence does not guarantee protection; rather, it assures us of God's provision (making a way for us to go on) and redemption (restoring what is lost along the way).”

I like that. I’ve never taken providence to mean protection, myself, but Bader-Saye reminds me anew that God promises to provision us for the journey, however difficult it may be. As the most beloved of Psalms reassures us:

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff –
they comfort me.”
(Psalm 23:4)

God doesn’t spare us the arduous journey – but God does hand us a rucksack, filled with provisions for it (if only we are willing to accept the gift). And, at journey’s end, we are welcomed with a feast that redeems the suffering:

“You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.”

The only thing my cup’s overflowing with, these days, is radioactive contrast fluid, but no matter. There will be other cups, and more meaningful libations.


Bob said...

Carlos, that was a great post. And I love the graphics you include in your blog. But to the real point, I think of you often in your quest to defeat this lymphoma and I know you will. This latest resurgence of it is surely its last attempt to take hold.

Tom Clarke said...

Great post Carlos. Remember take it 3 days at a time. :-) Given what happened with the PET scan it looks like you have no other choice. :-()


Carlos ("Carl") said...

Bob and Tom,

Thanks to both of you, for your encouraging words.

Tom, I'd gotten a bit worried about you, because you haven't posted to your blog in a while. I was concerned that maybe you weren't doing so well. I'm glad you're hanging in there OK.