A few years ago, I learned that a beautiful friend of mine was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. I was devastated to know that she was terminal, especially since she had two adolescent sons. She was far too young to die. She endured treatments and we prayerfully interceded on her behalf time and time again, asking that she would be healed and that she would survive. But she only lived for an extra year, and then she passed away.
At the same time, I had another friend who was suffering with this same aggressive terminal cancer. She also endured the treatments, but she lived. So one might ask the question, why did God allow one to live and the other to die?
We have all prayed for friends like mine who desperately need healing. But there is faith in understanding that sometimes God says no. While we may not have any concrete answers for this, or guidelines to go by on why some people are healed when others are not, we do have faith. We can trust that God is a God who knows what He is doing.
I love the verse in Jeremiah 29:11, where it says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” However, it is so often taken out of context. This is what was actually happening at the time when this was recorded. The Isrealites were in exile as a punishment from God for their disobedience. They were listening to a false prophet named Hananiah who had “prophesied” that God was going to free Isreal from their Babylonian captors in two years time. God sent the prophet Jeremiah to set them straight – and right before this beautiful promise we read in verse 10, Jeremiah tells them in verse 7 to “work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I (the Lord) sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Do you think that was what the Isrealites wanted to hear? Not really. They wanted an easy way out, to know that there suffering would soon end and they would be able to return home. Instead, in verse 10, the Lord says, “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again.” What a blow that must have been – some of those Isrealites would live and die in Babylon before the time came for them to leave.
Does this mean that God did not have a good plan for them? No. It just meant that they would have a period of suffering first. The Isrealites would learn what we have also learned – that God is ever present in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1), and that suffering produces endurance and builds character (Romans 5:3-5). In light of this, it is important to understand when reading Jeremiah 29:11 that like the Isrealites, this doesn’t mean we will live life without difficulties or illness. In fact, our hope and our future as believers isn’t intended for life on this earth. Our hope and our future are eternal – a life with Christ for all time. If this verse were intended for our life on earth, then why would we endure illnesses – especially those that end in death?
But there IS hope in God’s plan for our lives. If you take a look at the verse mentioned above in Romans, it says this:
But we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5
Our suffering allows us to change and grow into the person that God wants us to be. Just like the Isrealites who suffered in captivity in Babylon for 70 years before God knew they would be ready to be whole again.
We suffered a great loss when my friend passed away from aggressive breast cancer. As she endured her treatments, her body changed. She went from a beautiful, healthy looking woman to a woman whose body was damaged and dying. But her soul soared. She taught me and many others just what it means to suffer in Christ. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, ‘“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”‘ I could see the power of Christ resting upon my friend. She was positive, loving, encouraging and thankful the entire troubling way through. A few days before she died, we had a quick conversation. She told me she wasn’t afraid to die because she was ready, but that she was sorry to go. We were sorry to see her go too. I miss my friend.
Sometimes God’s plan for us is hard. Illnesses and disease are so difficult to navigate. Pain is hard to manage, and life can be heavy. But God’s plan is so good. When we aren’t being healed, and we are obedient in trusting in His plan, He uses our illnesses and disabilities to point others to Christ.
I can’t think of any greater blessing than being able to use my disability as a tool for His glory. What a gift! Sometimes God says no, but in saying no, He blesses us with more than we can ever understand.