Lessons from Cancer: The Crucible

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   “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3–9, ESV)

My cancer treatments were all inpatient treatments due to the type of cancer I had and its aggressive nature. When you are relegated to a hospital room for weeks you have a lot of time to think and reflect. During one particular difficult hospital stay in which I was in intense pain, my thoughts were directed toward the truth that this suffering was going to reveal my true character. Oh how I desperately prayed that the nurses and techs would see the grace of God in me, how I begged God that I would have the grace and strength to not make their tough job worse. How I did on that front others would have to tell you.

However, during this struggle I kept thinking of a crucible. For those unfamiliar with this special vessel (as if I am some master smelter or something), a crucible is the specially constructed vessel used to test and purify precious metals. The master smelter will take the metal to be purified and place it into this vessel. Then the crucible is placed into the furnace to melt the metal into a liquid state. Once in a liquid state several options are available to the smelter to rid the metal of its impurities. One of the oldest is to take an implement and skim the surface of the liquid metal dragging the impurities out. Then the vessel is replaced in the furnace which causes more impurity to rise to the surface after which the entire process is repeated until the smelter is satisfied with the purity of the metal.

With this process playing over and over in my mind coupled with the knowledge that my pain and struggle was revealing my own character, I began to reflect on what spiritual value and truth I could glean, what did this tell me about God? What did the Word say about me in relation to these truths? What should my response be? One of the first things I thought of was that much like the metal in the crucible, I was being tried and tested. The genuineness of my faith was GOING to be revealed and how I desperately wanted the aroma of Jesus to permeate everything I did and how I feared that I would prove myself to be an unworthy servant. I wanted everyone to see the pure gold of the fruits of the Spirit but I feared that all that would be found was the lead of my evil heart. So I prayed hard that God would give me grace to bear up under this travail and if there is any praise it belongs to Him and He alone.

The second truth that I was reminded of is that unlike gold brought out of the ground and placed in the crucible, which has intrinsic value in and of itself, I had nothing good in me (Isa. 64:6-7). In and of myself I am a wretched rebel who of my own volition spurned the Law of the Righteous Judge, declaring war on the Holy One of Israel seeking to depose Him from his rightful throne as Lord over all of creation and all peoples. Because of that rebellion I was a rotting, bloated, lifeless corpse. Left to myself there was nothing to put into the crucible – I was nothing but impurities: there was nothing good in me.

The third truth is the corollary to the truth above, namely that any good that might come out of my life was the direct result of God’s imputation of Christ’ righteousness to my account (Rom 5:15-17). To have anything to put in the crucible to refine I must first be given it (Eph 2:8-9). God in His condescending benevolence, providence and mercy grants Christ’ righteousness to rebels like me. Does that meant that I have arrived? No, I am not yet what I will be but Praise God I am not what I was!

Finally, as I lay there in that bed I was overwhelmed with humble gratitude. Making it through each moment was not an act of my own power or ability but was in fact a gift of grace from a loving Father who chose not to rescue me from the flames, nor meant me harm in them but rather was putting His power and might on display as He walked in the fire with me.

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Cor 10:13 ESV

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated. 20 And he ordered some of the mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. 21 Then these men were bound in their cloaks, their tunics, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the burning fiery furnace. 22 Because the king’s order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23 And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace.

24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” 25 He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.

26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace; he declared, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. 27 And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them. 28 Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.” ” Daniel 3:16-29 ESV

*emphasis mine