Blindsided by God … But Never Betrayed
It was supposed to be a doctor's visit like any other. My wife would come home and say, as she had done many times before, that everything was okay, and that she should get lots of exercise and eat fruits and vegetables—what doctors always say. We would breathe a sigh of relief, hug each other, and promptly forget that the moment had ever taken place.
But the news that winter afternoon was very different:
Peter, it's cancer. It's cancer.
Carol had been diagnosed with breast cancer, which had already spread to her lymph nodes. A biopsy revealed that her cancer was a particularly aggressive kind called triple negative, and it would resist the best available treatments. In the grim words of a doctor we consulted, this type of cancer was a potent "killer of young women," young women like my wife of eight years, the mother of my two daughters.
Still reeling, we were soon dealt another crushing blow: Our health insurance company had determined that my wife's cancer was a preexisting condition and terminated her coverage. We would be forced to pay for treatments on our own. The shock of her diagnosis had been difficult enough, but this enormous legal complication devastated our already fragile spirits.
I remember feeling a multitude of things during that time: shock, intense fear, confusion. But the emotion I remember most clearly was that of betrayal. I felt betrayed by God.
A Subconscious Theology
You see, I was a good person, or at least had tried my hardest to be one. I had devoted my entire life to following and serving God, giving up a promising career in medicine to become a pastor. I wanted to do great things for his sake, and so planted a church in Washington, D.C. My family had moved into the heart of the city, intent on being an incarnational witness of Christ. As a result, God was supposed to protect us against the worst that the world could offer.
But he hadn't. Instead, three months into that church plant, he had allowed my wife to get aggressive breast cancer. Then, only a few years after its founding, the church plant was forced to close its doors. Our home has been broken into twice, our car, more times than I can count. These kinds of events, I thought, aren't supposed to happen to people who follow God faithfully. We are supposed to enjoy protection, blessing, and providence, not cancer, failure, and crime. I never expected our lives to be perfect, but this was too much to bear. I felt betrayed by God because he had broken his promises.
This might all seem strange for a pastor to say. After all, Jesus obeys his Father's will and yet is persecuted and suffers terribly. The disciples follow in the footsteps of their Lord and experience the same. According to 1 Peter 4:12, "Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you."
As a pastor, I understood—and taught—these very truths. But despite all my good theology and good intentions, here I was, struck by a deep sense of God's betrayal. I tried to remind myself time and time again of the witness of the life of Christ and the early church, and how God could use suffering to refine and strengthen our faith. I even preached on those themes more than a few times during that hellish year. I knew the right answers like the back of my hand, but they were of no use to me, because feelings of deepening anger and mistrust toward God inevitably crept back into my heart.