What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.
That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.
– Ecclesiastes 3:9-14
Ecclesiastes is my favourite book of the Bible. Infinitely cynical, yet so practical about God’s role and the failings of men. It came to mind when I was reading ST’s Sunday stories on people who are fighting the odds against cancer. Stage IIIb and fighting for their lives.
Yes, there is always hope, but as someone whose mother was defeated twice by cancer, I think the Christian attitude to death should be one of fearlessness, not a struggle to resist.
There is one thread running through all cancer stories that isn’t often highlighted at the top – that death comes to all. People who are fighting cancer seek each other for support, to give encouragement, to be inspired by the few that miraculously beat all the odds to go on living for many more years.
But still, death comes to all. Christians often look forward to death/rapture, because we can be freed from this horrid world and get our wish to see God. But even Christians can fear death when they have too many earthly things they are attached to.
I remember spending many of my uni days sending my mum to Cancer Centre for treatment. She wouldn’t say anything, and endured the suffering of chemotherapy without much complaint. I would often wait with her there, seeing the hundreds of sickly people there whose faces were made even more desolate by their dread of what’s next.
During her last days, the patients in her ward were absolutely freaked out. Right in their midst was someone in a terminal coma -was this the fate of all cancer victims? I think they froze when they found out she had finally passed away.
The most damaging bit of fighting cancer is sometimes not inflicted on the victim, but on their families. When a victim goes through the throes of suffering, fighting to stay alive, the family is either torn apart, made stronger or both. I had to ask myself in those nearly-forgotten days, was it worth all the financial, mental and emotional pain just to keep alive for one more week? What shred of happiness was left, when everyone knew the inevitable and weeped at your unnecessary pain? And if God wants to give you a terminal illness, what should your response be?
Isn’t it common for someone who has an overriding quest in his life to ignore the feelings of those around him? Be it the goal to conquer the industry, the world or death itself, we often take actions that seem right only to us. We care little for the path of destruction we leave behind, because our goal is all that matters. But when you’re dead and in an urn, the pain you may have inflicted on others remains there for many more years.
To all people fighting the odds, all the best and may God help you. But remember to take a good look around you at the same time. And if you are afraid of death, ask yourself why.
Personally, if I know I’m a goner, I’d happily wait for Jesus to come take my hand and take me home. My family? I will grieve but they are in God’s hands too.
PS – The question of pain brings to mind one of the worst questions we had to answer our seniors when we were dragonboaters. They would shout at us when we were dying from exhaustion in the boat, “Is your body aching?”
If you answered “yes”, they would scream back – “Good! It means your muscles are growing! Row harder!”
If “no” in an attempt to look heroic, they would scream, “It means you aren’t trying hard enough! Row harder!”