Senior Minister, St Michaels Anglican Church, Wollongong
Cancer has become the leading cause of death in Australia and almost every other country, according to a major international World Health Organization (WHO) study. Everyone knows someone who is impacted. Sadly too many! And—to state the obvious—not everyone gets better from a cancer diagnosis.
Dave McDonald, a Canberra-based church planter, pastor and sports chaplain to the ACT Brumbies Super Rugby Team, was diagnosed with incurable lung cancer in late 2011.
Friends, I read my copy of this book in just an hour on the train, between Central and Helensburgh. And that was with several pauses while I tried not to cry in front of everyone else in the packed carriage.
At just 90 pages, it was that clear and gripping.
He’s written a book to explain that there is hope beyond cure. In fact, that’s its title, Hope Beyond Cure.
It’s a superb book. Dave writes…
I knew people who’d had cancer. I’d visited people at their bedsides and watched them waste away. I’d witnessed the brutality of the treatments. I’d prayed with people and seen some recover, but I’d seen others die. I’d lost friends and relatives to this cruel and indiscriminate disease. I’d conducted funerals and wept with those who mourned. I thought I knew something about cancer, but I couldn’t appreciate the multiple layers of pain and loss it creates until I began to experience these things myself. [p.26]
I can relate to everything Dave writes there, except the personal experience in the last line. But his book goes as close to anything I’ve read in helping us who’ve never been there understand those who have.
Indeed, one of the unexpected blessings of Dave’s diagnosis is that we discovered he had a real writing gift, firstly as he blogged his way through the terrible times of his treatment, when he had energy for nothing else, and now in this book.
It’s brutally honest. It’s short and realistic. It doesn’t pretend to have all the answers. But it delivers what it promises: hope beyond cure.
Perhaps it won’t surprise you to discover Dave points clearly, winsomely, compassionately, but uncompromisingly towards the gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen as the only source of hope for life beyond death. And he explains the reasons why he found that hope to remain a true hope, both objectively and subjectively, when cancer threw everything he knew up in the air. His treatment of the resurrection basis for hope is brief though brilliant.
As one of the endorsers writes—basically outlining the contents—it starts with the words tumour and incurable. And eventually Dave transforms those first horrible words into new words: faith, hope and love.
Actually, it’s got a wider range of endorsements than you’d normally see on a Matthias Media title: a book publisher from London, a New Testament professor from Chicago, the West Australian of the year (a professor of medicine), a Sydney oncologist, the head coach of one Super Rugby team, and the CEO of another.
It also includes the endorsement of one of my best friends at our church, who lost his wife from cancer in the last 12 months.
High praise indeed. And already I’ve given a second copy of the book away, and could think instantly of a couple more I’ll send it to. I reckon its mix of the personal biographical and the biblically spiritual will work appropriately not just for active Christians, but for fellow travellers, and any sufferers of incurable disease, along with their friends and carers. I’m certain it will be given away far more than many other evangelistic books.
Just so you know I’m not being an uncritical fan, here are two things I wished Dave had said something more about. Firstly, about how friends can be more helpful (and avoid being unhelpful) to someone suffering cancer. And secondly, about how sufferers should respond when well-meaning but misguided Christians tell them they’d be healed if only they had enough faith.
But maybe that’s for another book or a few blog posts.
To conclude, here are three extracts among the many I found helpful.
Explaining the parable of the healing of the paralysed man from Mark 2:3-12, Dave writes…
I assume that the forgiveness of this man’s sins was the last thing his four friends had on their minds. They had either seen Jesus healing serious illnesses and disabilities or heard about his ability to do so, so they did all they could to make sure their friend got a piece of the action. They must have been dismayed when all Jesus did was forgive his sins—what a let down! But Jesus had given him something far better. Forgiveness is the only gateway to deep healing that lasts forever. One action—healing the paralysis—lasted only a few years, until he died. The other—forgiveness—lasted beyond death for eternity. (p. 43)
What a sentence to treasure: “Forgiveness is the only gateway to deep healing that lasts forever.”
And try this when Dave explains how the Psalms have helped him when circumstances overwhelm him with questions…
I’m thankful for the friend who sent me a message and pointed me to Psalm 62: “power belongs to you, God, and with you, Lord, is unfailing love” (verses 11-12).
In these verses there are two things in particular about God that have strengthened my hope time and time again. First, God is powerful ; second his love is unfailing. If God were powerful but not loving, I could never approach him. If God were loving but weak, I’d have no guarantee that he could help me. Yet because God is both powerful and loving, he offers genuine hope to all who come to him for help. These words have warmed my heart and restored my confidence in God. (p. 76)
And I’m sure they’ll do the same for me and many others now too.
Lastly, listen to Dave’s closing and humble appeal…
You might be thinking that I’m somehow different from you—that I have faith and you don’t. Perhaps you even wish you had my faith. But it’s not my faith that matters—it’s who and what I’ve put my faith in. There’s nothing remarkable about my faith. Sometimes it’s weak and sometimes it wavers. But Jesus is not weak and Jesus never wavers. He can be trusted. (p. 88)