The years leading up to my son’s leukemia diagnosis were dotted with other cancer stories that became the centerpiece of many family dinner discussions. We watched as my wife’s grandfather slowly withered in his battle against bladder cancer. Soon thereafter, my wife ministered to her best friend while she watched her mother’s hair and strength sapped in a fight against breast cancer. Every evening for three years, my sons Brady and Drew made it part of their nightly routine to pray for their great grandpa and for “Mrs. Barbara”. Both cancer stories ended at a funeral service.
By June 2012, at almost 6 years old Brady was able to make a clear and logical connection between cancer and death. Thankfully, four-year old Drew hadn’t figured that out yet. His little brain was too occupied trying to unravel the complex plot line of the latest Curious George episode.
By July of the same year, Brady’s little brother and best friend had lost much of his hair and most of his personality as Drew’s body fought off high-risk leukemia. In retrospect, I should have seen Brady’s question coming from a mile away. One evening, while I was tucking Brady and Drew into their bunk beds, as though it had just dawned on him, Brady asked the hardest question I’ve ever been asked, “Dad, is Drew going to die of cancer?” Just the sound of the words coming from Brady’s lips took the air out of my chest. With innocent eyes, Drew looked up to me from the bottom bunk anxiously anticipating his father’s answer.
There are a handful of moments in your life that become permanently etched into your visual memory and I immediately knew this was one of them. At that instant, it seemed there were only two answers I could offer up. Either tell them ‘no’ or tell them ‘maybe’. The first option seemed disingenuous while the second option was simply not a legitimate option for obvious reasons.
While praying in my spirit for wisdom, I began to give my reply. Thankfully, I knew the groundwork had been laid for Brady to answer the question himself.
“Brady, is it possible that your daddy could die tomorrow?”
“Brady, is it possible that you could die tomorrow?”
“Brady, who controls when we die?”
“Brady, is God a good God or a bad God?”
“You’re right Brady. We don’t have to worry because our good God is in control of when you die, when I die, and when Drew dies. Our hearts will stop beating the very moment God says ‘stop’ and not one second sooner.”
With that, both Brady and Drew seemed satisfied with the answer and thankfully similar questions have not been asked since that evening.
It’s natural and right for Christian parents to focus much of their energy instructing their kids on the love of God yet in that quest too many parents ignore the essential doctrine of the sovereignty of God. A loving God who is not sovereign over suffering can leave your kids with the notion of a caring yet impotent deity who is frantically grasping to regain control of a world gone bad.
When it comes to teaching both the infinite love of God and the sovereignty of God, there can be no better place to point our children than towards the cross of Christ. It is at the cross where the goodness of God to man and the sovereignty of God over evil was put on full display for a sin-drenched world to witness.
While my son battles leukemia, his father is there to offer him peace and assurance as the invisible storm inside his marrow rages on. But 2000 years ago, the sinless Son of God drank the world’s cancer of sin and when Jesus looked up to His Father for loving assurance, the deafening silence from heaven made it clear that He would have to fight this on His own. The beauty of the cross is that, despite the circumstances, Jesus trusted in the goodness and sovereignty of God the Father. It was this single historical act of trust in the sovereign Father that now renders my son’s battle against cancer, in the truest sense, not really a battle for life or death. That battle was won a long time ago.
To live is Christ and to die is gain.