Against All Hope
Rev. Dr. Michael S. Barry, Director of Pastoral Care, CTCA/Eastern Regional Medical Center
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be." Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead -- since he was about a hundred years old -- and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why "it was credited to him as righteousness." The words "it was credited to him" were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness -- for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. Romans 4:18-24
Have you ever wondered why some patients refuse to just "die peacefully" because, it is thought by some, the patient isn't "going to get any better." Some nurses wonder about this. Doctors too. Some clergy.
I can only speak for myself, of course, but Christianity, as reflected by the biblical witness, portrays Abraham as the premier example of true faith. True faith, "hopes against all hope. (Rom. 4:18)." It struggles. It fights. It trusts. In the face of great adversity, it perseveres. True faith believes that "all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28)," which we interpret as meaning that goodness, purpose and meaning can grow out of all of life’s experiences, including cancer. So we take chemo. And we endure radiation. And we lose our hair. And we undergo life-threatening surgery. And we experience pain. We "hope against hope," because it is our God-given right to do so as well as the cross we sometimes are asked to bear. Faced with adversity, we will live our life with no regrets.
And speaking for my Christian friends, as well as others, all we ask is that you honor our willingness to fight. We do not need your promises as healthcare professionals, because we have promises upon which we will rely ... promises that tell us that if we "ask, we shall receive," knowing full well that sometimes God’s answer to our prayer is, "No." Every prayerful Christian learns over the years to accept this answer, unsatisfying though it may seem. We know that Jesus experienced this divine "No" when, in the Garden of Gethsemane, He asked that "the cup" (of death), if possible, be removed from Him (Matt. 26:39). "Nevertheless," He said, "not my will but Thine be done." It was not removed as God had other plans.
About Abraham, the Bible says: "Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead -- since he was about a hundred years old -- and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised." Rom. 4:19-21
One such faithful man came into my office the other day with tears of joy. He gave me his PET scan report that showed the two tumors he had in his lung were gone as well as the two tumors in his liver. Gone! He persevered, and we thank God for his healing.
I just left the room of a man who did not survive his disease. He was no less trusting, and his family no less faithful. We prayed and thanked God for his life.
Dr. Jerome Groopman, MD, in his book, The Anatomy of Hope, writes: "Hope, I have come to believe, is as vital to our lives as the very oxygen that we breathe. Each disease is uncertain in its outcome, and within that uncertainty, we find real hope, because a tumor has not always read the textbook, and a treatment can have an unexpectedly dramatic impact. This is the great paradox of true hope: Because nothing is absolutely determined, there is not only reason to fear but also reason to hope." It is also the paradox of true faith: True faith, hopes against hope.