Christian Biblical Counsel: TERMINAL ILLNESS (Updated)

Background

O Joy that seekest me through pain,

I cannot close my heart to thee;

I trace the rainbow through the rain,

And feel the promise is not vain

That morn shall tearless be.

—George Matheson

Your inquirer is a very ill person. His or her life is threatened; in fact, he or she may not have long to live. Cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney failure, or some other critical illness is destroying his or her body. He or she feels alone. Who else has known pain like this?

Successively, though not necessarily chronologically, he or she feels:

• Denial (“This can’t be happening to me.”)

• Anger (“Why me, Lord?”)

• Depression (“There’s no hope.”)

• Bargaining (“Lord, get me out of this and I’ll do whatever You say.”)

• Acceptance (“May God’s will be done.”)

These feelings are not experienced once and then forgotten, but return again and again. They are not abnormal feelings, but are generally characteristic of those facing the “valley of the shadow.”

What do you say to such a person? How do you respond? How can you really identify with and help someone who is experiencing a level of suffering and a sense of finality that is probably beyond what you have personally experienced?

 

Helping Strategy

1. The first thing to do is simply to listen! Listen with empathy to the feelings that are shared. Encourage the person to talk. You may want to probe gently for feelings, some of which lie close to the surface while others may be more deeply submerged.

2. Pass no judgment on the feelings that are shared, even though they may be expressed in anger, self-pity, or bitterness. Just let the inquirer know that you are hearing what he or she says. Don’t appear to be arrogant by saying that you understand the depth of his or her feelings. You can’t possibly understand! But you may tell the person that you care. This can be put into words and also conveyed by the tone of your voice, your gentleness, and your capacity for feeling and identifying: “Think too of all who suffer” (Hebrews 13:3, PHILLIPS) as if you shared their pain. This is no time for you to introduce your own experience of pain and suffering; keep the focus on the inquirer.

3. Do not try to be a “spiritual Pollyanna.” Avoid clichés and platitudes. Don’t tell the person to “keep a stiff upper lip,” or to be an example in suffering. Do not offer false hopes about healing, or tell the individual that all illness is of the devil and with sufficient faith he or she could be healed. God may or may not heal. These are matters for the Sovereign will. What we can be sure of is that God will spiritually heal those who put their faith in Jesus Christ.

4. Don’t discourage any reference he or she may make about death. This may be a healthy conditioning of the mind for that which is inevitable. References to death can prepare the way for you, as a helper, to ask if there might be any unfinished business to attend to. This is why we witness: to help prepare people for eternity. In a spirit of kindness and concern, you may ask the inquirer, “If you were to find yourself at the gates of heaven confronted with the question, ‘On what grounds do you seek admission to God’s heaven?’ what would you say?” If indicated, explain “Steps to Peace with God,” – Christian Biblical Counsel: STEPS TO PEACE WITH GOD

If the inquirer responds affirmatively, share “Assurance,”  –

Christian Biblical Counsel: ASSURANCE OF SALVATION

Christian Biblical Counsel: FINDING ASSURANCE OF SALVATION.

You might also read other portions of Scripture, such as Psalm 23, John 14:1–6, or 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18.

5. The commitment to Christ should prepare the way to ask whether the person has any other unfinished business, such as relationships (family, friends), financial matters (a will, perhaps), handling of details in regard to the process of dying, death itself, funeral arrangements, and disposal of the body. Encourage the inquirer to take care of all these matters, seeking either pastoral or professional advice in the process.

6. Suggest that the inquirer find out if his or her community has a hospice agency. These agencies specialize in providing reinforcement to patients whose diseases are considered terminal, and to their families.

 

7. Pray for the inquirer that he or she might have courage and strength to be victorious in pain, committing himself or herself to Him who bore our grief’s and our sorrows.

 

Scripture

Psalm 23

John 14:1–6

Philippians 1:21

1 Thessalonians 4:13–18

The Billy Graham Christian Worker’s Handbook; World Wide Publications, 1984, 1996

Terminal Illness

How Can I Ever Let Go?

by June Hunt

The statistics are amazingly consistent, one out of one people die! The ultimate reality is: all of life is terminal! God’s masterpiece of creation is destined for death. Yet, since we were originally created for life, dying becomes an unwanted intrusion. Even the knowledge of our own impending death can become an unwanted reality. Like a flower clutching its last petal of pride, our hearts cry out, Not me … not now!

“All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall.”

(1 Peter 1:24)

I.     Definitions

A. Facing a Terminal Illness

The word terminal means “final, concluding, closing; occurring at the end of a period of time.”

“And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ ”

(Genesis 3:22)

Q   “There seems to be no hope when we hear the word terminal. Do all serious illnesses such as cancer end in death?”

No. Not all cancer is terminal. More importantly, medical science is never the last word. Miracles do happen. The miraculous story of Lazarus reveals that we cannot always know the will and ways of God.

“Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’ ” (John 11:4)

The word illness refers to any unhealthy condition of the body; a disease or sickness.

•     The Old Testament Hebrew word makob means “mental and physical pain and anguish.” It refers often to the mental or psychological aspect of illness. The Old Testament reference to the Suffering Servant in Isaiah chapter 53 contains the word makob in connection with the sorrows and anguish associated with physical pain.

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:3–4)

•     The New Testament Greek word most closely associated with terminal illness, astheneia, means “sickness, weakness or disease.” Lazarus, a close friend of Jesus, had an illness that resulted in death … temporarily.

“Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.… So then he told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead.’ ” (John 11:1, 14)

Q   “Is it morally right for Christians to take pain medicine, or is that putting faith in prescriptions and not in God?”

God created everything in the earth and called it “good”—including plants with pain relieving properties. With the medical knowledge available today, patients should not have to suffer great physical pain.

“Fruit trees of all kinds will grow.… Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.” (Ezekiel 47:12)

•     Terminal illness is a physical sickness with the prognosis that a person’s life expectancy will be less than a year, although many patients do live longer. The person pronounced terminally ill first hears a diagnosis, then a prognosis.

—  Diagnosis … the identification of a disease based on its signs and symptoms

—  Prognosis … a forecast of the probable outcome of a disease based on its usual course

Q   “Is it always best to reveal the truth to a person who has been diagnosed as having a terminal illness?”

Yes. Most terminally ill patients instinctively know when they are not getting well. Dishonesty and deception rob them of dignity and the motivation to get their relationships and affairs in order before they die.

“Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.” (Leviticus 19:11)

B. Facing Death

“For the living know that they will die.”

(Ecclesiastes 9:5)

•     Death is Designed

Embracing the God-given gift of life means accepting death as part of life’s package. The moment you are born, you take the first step toward death. One of the characteristics of spiritual maturity is recognizing death as a natural part of God’s design.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1–2)

Q   “What can I say to a friend who is grieving because of a terminal illness?”

Being there and listening is more important than talking. Be slow to use Scripture, and when you do, choose only those verses that are uplifting.

“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)

•     Death is a Doorway

Death can be a doorway to a more abundant (eternal) life, or it can be the gateway to eternal misery. Death is not an end to life, but a beginning. We are born with a heart’s desire to live forever, and only through faith in Christ can we reach out and embrace God’s promise of eternal life.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13–14)

Q   “Why is accepting death so difficult?”

For some people it is fear of the unknown, and for others it is a feeling of overwhelming regret or loneliness. Fortunately, genuine faith in Christ makes it easier to accept death. When you become a Christian, you become a part of God’s family and have God’s assurance that you are never alone.”

“For the Lord will not reject his people; he will never forsake his inheritance.” (Psalm 94:14)

•     Death is Divine

The reality for all Christians is that you have already died! God’s desire for you as His child is death to self and submission to the divine life of Christ living within you, expressing His life through you.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Q   “Isn’t all joy in life gone once you accept the fact that death is near?”

As a Christian, when you begin to accept your own impending death, each day will become more meaningful. Valuing the little things in life that you had once taken for granted, you can actually experience more joy in life.

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” (Psalm 30:11)

II.    Characteristics

Hearing the words—“I’m sorry to have to give you this report,” or “The tests have confirmed what we suspected,”—hits your heart like a bombshell.… The initial shock is devastating. Once all medical hope is gone, a residue of shattered emotions leaves both you and your family fighting your way through a minefield of emotional pain. But with each step on this precarious and disorderly path of grief, you can make progress toward accepting the reality of death.

“My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.”

(Psalm 55:4–5)

Stages of Grief

A. Shocked! (First Stage)

The world has stopped.… Time stands still. When you first hear a diagnosis of terminal illness, the initial response is shock. Your heart is gripped with the agony of paralyzing fear, and reality seems far away.

“The waves of death swirled about me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.”

(2 Samuel 22:5)

•     Numbness

—  “This can’t be happening.… This isn’t real.”

•     Terror

—  “I feel gripped with fear.… I am afraid to die.”

•     Confusion

—  “What do I do first?… I don’t know what to do!”

•     Panic

—  “I can’t face this.… I just want to escape.”

How to Respond in Love

•     Go with your loved one to the doctor’s office. (When receiving a negative diagnosis, most people hear only 30 percent of the doctor’s words.)

•     Ask questions and take notes of what the doctor says.

•     Listen to thoughts and feelings.

•     Look for different ways to offer encouragement and hope.

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

(Galatians 6:2)

B. Shattered! (Second Stage)

Emotional fallout! Your lifelong dreams are now shattered, creating unpredictable movement through denial, anger, bargaining and depression. Unfortunately, many people never move beyond the borders of this emotional defense against reality.

“I said, ‘In the prime of my life must I go through the gates of death and be robbed of the rest of my years?’ ”

(Isaiah 38:10)

•     Denial

—  “The doctor didn’t say I was incurable.”

—  “I really think I’m getting better.”

How to Respond in Love

•     Don’t insist on forcing the truth.

•     Avoid making any negative comments or responding to untrue statements.

•     Repeat the doctor’s words.

•     Make gentle suggestions toward the truth.

“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”

(Psalm 51:6)

•     Anger

—  “God, why have You let this happen to me?”

—  “Why didn’t the doctor detect this sooner?”

How to Respond in Love

—  Allow your loved one freedom to be angry.

—  Avoid any judgmental attitudes toward the display of anger.

—  Face your own anger and hostility.

—  Seek to uncover the fear that anger is masking.

“A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.”

(Proverbs 12:16)

•     Bargaining

—  “If I dedicate my life to God, maybe He’ll let me live.”

—  “I know I’m going to die, but just let me live long enough to see my daughter get married.”

How to Respond in Love

•     Realize it is natural not to want to die.

•     Accept bargaining as a legitimate part of the grief process.

•     Adopt a wait-and-see attitude about what God is going to do.

•     Recognize that sometimes God honors bargaining.

“Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?”

(Job 11:7)

•     Depression

—  “I have lost all control of my life. I feel so helpless.”

—  “I am so tired of searching for answers. I feel like giving up.”

How to Respond in Love

•     Know that depression is often anger turned inward.

•     Look for ways to affirm the patient’s worth and usefulness.

•     If necessary, care enough to compassionately confront. (Sometimes severe depression needs to be addressed directly.)

•     Lovingly seek to encourage expression of emotions and feelings.

“The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.”

(Proverbs 20:5)

C. Sheltered (Third Stage)

Shelter of safety … territory is gained in the emotional battlefield of acceptance. When your heart is willing to trust in God’s love, you depend on His grace to live day by day. A new freedom emerges within … the freedom to live or die under the “shelter of His wings.”

“I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.”

(Psalm 61:4)

•     Acceptance

—  “Do I really want to fight God’s will? I realize that I will die soon.”

•     Peace

—  “God is in total control of my life. He is working out His plan for me.”

•     Growth

—  “Life is much more meaningful when I live one day at a time.”

•     Freedom

—  “I no longer fear death.… I know I will live with God forever.”

How to Respond in Love

•     Communicate with a cheerful spirit.

•     Share your love and affection.

•     Pray for and with your loved one.

•     Stay involved. (Frequent brief visits and offering practical help are more desirable than a few lengthy stays.)

“Be joyful always; pray continually.”

(1 Thessalonians 5:16–17)

Q   “How is it possible to live with the emotional stress of knowing that you are going to die?”

Such knowledge should force you to focus on God’s purpose for your life and teach you to live for what is really important.

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:28–29)

III.   Causes

The universal response to news of a fatal illness is why? why me? why now? Accepting your own impending death is one of the most difficult challenges in life. While Scripture holds no promise that you will always know the why’s in life, it is not wrong to ask, “Why?” Face to face with His own death, Jesus Himself cried out to the Father—

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

(Matthew 27:46)

A. Why, Lord? Why?

•     Sin (Illness is sometimes the normal consequence of sin.)

—  Adam and Eve’s disobedience before God (original sin) brought the reality of pain and death into the life of everyone. (Read Genesis chapter 3.)

—  Our personal habits or sins may sometimes carry consequences of sickness and death. (God does not cause sickness as a punishment, but He may allow natural consequences.)

“Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 11:27–30)

•     Satan (God allows Satan limited power to cause affliction.)

—  Although Job was a godly man, God allowed him to be afflicted by Satan.

“Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.’ ‘Skin for skin!’ Satan replied. ‘A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.’ ” (Job 2:3–6)

—  God allowed His servant Paul to be afflicted by Satan.

“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” (2 Corinthians 12:7)

•     Spiritual Growth (God’s purpose for suffering is the strengthening of faith.)

—  The Lord uses affliction to help us learn what He has said.

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” (Psalm 119:71)

—  The Lord uses affliction to teach us to obey what He has said.

“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.” (Psalm 119:67)

•     Spiritual Glory (The result of suffering can bring great glory to God.)

—  As a Christian your right response to a terminal illness will bring honor to God.

“So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, ‘Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!’ He replied, ‘You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’ In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” (Job 2:7–10)

—  God is honored through the blessing of a supernatural healing.

“As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ He called out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ‘Lord, I want to see,’ he replied. Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.” (Luke 18:35–43)

B. Root Cause

When life is threatened, your emotions wage war in the battlefield of your mind. If bitterness is allowed to control your thinking … you will continue to fight God’s ultimate plan for your life.

Wrong Belief:

“God is not fair! Why can’t I live the expected number of years or an average life span?”

Right Belief:

My life is not my own. Since I belong to God, I can rest in the assurance that He will act with total fairness and love toward me, both in my life and my death.

“If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8)

IV.  Steps to Solution

A. Key Verse to Memorize

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

(Psalm 23:4)

B. Key Passage to Read and Reread

2 Corinthians 4:16–5:5

Do Not Lose Hope …

•     Though outwardly you waste away,         4:16

•     Your inner life grows day by day,            4:16

•     And present pain will be replaced,           4:17

•     With grandest glory interlaced.    4:17

•     Let go this view of what life brings,         4:18

•     And turn your heart toward godly things.            4:18

•     Your earthly tent can never stand,            5:1

•     For your new home is from God’s hand.  5:1

•     Though hearts may long for what is lost,  5:2–4

•     Soon heaven’s doorway can be crossed.  5:2–4

•     The Holy Spirit whispers clear,     5:5

•     “I am in you—have no fear.”        5:5

C. Facing Eternity

The Reality of Heaven

No matter how desperately you cling, this earthly life will never satisfy the longing for eternity that the Lord has placed in your heart. You were created to enjoy unending fellowship with God and His children in heaven. Yes, heaven—a real place—a place of beauty called the Holy City, a perfect place where all believers will worship God forever.

“It [heaven] shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.”

(Revelation 21:11)

Heaven is not …

•     the end of all existence

•     a state of unconscious bliss

•     union with some spiritual life force

•     the final destination for everyone

•     a myth to make you feel better

Heaven is …

•     the place where God lives

“Hear from heaven, your dwelling place.” (1 Kings 8:30)

•     the place of no hunger or thirst

“Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.” (Revelation 7:16)

•     the place of no crying or pain

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more … crying or pain.” (Revelation 21:4)

•     the place of no death or mourning

“There will be no more death or mourning.” (Revelation 21:4)

•     the place of no impurity or evil

“Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful.” (Revelation 21:27)

The Reality of Hell

Satan is the supreme master at convincing people that eternal punishment does not exist. Many people think a loving God would not create such a horrible place as hell, much less sentence someone to spend eternity there. The truth is, God does not send people to hell—people choose their own destiny through unbelief.

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

(John 3:18)

God is indeed a God of love, but He is also a God of wrath based on His holiness and justice. His character will not allow an unrepentant heart to go unpunished. God created heaven as a home for His people, but He also created hell—a real place for Satan and his rebellious angels. After judgment, hell is the final destiny for those who have rejected the Redeemer.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’ ”

(Matthew 25:41)

Hell is not …

•     the end of all existence

•     an unconscious separation from God

•     an earthly return to life in a lower form

•     the misery and sorrow experienced now on earth

•     a myth to induce fear

Hell is …

•     a place of weeping and torment

“They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:42)

•     a place of wrath and anger

“For those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” (Romans 2:8)

•     a place of eternal fire

“Into hell, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ ” (Mark 9:47–48)

•     a place of confinement and conscious separation from God

“Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed.” (Luke 16:26)

•     a place of condemnation and punishment

“Their condemnation has long been hanging over them.” (2 Peter 2:3)

D. Preparing for Reality

Perhaps your own emotional war is being won. But how is your family coping with your illness? The best way to overcome the concerns you may have for your family is to “put your house in order.” Many decisions can be made that will lighten the load of your loved ones.

“This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”

(2 Kings 20:1)

Reality

Record Your Will.

•     Be sure your will is legally documented.

•     Make a list of specific items for special family and friends.

•     Think about a bequest to your church and respected ministries.

•     Pray about offering to become an organ donor.

•     Consider making a “living will” that states your medical decisions.

“A will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living.” (Hebrews 9:17)

Express Your Desires.

•     Choose whom you want to conduct the service.

•     Select meaningful poems, music and Scripture.

•     Designate the pallbearers and favorite musicians.

•     Name organizations that you want to receive memorials.

•     Communicate where you want your funeral held.

“By faith Joseph, when his end was near … gave instructions about his bones.” (Hebrews 11:22)

Arrange Your Affairs.

•     Select one person to have your power of attorney.

•     Gather your important documents in one place (insurance, investments, key to safety deposit box).

•     Secure legal guardianship for any dependents.

•     Write out the names of persons to be contacted (lawyers, family, friends).

•     Communicate your decisions to your dependents.

“David gave his son Solomon the plans for the portico of the temple.… ‘All this,’ David said, ‘I have in writing from the hand of the Lord upon me, and he gave me understanding in all the details of the plan.’ ” (1 Chronicles 28:11, 19)

Leave a Legacy of Love.

•     Share the significance of your Christian faith with others.

•     Communicate love, appreciation and words you’ve always wanted to say.

•     Record your thoughts in a journal or on tape to family members.

•     Write, phone or visit special old friends.

•     Mend broken relationships with, “I’m sorry” or “Please forgive me.”

Just before the death of the apostle Paul, he said to his beloved son in the faith,

“I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.” (2 Timothy 1:3–4)

Identify Your Fears.

     Fear of death Examine   your life to be sure you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
     Fear of pain Physical   pain can be controlled through properly administered medication without fear   of chemical addiction.
     Fear of loneliness God   has promised that He will never leave you nor forsake you.
     Fear of losing control It   is good that God is in control—He   can manage better than you can.
     Fear of abandonment The   Lord will be the Provider for your loved ones. It is on Christ they should   learn to lean.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” (Psalm 46:1–2)

Trust Your God.

•     God has a purpose for everything that happens to you.

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21)

•     God never gives you more than you can bear emotionally.

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

•     God’s thoughts and ways are not your thoughts and ways.

“ ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8)

•     God promises a silver lining behind your darkest cloud.

“We all know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

•     God holds on to you even if you let go of Him.

“If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13)

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5–6)

Yield Your Heart.

•     Submit your will to God’s will and be at peace with Him.

“[Jesus prayed] My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

•     Choose to reflect Christ’s spirit.

“May my spirit reflect Christ’s spirit of hope and humility.”

”A man’s spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” (Proverbs 18:14)

•     Allow Christ to live in your heart.

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” (Ephesians 3:16)

•     Respond to your circumstances with the strength of Christ.

“Whatever the struggle, in Christ’s strength I will do what You call me to do.”

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

•     Anticipate God’s promise of hope for the future.

“Lord, I look forward to experiencing all that You’ve planned for me in heaven.”

“However, as it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.’ ” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

“ ‘Now then,’ said Joshua, ‘throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.’ ” (Joshua 24:23)

E. Leading the Way to the Lord

If someone you know has a terminal illness, leading that person to the Lord is a job not just for professional ministers of the church. God alone prepares the heart, but you are called to share sensitively what it means to trust Christ as Savior. Those who are close to death are often more receptive to spiritual things, thus opening the door for you to be what God calls a “minister of reconciliation” … explaining that Jesus is the means of reconciliation with God the Father.

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

(2 Corinthians 5:20)

•     start with prayer for God’s blessing on your time together.

“The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just.” (Psalm 37:30)

•     Seek to be alone with the person who is dying.

“When [Jesus] was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.” (Mark 4:34)

•     Speak directly about judgment and eternal life.

—  “Are you ready to meet God if He should call you today?”

—  “If you were to die tonight, do you know for sure that you would go to heaven?”

“Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)

•     Share the problem of sin in simple terms.

—  “Like a stray arrow, every person has missed the target of God’s holy standard. We have willfully chosen what we knew was wrong. God calls our wrong attitudes and actions sin.”

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

•     State the consequences of sin.

—  “You deserve a salary for your work. These wages are your deserved payment. God says because of our self-willed sin, we deserve death, which means eternal separation from God.”

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

•     Specify God’s solution to sin.

—  “If someone could and would exchange his healthy body for your diseased body, what would happen? He would die, and you would live! Jesus Christ did that for you—He took the punishment for sin that you deserved and died in your place so that you could live with God forever.”

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

•     Set forth the purpose of Jesus.

—  “In heaven there is God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit. Jesus, who is God the Son, knew that our sins would separate us from Him. Jesus didn’t want us to be separated, so He left heaven, came to earth and lived a sinless life. Upon His death, He chose to take the penalty for our sin upon Himself—the penalty of death that we should have paid. Jesus died for our sins. If we humble our hearts and receive Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior—giving Him total control of our lives—then He forgives us for all our sins, and we receive eternal life.”

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

•     Single out Christ as the only way to be saved.

—  “Assume that you were sick in Russia and desperately needed medicine that your money couldn’t buy. All of a sudden, you hear that a gift has been offered to you. Not aspirin, not cough medicine, but the only medicine that could save you—antibiotics. For the antibiotic to be effective, you would need to receive the medicine and take it. Salvation is like that. You need to receive the gift with faith and apply it to your life. God says your salvation is based on your faith in Jesus Christ alone.”

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ ” (John 14:6)

•     Suggest a prayer of salvation.

—  “Would you like to receive Christ right now through prayer?”

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31)

Prayer of Salvation
God,   I admit that I have sinned. Many times I’ve gone my own way instead of Your   way. Please forgive me for all my sins. Thank You, Jesus, for dying on the   cross to pay the penalty for my sins. Come into my life to be my Lord and   Savior. Take control of my life and make me the person You want me to be.   Thank You, Jesus, for what You will do in me, to me and through me.Amen. 
Hospice Care
An Angelic Alternative
“We ought therefore to show hospitality to such   men so that we may work together for the truth.”
(3 John 8)
Like   a bridge between expensive hospital facilities and the medically insufficient   care found in most homes, hospice care is a desirable option for many   families—providing a caring environment for the terminally ill as they travel   to the end of this life.
Home team   effort
The   hospice care team leader supervises a unified plan that includes nursing,   physician calls, family counseling, homemaking services, volunteer help and   spiritual support.
Overall   approach
Hospice   care provides a coordinated system of physical, emotional and spiritual care   for the terminally ill and their families.
Specialized   services
Physical   therapy, medical equipment and supplies, nutritional counseling, meal   planning and other similar services are supplied as needed.
Pain control
Hospice   care tries to prevent pain from occurring rather than just giving relief on   demand. All medical knowledge is used to keep pain under control.
Involvement   with family
Hospice   teams assist and educate the family members or caregivers in ways to make   their job easier. Follow-up, support and counseling are also provided for   family members for up to one year after the patient’s death.
Cost   effectiveness
Hospice   care is between 20 and 40 percent less expensive than staying in a hospital.   The percentage of savings can be even greater during the final weeks of life.
Emphasis on   quality of life
The   main goal of hospice care is to allow the patient to die with dignity and   self-respect in a worry free, loving environment.

Selected Bibliography

With appreciation for early editorial assistance from Jan Pettigrew, Ph.D. and R.N., oncology and grief crisis counselor.

Albers, Gregg R. Counseling the Sick and Terminally Ill. Resources for Christian Counseling, ed. Gary R. Collins, vol. 20. Dallas: Word, 1989.

Bayly, Joseph. The Last Thing We Talk About. Rev. ed. Elgin, IL: David C. Cook, 1973.

Becton, Randy. Everyday Strength: A Cancer Patient’s Guide to Spiritual Survival. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989.

Burkett, Larry, and Michael E. Taylor. Damaged but Not Broken: A Personal Testimony of How to Deal with the Impact of Cancer. Chicago: Moody, 1996.

Chapin, Shelley. Within the Shadow. Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1991.

Davidson, Glen W. Living with Dying: A Guide for Relatives & Friends. Rev. and expanded ed. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1990.

Dodd, Robert V. When You Are Terminally Ill: Preparing to Face Death. Nashville: Abingdon, 1989.

Fintel, William A., and Gerald R. McDermott. Dear God, It’s Cancer: A Medical and Spiritual Guide for Patients and Their Families. Rev. ed. Dallas: Word, 1997.

Fintel, William A., and Gerald R. McDermott. A Medical and Spiritual Guide to Living with Cancer: A Complete Handbook for Patients and Their Families. Dallas: Word, 1993.

Frähm, Anne E., and David J. Frähm. Cancer Battle Plan: Six Strategies for Beating Cancer from a Recovered “Hopeless Case”. Colorado Springs, CO: Piñon, 1992.

Gaes, Geralyn, Craig Gaes, and Philip Bashe. You Don’t Have to Die: One Family’s Guide to Surviving Childhood Cancer. New York: Villard, 1992.

Hawkins, Don, Daniel L. Koppersmith, and Ginger Koppersmith. When Cancer Comes. Chicago: Moody, 1993.

Hunt, June. Counseling Through Your Bible Handbook. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2007.

Hunt, June. How to Forgive … When You Don’t Feel Like It. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2007.

Hunt, June. How to Handle Your Emotions. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.

Hunt, June. Seeing Yourself Through God’s Eyes. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.

Kolf, June Cerza. Comfort and Care for the Critically Ill. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993.

Kopp, Ruth, and Stephen Sorenson. When Someone You Love Is Dying: A Handbook for Counselors and Those Who Care. Ministry Resources Library. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985.

Landrum, Faye. The Final Mile: A Wife’s Response to Her Husband’s Terminal Illness. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1999.

Link, John. The Breast Cancer Survival Manual: A Step-by-Step Guide for the Woman with Newly Diagnosed Breast Cancer. 2nd ed. New York: Owl, 2000.

Maddox, Robert L. Prostate Cancer: What I Found Out & What You Should Know. Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw, 1997.

Mehl, Ron. Surprise Endings. Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1993.

Moster, Mary Beth. Living with Cancer. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1979.

Olmstead, Lois. Breast Cancer and Me. Camp Hill, PA: Christian, 1996.

Orr, Robert D., David L. Schiedermayer, and David B. Biebel. Life & Death Decisions: Help in Making Tough Choices About Bioethical Issues. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1990.

Packo, John E. Coping with Cancer: 12 Creative Choices. Camp Hill, PA: Christian, 1991.

Vos, Mirth. Letters to Myself on Dying: A Journal of Hope, Pain, and Courage. Grand Rapids: Baker and CRC, 1999.

Walsh, Sheila. Stories from the River of Mercy: A True Journey of Two Women Who Find Grace and Mercy in Deep Blue Waters. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000.

West, Kari. Dare to Trust Dare to Hope Again: Living with Losses of the Heart. Colorado Springs, CO: Faithful Woman, 2002.[1]


[1] Hunt, J. (2008). Biblical Counseling Keys on Terminal Illness: How Can I Ever Let Go? (1–21). Dallas, TX: Hope For The Heart.


TERMINAL (Illness)

Visiting one terminally ill, 2 Kings 13:14.

Sick and dying, Job 17:1 (lb).

Desiring death at home, Job 29:18.

Guidance when dying, Psalm 23:4 (lb).

Hoping for someone’s death, Psalm 41:7–9 (lb).

Terminal illness, Isaiah 38:1.

Seeming inequity of death of righteous, Isaiah 57:1–2.[1]

Terminal Illness

Some diseases and injuries people simply do not beat. Eventually, one of them will fell every one of us. Those with knowledge of the specific one, we call terminally ill. It’s a mixed blessing.

My father died in 1980 of pancreatic cancer. For several months prior to his death, he wasn’t at all well. Heart problems led to coronary bypass surgery, but when he should have been feeling much better after the surgery, he wasn’t. Finally, great discomfort and a jaundice-like state forced him back into the hospital. Exploratory surgery confirmed our worst fears: widespread, inoperable cancer. He was given up to six months to live. God mercifully took him within a month.

So for a few weeks, Dad knew he was terminally ill. We all knew it, and it gave us the opportunity to transact some final, hard but satisfying interpersonal business. I remember standing on a sidewalk outside the hospital grasping the hand of my toddler son and holding my infant daughter—his only grandchildren. He wanted to see them, but he didn’t want them to remember him looking as he did. He waved jauntily from the hospital window; the children smiled and waved back, not knowing they’d never see Grandpa again. But he got to savor them one last time.

Another day I sat on his hospital bed, although I knew it wasn’t good bedside manners. We spoke of many things—mostly good things like fishing trips and my “swinging like a rusty gate” when he taught me how to bat. We laughed. We related as men. He proudly introduced me to a physician as “My son, Doctor Berkley.” When the internist started discussing medical technicalities, I had to let him know my doctorate was in ministry, not medicine.

I’m thankful I had that final time with my dad. We didn’t talk about death, but we both implied it. Instead, we affirmed each other and our family and how good it was to be father and son. Because we knew of the terminal quality of his illness, we could make sure a day like that happened.

For all the beneficial aspects of knowing, there are also drawbacks. Seeing my father weakened, dependent, and fading was not easy. Realizing that berserk cells were that minute multiplying and taking life from the one who had given me life was disquieting. None of us likes to see a loved one weaken and die, so in that respect terminal disease is terribly hard. Bit by bit, death wrenches first health and then life from the one we love, and we can do nothing.

But my acclimatizing to the notion was nothing compared to my father’s. I would have to learn to live without him; he would soon not be living. I worried about my mother; he felt as if he were abandoning her. I didn’t like to see him in pain; he had to bear it. I had to face the notion of death; he stared the reality face to grim face.

How thankful I was for the loving and competent care of my parents’ pastor, Ted! He helped my mother and father face the dragon because he stood beside them all the way. He called on them regularly. He prayed with them. He talked with them. He wasn’t full of cheap answers, but costly grace. That’s the role of pastor in terminal crises.

Terminal Care

How do you break the news of impending death? Or even more basic, should you tell a person he’s dying? Two words enter in at this point: hope and honesty. For the critically ill or injured, hope is a vital ingredient for recovery. Kennedy writes, “Study after study has revealed that those patients whose hope is destroyed also do worst in dealing with their injuries or other illness. It is the vital stuff, the ‘right stuff’ indeed, at a time of physical danger.”

On the other hand, many illnesses have almost certain outcomes. Barring a miracle, my father was not going to recover from pancreatic cancer. A leukemia victim in the final stages of the disease will likely not recover. People such as these have exercised a vast amount of hope, and now the time comes for honesty—our honesty with them, and their honesty with themselves.

Kennedy asks: “Suppose the person asks directly whether he or she is dying? This is by no means an unusual question, and it is not one to which we could respond with a lie or a major distortion of the facts. If, in fact, the person is dying, one can say ‘Yes,’ but not in the tones of a tolling bell.… It can be uttered in the tones of one who is sticking with the patient or the victim and who will remain there to fight it out as long as possible.”

The terminal patient commonly senses abandonment. From entering the hospital, she ceases being a sentient adult with a personality and becomes a number. Bodily functions of pulse and blood pressure and elimination become more important than a preference for strangers to call her “Mrs. Jones” rather than “Barbara” or “Honey.” People are making decisions for her, and she may have little or no say in her own treatment.

  1. Norman Wright lists in Crisis Counseling four ways abandonment occurs: Communicating in brief and formal monologues, in which those around the patient do nearly all the talking and never allow the person to express inner fears and hurts; treating the person as a nonperson by talking about him as if he weren’t there; ignoring or rejecting times when the patient approaches the subject of death, or papering them over with vacuous statements like, “Oh, you don’t want to think that”; and literal abandonment, in which people avoid the patient or narrow contacts to the perfunctory.

The great need is to free the terminally ill person to talk about his or her needs and fears, to express those things that shouldn’t have to be borne alone. This is where a pastor, secure about the realities of life and death, can open a door for a lonely and sometimes isolated person.[2]

Dying, Pastoral Care of. A specialized type of ministry to dying individuals and their families, relatives, and friends. The caring pastor is a symbol of religious faith and an active spiritual life. Around the death experience, his or her presence and tangible ministry are much appreciated and welcomed by all communities and cultures. The pastor represents assurance, comfort, and hope in a time of great uncertainty, transition, and need.

Death and dying have been a major focus in religious education, human services, spiritual ministry, and helping professions for decades. Both the physical death (cessation of bodily functions) and the theological death (separation from God) have been the center of much thought and attention in biblical literature.

Dying is a process. It is similar, in some ways, to other major processes of life. Care for the dying is in the heart of pastoral ministry. People need pastoral contact. It is a central part of the Christian call and an essential way of showing incarnational love. The dying process affects the psychosocial roles and attitudes of the people involved. An understanding of thanatology is essential for the helping professional who comes in frequent contact with the dying persons.

The dying person looks to the pastor for assurance of faith, company in the midst of fears and loneliness, help in communicating with his or her family, perhaps for the last time, guidance in reflecting on the quality of life, and, finally, comfort in a major transition as the self prepares to leave the body and the familiar physical world. Also, survivors look to their pastor for help with family arrangements, funeral and burial planning, as well as personal decisions and social demands. The minister needs to be prepared to serve as a major support system for a long while after the death, especially when the survivor is an older widow(er).

For some individuals, death is the worst aspect of life. They try to avoid any reminder of it at any cost. In certain families, death is never discussed. Some children grow up naive in this area, having to create their own unrealistic concepts of separation, loss, and mortality. They become protected from the real experiences of life and, too often, are left alone to develop their own distorted views of death.

People’s view of death is shaped by their cultural background, religious beliefs, community heritage, social norms, personal philosophy, and individual worldview. Some view death as a real stranger, an ugly disturber, or an aggressive intruder into normal living. They perceive it as the ultimate problem and serious enemy of life. Others view death, including pain and suffering, as integral parts of life. They possess a natural ability to integrate its reality with the broader reality of existence, and, therefore, reconcile the concept of dying with the idea of living. To them, death virtually gives meaning to life.

Western societies tend to perceive death as an enemy which must be conquered or as an obstacle which must be overcome. Modern medical sciences, especially, try to go to a great extent in order to stop, reverse, or control the dying process. Perhaps health care providers tend to view death as a failure or a defeat. They indirectly, or unconsciously, engage in a war against it, employing sophisticated technologies and powerful medications possibly more than the average dying patient can bear.

In the mind of the dying person and his or her family members or loved ones, the pastor is an agent of genuine comfort, spiritual guidance, and existential stability as they, together, go through significant mental and emotional adjustments. In their mind, the pastor represents both a spiritual connection with the after-life and a supportive social agency. As the condition of the dying progresses further and death becomes inevitable, family and friends normally begin to feel closer to each other and to their minister. Therefore, they start to look forward to his or her presence, receive his or her guidance, increasingly rely on his or her judgment, and depend on his or her nurture and soul care.

The pastor is usually called upon to help in making crucial decisions involving moral, medical, ethical, and familial issues. The situation can be highly charged and complex. For example, they need to decide whether to continue treatment in the case of a terminal illness, to remove life-support machines from an unconscious family member (young or old), or to bring the dying person home from the hospital for his or her last days. Reasonable suggestions, sound interventions, adequate care, and appropriate resolutions may be, at times, difficult to formulate and achieve especially when there is tension in the family, opposing views among the professionals, and conflictual feelings toward the dying person.

The clergy, like any other helping professional, may find himself or herself in the midst of an intense situation, a major accident, a sudden loss, or a social crisis. Besides being knowledgeable and ready to help spiritually and existentially (with meaningful Scripture readings and compassionate prayers), ministers should acquaint themselves with the issues related to grief, loss, bereavement, terminal illnesses, biomedical ethics, family dynamics, crisis intervention, stress management, and conflict resolution. It is essential to realize that the pastor is not dealing only with one dying individual but with a circle of family members, relatives, and close friends (and at times, even adversaries) in whom the anticipated death has stirred a host of issues, emotions, behaviors, and attitudes.

So, caring for the dying person means also caring for those who are around him or her who perhaps are equally affected by the process of death. The pastor may succeed, at times, in helping facilitate the intense emotions, express the deep thoughts, and disclose the unresolved matters and, by doing so, helping family members reach some resolution and closure. The pastor may witness healing of past wounds, relief from current tensions, and emergence of fresh communication, transparency, and mutual forgiveness. He or she may be instrumental in causing substantial emotional cleanliness, spiritual renewal, or a marvelous sense of bonding, closeness, and affection. All this usually leads to a smooth ending, significant relief, and a peaceful death.

However, this is not the case all the time. In many instances, the death occurs without any possibility for peace, closure, or resolution. Instead, people become highly resistant, more divided, and deeply resentful as they drift further apart, perhaps not to see each other again. Therefore, the minister must not place high expectations on himself or herself or on the situation but rather he or she should realistically deal with such unfortunate losses, major disappointments, and missed opportunities.

Finally, the caring pastor ought to face his or her own mortality and become at ease with his or her own dying process. Being able to accept one’s progressive or final death and prepare oneself, ahead of time, to grieve, let go, and say good-bye, is a virtue and a sign of emotional maturity. This helps make the pastor a more refined person, a more seasoned professional, and a more effective people helper as he or she cares for both the living and the dying. In addition, the pastor’s role is to heighten other people’s awareness of death and to teach them about healthy grieving so they can better face their future separations and losses.

Additional Readings

Aiken, L. R. (1991). Dying, death, and bereavement (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Cox, G. R., & Fundis, R. J. (Eds.). (1992). Spiritual, ethical and pastoral aspects of death and bereavement [Death, value, and meaning series]. Amityville, NY: Baywood.

Mauritzen, J. (1988). Pastoral care for the dying and bereaved. Death Studies, 12, 111–122.

Parry, J. K. (Ed.). (1990). Social work practice with the terminally ill: A transcultural perspective. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

  1. Abi-Hashem[3]

Facing Death

When I knew that my wife, Frances, was terminally ill, I wrote to tell Billy Graham about it. He replied with a long letter of comfort. But as long as I live I will never forget one statement he made. He wrote, “I long for heaven, but I dread getting out of this old body.”

That is the natural feeling of every faithful Christian. Paul himself in essence said the same thing in Philippians 1:21–23.[4]

TERMINAL CARE

Terminal care may be provided within a general or specialist unit. The patient may be transferred to hospice care or be nursed at home with specialist help from the home care team. There is a significant relationship between spirituality and wellbeing during terminal illness, which makes an important contribution to the patient’s quality of life (Reed, 1987). One important issue to consider is that whatever the nature of the illness, the patient will have reached a stage on the spiritual journey at his own pace and in relation to his individual experience. People journey in different ways and this needs to be recognised and accepted by all carers. The provision of spiritual care needs to be matched to the agenda and needs of the patient and not to the agenda prescribed by the carer.

An area needing a fine balancing act is where what the patient needs and wants has to be brought into some kind of coherence with the family needs. The family might be experiencing a strong compulsion to impose their own agenda on the patient, and feel fear, guilt or frustration when this is not being accepted. Families may need expert help to communicate support for the patient, to understand the real need and to cope with their own feelings of rejection if these offers of help are not wanted. There is no worse legacy than failure to communicate, which can block a relationship. This is often evident when the patient is denied access to information which the family has and when issues which need to be shared and discussed together are avoided deliberately.

Whatever happens it is important to avoid over-cosseting patients and making decisions for them. It is essential to allow time for them to reach their own decisions and not to be rushed into premature action. Sometimes families are too anxious to take over responsibilities when the sick person might well be able to continue with some areas of activity which will bring a sense of being worthwhile and bring value to their life for as long as possible.

Example

Jane, once a very active person, had become blind and partially paralysed for many years after a viral infection and her incapacity left her depressed and frustrated. One of the staff discovered she had some movement in her little finger and was able to get her fixed up with a specially adapted typewriter. (There were no computers in her day.) She was then able to write several letters daily, which gave her great satisfaction as this became her one means of communication with the outside world and allowed her a degree of autonomy and independence which she cherished. She was able to write letters for fellow patients and run her own correspondence club, which gave her a new purpose in life and became a joy to many others as well until she died.[5]

What Does the Bible Say about Coping/Dealing with a Terminal Illness?

It certainly can be difficult to accept some of the sorrowful twists and turns that life brings our way. And there are few things that can stir the human soul more than the news of a terminal illness diagnosis. First of all, know that Jesus cares. Our Savior wept when His beloved friend Lazarus died (John 11:35), and His heart was touched by the sorrow of Jairus’ family (Luke 8:41–42).

Jesus not only cares; He is at hand to help His children. Our God is an “ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). The Holy Spirit, the Comforter of our hearts, dwells with us, and He will never leave (John 14:16).

Jesus told us in this world we would have troubles (John 16:33), and absolutely no one is spared (Romans 5:12). Yet coping with any degree of suffering becomes easier when we understand God’s overall design to redeem our fallen world. We may not be guaranteed physical health in this life, but those who trust in God are promised spiritual security for all eternity (John 10:27–28). Nothing can touch the soul.

It is good to remember that not everything bad that happens to us is a direct result of our sin. Having a terminal illness is not proof of God’s judgment on an individual. Recall the time Jesus and His disciples came upon a man who had been blind since birth. They asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus responded, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. But this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:2–3, emphasis added). Likewise, Job’s three friends were certain that his calamity resulted from sin in his life. Like Christ’s disciples, they were very wrong.

We may never understand the reasons for our particular trials this side of eternity, but one thing is clear—for those who love God, trials work for them, not against them (Romans 8:28). Moreover, God will give the strength to endure any trial (Philippians 4:13).

Our earthly life is a “mist” at best, and that’s why God has set eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). God’s plan for His children includes their death, which is “precious in the sight of the LORD” (Psalm 116:15).

Ultimately, God’s will for us is to glorify Him and to grow spiritually. He wants us to trust and depend on Him. How we react to our trials, including the trial of terminal illness, reveals exactly what our faith is like. Scripture teaches us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). In fact, “dying to self” is a requirement for those who seek to follow Jesus Christ (Luke 14:27). This means we completely subordinate our desires to those of our Lord. Like Christ at Gethsemane, “my” will needs to become “Thy” will.

The writer of Hebrews exhorts us to consider the suffering our Savior endured so that we ourselves do not grow weary and lose heart in our own trials. It was “for the joy set before Him” that Christ was able to endure the suffering of the cross. This “joy,” for Christ, was in obeying His Father’s will (Psalm 40:8), reconciling His Father with His creation, and being exalted to the right hand of the throne of God. Likewise, our own trials can be made more bearable when we consider the “joy” set before us. Our joy may come in understanding it is through testing that God transforms us into the likeness of His Son (Job 23:10; Romans 8:29). What we see as pain and discomfort and uncertainty our sovereign Father—who ordains or allows every event during our time on earth—sees as transformation. Our suffering is never meaningless. God uses suffering to change us, to minister to others, and, ultimately, to bring glory to His name.

Paul reminds us that our earthly troubles, which last only a short time, pale in comparison to our eternal glory (2 Corinthians 4:17–18). Commenting on these verses, one theologian stated, “God will never be a debtor to anyone. Any sacrifice we make or hardship we endure for His sake and by His Spirit, He will amply reward out of all proportion to what we suffered.”

If you have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, we would humbly offer this advice: make sure that you are a true child of God, having trusted Jesus as your Savior (Romans 10:9–10). Then, as Hezekiah was told, “put your house in order” (Isaiah 38:1); that is, make sure your will is ready and other important arrangements have been made. Use the remaining time God gives you to grow spiritually and minister to others. Continue to rely on the power of God for day-to-day strength, and, as the Lord gives grace, thank Him for your “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7–10). Finally, take comfort in Jesus’ promise of eternal life and peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).[6]

 

[1] Anderson, K. (1996). Where to Find It in the Bible. Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[2] Berkley, J. D. (1989). Called into crisis: the nine greatest challenges of pastoral care (Vol. 18, pp. 119–122). Carol Stream, IL; Dallas, TX: Christianity Today; Word Books.

[3] Benner, D. G., & Hill, P. C. (Eds.). (1999). In Baker encyclopedia of psychology & counseling. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[4] Hobbs, H. H. (1990). My favorite illustrations (p. 75). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

[5] Stoter, D. J. (2008). Spiritual Aspects of Health Care (p. 105). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock.

[6] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

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One thought on “Christian Biblical Counsel: TERMINAL ILLNESS (Updated)

  1. Chiligirl

    its interesting that you will always treat human beings as if they are non believers. what happens when you are talking to a terminal born again, spirit filled, serving, praying christian. Are you going to tell me then that the healing scriptures do not apply to them. then what is God talking about when he says ” you shall do greater things then I?” What is that? How canyou then preach that healing is for everyone when in fact it is not.

    And do not tell me about God’s grace, because I never was the beneficiary of such honour and that is the only thing I know about the gospel. We are living in grace but it never hit me and there is just nothing to do about it.

    Reply

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