We will all, one day, die. That realisation can be a terrifying thought, and one that we are remarkably good at pushing to the back of our minds, but we all have to face it at some point.
Nothing sets you face to face with your own mortality quite as squarely as stage-4 lung cancer. In Hope Beyond Cure, David McDonald tells the story of his own cancer diagnosis. After twenty years of pastoring Crossroads Christian Church in Canberra (my own home church, when I’m in that part of the world), he and his family were getting ready to move and get involved in ministry all the way over in Darwin when cancer arrived and completely demolished their plans. Within a couple of weeks, he went from having big hopes for future ministry to looking at probable death within about a year. This little book is about the hope Dave has — real and powerful hope — even in the midst of his cancer.
Dave notes that there are many things that can give us hope during our life. We can have hope in medicines, in a healthy lifestyle and in loving relationships with others. He reminds us that these are all good things, but, ultimately, they don’t bring lasting hope — all of these things will come to an end with death. Instead, Dave’s primary purpose is to point to a deeper hope, a hope beyond death. He warns us against getting so caught up in the very good hopes that we have in medicine and lifestyle and all the rest that we forget about the very best hope we have — the only hope that will last. I think nearly all of us, in our quest to ignore the reality of death, do this only too often.
So what is this “best hope”, this hope beyond death? Dave explains that it is based on the gospel of Jesus Christ and “the reality that Jesus Christ was crucified, buried in a tomb, and then resurrected from the dead”. He clearly explains that our deepest problem is “not cancer — it’s sin”. It is as a result of our sin that God has allowed pain and suffering to come into the world, but he still loves us and sent Jesus to suffer our punishment in our place. “We can find hope in the face of our own deaths by placing our faith in Jesus’s death. Without Jesus we’re headed for death and judgement, but with Jesus we can look forward to a hope-filled future in relationship with God.”
Dave is careful to show his audience that this hope based on faith in the gospel of Jesus is not misplaced; it is not a crutch invented to soften the difficult reality of death. He honestly tells us how, when faced with his own death, he began to question whether the message he had believed was real. He had to be completely sure. In the book, he shares with us some of the things that have convinced him that his faith is absolutely based on the truth, including the persuasive evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is a really important part of the book, because it shows us that this “hope” is not about making dying people feel good — it’s a genuine, substantial hope that’s based on verifiable truth.
Not only does Dave remind us of the wonderful hope we have in Jesus, he shows us how this hope should influence our life. “…faith and hope set us free to love. We know longer need to worry about our own needs, because God has them covered. And so faith and hope set us free to live — right here and now, even in the midst of pain and suffering — in love”. He reminds us how Jesus suffered terrible things, and how God worked through that terrible suffering to bring us hope. “In a similar way, God is able to bring about great good through our pain and suffering.” Dave relates how God has used his own suffering with lung cancer for great purposes, including in helping him to show love in various ways to others affected by cancer. This was quite inspiring and challenging, I found, because it shows how our hope is not just a passive thing, an insurance, rather it’s something that should motivate us to reach outwards and bring hope and love to others.
Hope Beyond Cure is only a short book, but it’s very encouraging and also potentially quite confronting. It’s a great book to read and to give to anyone: Christian or non-Christian; healthy or sick; young or old. We will all die one day, and we all need to be reminded about the hope that exists beyond cure because of what Jesus has done. It’s especially powerful because it is written by someone who has experienced cancer himself, and been faced with death. It doesn’t feel trite or superficial or misguided: it’s honest and real, as written by someone who has grappled with the big questions that we all have to grapple with some time (but that most of us are putting off).
I will also add that this book has been especially encouraging for me because I know Dave’s family personally, especially his two younger children. I’ve been very encouraged by them and their faith, which was clearly strong even when their Dad was diagnosed. It makes the book all the more powerful, because you can see how their hope actually impacts their lives.
If you want to get a copy of this book, I believe you can order it from http://www.matthiasmedia.com in the US or http://www.matthiasmedia.com.au in the rest of the world. You can also read more stuff from Dave at his blog, macarisms.com.