Monday, December 19, 2011

Grace Along Cancer's Dark Road

Paul D. Wolfe. My God is True!: Lessons Learned Along Cancer’s Dark Road. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009. 150pp.

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

Likely everyone reading this review has either had cancer or knows someone who has had cancer. This is a rare work that presents a realistic view of what it is like to struggle with (and recover from) cancer, written by a man who has received the comforts of a robust biblical and Reformed theology.

Paul Wolfe was only twenty-eight when he was diagnosed with cancer. He was also one month shy of his first wedding anniversary and a student at Westminster Theological Seminary. The book is divided into three sections, having three chapters in each section, with an introduction by Sinclair Ferguson. Each segment begins by telling Wolfe’s story, followed by two chapters of theological and practical reflection. The core of the book consists in a pastorally sensitive treatment of the sovereignty of God, the need to examine the heart in trials, and a sober exhortation to heavenly-mindedness.

A few samples of the spiritual wisdom in this book must suffice for this review. Wolfe notes that he is careful not to speak to people of God’s faithfulness in healing him of his cancer. The reason is that faithfulness implies fulfillment of a promise, whereas God has not promised any individuals that they shall survive cancer or any other illness. Instead, Wolfe tells a story of unmerited grace. This helps us focus more clearly on what God has promised to us: that death shall no longer have victory overt those who are in Christ. By way of illustration, Wolfe tells the story of his mother-in-law, who died after a battle with cancer seven-years after his own struggles. God was no less faithful to her than he was to Wolfe, even though one died and the other lived. They both rested in the same promises and have the same hope of everlasting life (45-46)

Another vital lesson is that Wolfe points to the long-term benefits of the preaching of the Word to prepare us for trials. We know from experience that not every sermon strikes us like a lightning-bolt from heaven. However, what most of us fail to recognize is that the sermons we hear week-by-week may be designed by God to minister to us years down the road (97ff.). This is a much-needed reminder of the necessity of consistently and diligently using the means of grace in the local church.

Lastly, ministry to those who have had cancer should not stop once they are free from the cancer. Even after cancer, people struggle with “presumption” that all will be well because they have already had their fill of suffering, “paralysis” through fear of the future, and “pouting” as a result of the trials that have come through healing (139-143).

This book is not only important to cancer patients, but to the families, friends, and fellow-church members of cancer patients. This book shall provide you with nourishment to sustain you in your trials, as well as insight as to how to minister to those suffering around you.

The preceding review first appeared in New Horizons, April 2010.