I posted this scripture to Facebook about 6 months into Ben’s treatment for leukemia, 7 years ago today. I posted it to comfort myself. Everything in our lives was being devoured by locusts, and I had to find some hope that there would someday be some recompense. So I looked to scripture, and voila! It’s in the Bible, God’s word, and I took the coincidence of finding that scripture on a day that it was something I desperately needed to hear, and embraced it.
Without considering context.
Today I looked up the whole passage, then looked up commentary on it. Chagrined is a good word to use to describe how I’m feeling about now. This chapter of scripture is written by a prophet. What do prophets do? They warn the Israelites when they have strayed from their end of the covenant made with God, and warn them to get back on track, then he reminds them of God’s promises for when they return to him.
This verse has nothing to do with childhood cancer, life after childhood cancer, or any kind of promise God is making to me as an individual who has endured suffering.
I wish it was about me. I wish it did work that way. I loved reading scripture that way. When scripture is read out of context with individual verses used as reassurances, promises, and warm fuzzies for our own lives, it feels good!
Until it doesn’t.
You see, I clung to verses like that. I decided that God owed us one, or a few.
Between our family members, we have had more than a few locust eaten years. Two back surgeries for Mike, neck surgery and GBS for me, and Ben has had only brief periods of his life, months out of his eleven years, in which he has been both physically and mentally well. We parented our niece whose mother died of a heroin overdose, and lived out her heartbreak on a daily basis.
It’s easy to see why I would want to believe in a God who restores those years, but that’s not the only verse so commonly used that way.
The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will. Zephaniah 3:17
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11
Both of which are taken out of scriptures that were used to rebuke and remind the Isrealites, not for a mom desperate for a better future for her family.
And there are dozens more.
I put my hope in those promises that were never meant for my circumstances. The end result was devastating. I had myself convinced that when Ben finished his leukemia treatment that we would be rewarded for our faithfulness, not only in those years, but so many before, with restoration. The devastation from the realization that he will be forever impacted by late effects of chemo and the other illnesses, both physical and mental, which make almost every day in his life an enormous challenge has been monumental.
In retrospect, I believe that my own, and many others, well-meaning use of scripture in this fashion is misguided at best, and could easily be considered sacrilege. It’s an easy button for comfort.
It has to stop!
In my own experience, what would have been far more effective, kind, and beneficial, would be sitting with us in the pain. Stepping into the gap and sharing the burden. Instead of quoting scripture out of context, read the scripture, especially those red letters in the gospels, and apply it to your own life and be the gospel in action.