Pastoral Care When the Cancer Battle is Lost

For a pastor, it can be challenging to know how to talk to your people about another church member who has died — or is dying — from cancer.

It’s always tricky to find the right balance. Some of those in your congregation may see you as a shepherd, and they’re looking at you for cues or coaching on how to respond to the situation. Others may view you as an expert in theological matters — gathering around you for insights like hungry birds with beaks wide open. And perhaps a few won’t be satisfied with anything you have to say and every opinion you express will trigger a debate.

But whether you’re speaking from the pulpit or over a quiet table at your favorite coffee shop, the simple approach may be best: The only thing you know is that God is always faithful.

We all must obviously work through the temptation of blaming God for things that happen, especially when He warned us they would happen. Just because someone’s life ended in a way that we are not satisfied with, this does not mean that we understand or know all the details. Nor does it mean that God is satisfied with the outcome. And while the goal is not to give in and concede to cancer, if a battle is lost, we must realize that God did not fail us.

We know that God delights in our health and long life. But even in death, He still cares for us. Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants.” Even though He knows the hour, God Himself is moved when His people die in this world. It touches Him. There are so many things that we do not know concerning sickness, healing and death. But we do know that God is faithful, and He is good.

Even if we believe someone died too young, too early or in the wrong way, we can be confident God still receives His child with open arms. We may have questions about why God did not heal the person. But when we speak to the members of our church family, answering this question is less important than trusting God and recognizing Him as faithful, loving and good. Your congregation would be well served by you avoiding trying to provide any definitive reason for that person’s transition, and certainly never suggest that the fight was lost because of ones lack of faith!

Speak of Sadness

Our role is to be there for the living — to help, to comfort and to support them in their time of sorrow. Let them know that sorrow in and of itself is natural — even when the loved one was a believer and even when God is not viewed as responsible for the loss.

The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3:4 that there is “a time to mourn.” Trying to deny, suppress or refuse this time of mourning is neither healthy nor biblical. God has designed us with the capacity to experience tremendous emotions, and sometimes these emotions are so powerful they must be expressed outwardly. To contain them is not physically or spiritually healthy. Jesus wept. He was sorrowful on multiple occasions during the few years He walked on earth.

As pastors, our role is not to quench or end the mourning process — we are there to accompany, support and comfort our people through it. We may help lessen the depth of the grief, but we should realize that it is natural to grieve and even Godlike to grieve — because God in the Person of Jesus grieved.

We are still agents of hope, even if we, too, are mourning and sorrowful. We grieve, but we do not grieve like those who have no hope — knowing that in Christ there is even victory over the grave. (I Thessalonians 4:13-14)

Speak of Reality

It’s a fallen world we live in. The presence of sin on the earth has tainted everything — our bodies, our food, our living conditions, our lifestyle decisions.

Even when we do everything right in life — making good decisions, living well, eating well and pursuing the lifestyle that God calls us to — our bodies will eventually wear out and die.

So we must face reality. Cancer is sometimes fatal. Despite great efforts, courage and prayer, many have died from this terrible disease. This is part of the reason cancer has had such a strong stigma in the past. It’s important to remember that according to the National Cancer Institute the overall cancer death rate has declined by 25% since 1990. And while we never look for death, never accept defeat, and never yield in faith, some of those we minister to may not get better.

We may be sad. It can be comforting if we grieve with those who have lost someone. But we should also stay focused, and help those who are hurting. We must not lose hope, or let our faith be shaken, even in our tears.

Speak of Hope

Even when a journey ends with loss, there is still room for hope and faith. God is on His throne and nothing can separate us from His love. When we are absent from the body, Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:8, we will be “at home with the Lord.

If the person who died was a believer — or seemed likely to have been — then we can rejoice in the fact that the struggle here is over, and God is welcoming one of His children with open arms. If we have no reason to believe the individual knew Christ, we can always have hope that he or she received Him before the end. We should also have hope that God will use a person’s life and legacy to impact the lives of those of us who remain.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, 
then the saying that is written will come true: 

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
 Where, O death, is your sting?”

1 Corinthians 15:54-56

Our Journey of Hope is sponsored by Cancer Treatment Centers of America®

Our Journey of Hope is sponsored by Cancer Treatment Centers of America®

Learn More About Our Journey of Hope

This post is from “Our Journey of Hope” a newsletter from the Cancer Treatment Centers of America

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2 responses to “Pastoral Care When the Cancer Battle is Lost

  1. “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
    “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

    This is my favorite verse, my pastor pointed it to me when I was dealing with my brother’s cancer scare. He survived it, Glory to the good Lord.

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