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What do you say to someone who is terminally ill about grace?


 I have a friend I've known for a long time that I'm trying to find the right words to say. My friend is dying of cancer.  She has a hard time understanding grace.

She feels that if salvation is all that simple, it's like having a license to do what ever you want and that is like a temptation for people who have had a problem with substance abuse.

 I care about my friend

 Does anyone have any words of wisdom that can be said to people who are terminally ill?

 Cancer isn't a funny thing for a person to have to live with and I hate to see this lady miss out on God's highest and best because she's tripped up on understanding grace. So many people, including myself, have struggled with it in life. Some of us embrace the truth of what it all really is but some of us don't. It's certainly not a sin to care about somebody so I'd appreciate any advice. Thank-you.

   Also, another thing with this lady I mention to you - She's not really listening to what I

have to say because she feels that I only tell her these things because I feel that I "should."

I look at her response as another way to dodge the issue. If anyone knows of videos or links that help the terminally ill in these spiritual matters,  please send me a message in my inbox or something. Thanks. My friends name is Joan. Please pray for her. She's very sick and she doesn't have forever. 


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It is somewhat difficult to know how to respond without knowing something of the faith background of the person involved.  Some faith traditions have a stronger teaching and understanding of suffering and embrace it while other faith traditions seem to ignore it and thus are at a disadvantage in confronting it.

Does you friend have a strong faith background and does that background embrace suffering? 

If not then it can be diffiult to reach her because her understanding is deficient in this area. 

If so then you are dealing with dispair and she needs encouragement to pray and to "offer it up".  To do as Paul says, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church..."(Col 1:24)

The Truth is that suffering is part of the process of sanctification.  Accepting our trials and sufferings is part of our purification.  God tests those He loves.  God did not even spare His own Son from suffering and death, but with this promise.  Resurrection and Eternal Life...Those who suffer and do not dispair of God's Love will behold the beatific vision in heaven. 

There are many positive things that can come fro mour sufferings.  As a child (Catholic) if we hurt, or were sick, we would be encouraged to "offer it up for the poor souls in purgatory"...Now whether one accepts purgatory or not, the idea of, "offering up our suffering", for some higher purpose retains it's validity.  In this sense then suffering becomes prayer and prayer helps eleviate suffering. 

Those who suffer well and offer there suffering up in prayer (perhaps for the conversion of souls) likewise are an inspiration to those around them.  They demonstrate a courage in their faith and give hope to those who are faltering. 


I know that this may not be exactly what you are hoping for but honestly, without knowing her faith background, or what things you have said to her - in other words, without being there - It is very hard to offer specific advice. 


May God guide you in your speach




I would only want to reiterate what James has said.  I see our sufferings as sharing in our Lord's passion, because in His suffering He unites Himself with those that suffer. 

My friend said the following words in an email just this morning. 


....... in suffering there is this special grace of communion between those who suffer and our Lord who suffered.


As James has said, it is very hard not being there, and trying to second guess, but perhaps this special grace is something to consider speaking of.

May God bless you and guide you

If she won't listen, perhaps you can give her a good book on the topic as a gift.  I know when I became disabled, someone gave me a copy of a short book by Anne Graham Lotz on pain and suffering.  It's called "Why?: Trusting God When You Don't Understand".  I appreciated the gesture.

John Owen is someone to look at (11 kids, 10 died as infants, 1 came home to die as an adult) but his writing is from another age, dense and very difficult; recommended for a strong mind. You might want to look at Joni Eareckson Tada (that links to a book of hers and this links to wiki) who became a paraplegic after a diving accident and went on to praise the Lord; today she has cancer and continues to praise the Lord.


Death gives us an interesting sense of immediacy. The seams of everything that matters rip and sever revealing a bleak cavern of nothingness behind. The facade is broken and we see the pits of hell yawning in front of us-we realize how close to the precipice we all are. We finally get a glimpse into the reality Christ saw, and like him weep tears of anger and sadness-and understand the urgency of his mission.


Sometimes this hole into the backstage provides a direct route to a person's heart if we use it judiciously. In the end we know that we must move the person toward finally dealing with who Christ is, and we want that answer to be saviour rather than judge. But we have to recognize and respect that grief is a complex and usually fairly individual process. So the way we speak to it really depends on where the person is coming from. The right approach makes a huge difference in whether they feel understood or not and are willing to listen to what they need to hear. The discussion about you saying what you "should" say makes me think this lady doesn't feel your answers are responding to her deeper questions.


Without knowing her however, I too am seeing avoidance. That she's talking about "people having license" means she's pushing the focus off of her and on to hypotheticals. It's much like we see from the woman at the well. Yeah, I'm living with a guy, wow. You must be a prophet...or something....uh...well the Jews say we have to worship at Jerusalem, what's with that?? She moves to something controversial and more importantly, not about her.


If we look at Christ's response to her, he really doesn't follow down the rabbit trail. They both know he knows she's guilty and she can't get around that. He answers the question and throws it right back in her lap. The Father is seeking his people and has sent me to get you. He is not badgering or unkind, but he doesn't let her avoid the real issue either. Hypotheticals are meaningless and she has to face what really is one way or another. Face the one who is reading her insides like he's staring at an x-ray and recognize what the water he's offering really is. It's life. A spring of eternal life.


It's interesting that because this lady is terminal, she has the means to understand the gift of grace in a very visceral way. Of all people, the dying know the incredible value of life. How counter-intuitive it is that Christ should lay his down for us. As the justly punished, the ungodly, we don't deserve to have our God hand his life over to save us. And yet this is just what he's giving us-life-his, and from that, our own. To say this gives licence to sin would be like her saying that if she were cured of cancer today it would give her licence to expose herself to every carcinogen known to man so that she could try to get cancer again and die. And it's true, she could do that. But would she?  And again, at this point other people do not matter-the question is will she take license with this? Will she take the gift of life and trade it for death, knowing how painful even physical death is? Or would she refuse life altogether?


And I think that will go to whether she considers herself to be in a terminal state (for lack of a better term) spiritually. I find that people who complain about others taking license with grace often don't think they personally have any need for grace. They are well and do not need to be healed or saved. Yet the fact that she's in a terminal state physically shows that she, like all of us, is a captive to our enemy death. But Christ would free her from this punishment. And she would be free indeed.


Still, people have difficulty really accepting this, and it's a point on which one must tread carefully with much prayer. It's easy to be to harsh, but as desperate as we may be, we may simply speak the truth and then allow God to work. For who knows, we may have come to this position for such a time as this. We can only trust that God is doing what is best and leave it at that. 


As to suffering, suffering can purify us by showing us how rotten we still are-but again she appears to still be in denial. Telling her it's a special gift of grace is probably not going to be useful at the moment, especially if she has no reason to hope in the saviour. It may be something she comes to realize, and as I've said before, we partake in the sufferings of Christ, not the other way around. That means he has taken the suffering on himself and ultimately makes it work against itself. It is used for good, like a foolish villain, tricked by his enemy into doing the opposite of what he had intended. However, suffering is only a cross (redemptive) in Christ-it only has eternal value in him. And thus it must always return to him.

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