Survivor's Guilt

Survivor’s Guilt

Recently a loved one of a close family member died of cancer.  It was a prolonged period which lead up to the ultimate end - death.  

It affected me. I’m not really sure why, considering I’m not that connected to the person other than through the ties of family.  But, I think it was the catalyst that caused a new and fuller reaction within me for the first time:  Survivor’s Guilt.  Why am I still living after my bout with cancer and he isn’t?  Surely he’s more deserving than I.  He probably was a much better person than I.  Why am I allowed to live but not him?  

I told my wife I was experiencing, really for the first time, survivor’s guilt.  I honestly thought this was something peculiar to me.  However, I went online and found that I’m not alone in this.  It appears a lot of people that survive their cancer find it difficult to cope in relation to others dying of what they haven’t, as of yet, succumbed to.

I tend to be the type of person that has to know the why and why nots of everything.  That, at times, is a good thing.  However, there is a downside to that as well.

Because I like to know “why” it makes me informed and somewhat helpful when interacting with others.  In the ministry, a lot of people come to the preacher with a lot of “why” questions.  If you’re inclined to not delve into the aspects of life that throw people for a loop, you’ll come up dry most of the time in relation to people.  Especially, during times that don’t make sense to them.

The flip side of being a “why” person is that you can drive yourself nuts trying to come to some understanding or resolution.  Not everything has neat, clean answers that make sense or satisfy.  

For example.  Try as I may,  I can’t figure out for the life of me why God didn’t heal Elisha of the sickness he had. (2 Kings 13:14)  — It really bothered me, and still does, that God didn’t heal this choice servant of His. Makes no sense to me.  If God didn’t heal Elisha, what chance will I have?  (However, I must say that I’ve used this verse in funerals and during times of confusion in the lives of those caught in the throes of their own questions as to why.)

There are no answers as to why —

Over a decade ago, our good friend Lilian died at 55 of Parkinson’s.  What a wonderful, thoughtful, caring person she was.  She adopted us as her family and never let go, to the end.  Why her?

A pastor friend’s wife died of bone cancer at an early age. She had six children and loved God more than I probably ever will.  Why her?

The father and husband I mentioned that died of cancer.  Why him?  

Why any of them?  God could have healed them.  What a testimony it would have been, but He didn’t.  Why not?

Now I have a feeling that some, who haven’t yet faced the intense reality of this sort of thing personally, might have all kinds of Bible verses and theological answers ready at their finger tips.  But I’m here to tell you, it’s different when you’re on the receiving end of the bad news.  

A shift to your reality takes place and you never really return to where you were before.  Your faith is taken to a new and different level of experiential growth.  It’s actually a time of development with the Lord that never would have happened without going through that particular valley of the shadow of death, personally.

Life isn’t like Facebook where everyone is happy and life is always wonderful.  Don’t get me wrong, I am happy for their happiness but are they really that happy all the time?  Or is it, in part, an allusion that is portrayed? I’m afraid, if that’s what people are always pursuing, that when the unexpected realities of life hit them they might find themselves in the deep end of the pool struggling to breathe.  

Perhaps it could be beneficial if God’s people were to be more open and transparent concerning the ups and downs in their life.  Why not open up and allow others to see that you struggle too and don’t have it all together? You might even want to share that you have … Survivor’s Guilt.   

I have a feeling the Apostle Paul had a little survivor’s guilt.  He viewed himself as the chief of sinners.  He, before his salvation, did some pretty horrible things that changed the course of peoples’ lives for a long time to come.  That weighed upon him as he went about his ministry. But through the grace of God he learned to work through it and allowed God to use him for His glory and the good of generations to come.

That’s why he could write these words to others:

“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

Why do some die and other’s don’t?  Don’t know.  Don’t have a clue.  Ultimately, God is sovereign.  That’s what allows us to continue on.  

As Romans 14:8-10 says: 

For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.

I’ve had to ask myself why I’m writing about this. I suppose I’m writing to hopefully make some sense of the twists and turns of life for myself and, possibly, for others.

I hope I have.