This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD, and was saved from every trouble.
Over the years that I’ve been dealing with cancer—mine and that of my friends—I’ve had to change my thinking about what it means to be saved from every trouble. It’s tempting to grab onto a verse like this and translate it to mean saved from surgery or chemo or radiation or recurrence. But I don’t believe anyone gets guarantees and I don’t believe God plays favorites.
I heard a well-known bishop say once that when his wife had cancer, people from around the diocese prayed for her. Some of them attributed her (temporary) healing to their prayers. But this man, whom I admire for his ability to look honestly at life, wondered What about some custodian somewhere with a sick wife, who couldn’t mobilize the prayers of an entire diocese? Would his wife not recover for lack of prayer? His conclusion: I’m not interested in a God that capricious.
I think we do a disservice to God, to our faith, and to the nature of prayer when we grab onto it as a measure of our faithfulness. Prayer is not like a cosmic vending machine, as I’ve heard since my adolescence. Prayer works on us and is for our benefit. We pray, not because we get a guarantee, but because on any long journey, we speak with our companions. God is our companion on this life-trek, and we talk to God, sometimes because we’re afraid or ashamed to talk to anyone else about our pain and fears. It’s natural to want to spare our family and close friends from some of the anguish we may feel, but those emotions must be expressed. And so our poor soul cries and God hears.
The second shift in my thinking about this verse is that sometimes, loath as we are to admit it, death is the only way to be saved from every trouble. We’ve all been part of a death that felt like mercy, because the person we cared about was suffering so much. Death is the place where troubles don’t come. Ultimately, we will all be saved from trouble in this way. Meanwhile, we cry out to God with the assurance that we will be heard, regardless of the answer we receive.