• 18 September 2023


Perhaps the hardest part of the Christian life is dealing with the unholy and unwanted trio of visitors: fear, suffering and death.

Death, the Bible tells us, is the last enemy and we must all face it. Suffering usually comes before death and is a visitor we all dread. After all, who wants to suffer? Fear is normally the first of the trio to make our acquaintance, affecting our minds rather than our bodies.

Normally, of course, we don’t like to think about these things. Suddenly, though, in the time of coronavirus, these unwelcome visitors cannot be avoided.

The French mathematician and writer Blaise Pascal was reported to have said, ‘Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things.’

But suddenly ‘such things’ are inescapable.

I have known this for longer than most. I have lived with cancer for seven years. Five years ago I was told the cancer was incurable and that my death was imminent. Since then I have been living with the sword of Damocles over my head. Now, however, that sword seems to be over everyone’s head. While I was in chemotherapy it used to be just me who was nervous about coughs and sneezes. Now it’s everyone. ‘Welcome to my world!’ I like to say, tongue firmly in cheek.

The truth is that despite their existence, Christians living in the developed western world have broadly been shielded from fear, suffering and death. This may explain why our faith is often so weak and feeble.

When I was a child, my father used to take our family Bible smuggling behind the Iron Curtain. When we visited those churches I noticed that despite being terribly persecuted, the Christians we met had a vibrancy to their faith. Perhaps God is using the current crisis to teach us spoiled western Christians to live like Christians in the majority of the world who trust Him daily.

I’m reminded of the words that Corrie Ten Boom wrote in her book The Hiding Place when she recalled her time in a Nazi concentration camp, ‘I only realised that Christ was all I needed when Christ was all I had.’

While I have been through chemotherapy, radiotherapy and other operations for cancer and blindness, I am not an expert on fear, suffering and death. I am not even – like my father – a clergyman. I am just a Christian, married with three adult children, living in the southeast of England, where I attend my local church.

I make this point only to say that these devotions are not about me but about three things that I have found we can use to defeat fear, suffering and death.

The first is that when we have a problem we must go to the Bible. The Bible is God’s medicine cabinet where we can find treatment for our diseases. That is why each of the following devotions meditate on a Bible passage and considers how it can help us. I’ve chosen them because each passage has helped me powerfully over the last seven years and, in the same way, I pray that God will use His Word to speak to you.

The second thing I have found is that when I read the Bible, God’s promises come to life. These everlasting promises are like a rock upon which we can stand secure in the stormiest seas: ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ (Heb. 13:5); ‘Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Mt. 28:20); ‘Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me’ (Ps. 23:4).

God does not promise us health and wealth. That’s the devil’s lie. The writer in the letter to the Hebrews assures us of that when he writes that ‘people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment’ (Heb. 9:27). There is no by-pass around the valley of the shadow of death. We all must go through it. In fact, we are called to take up our cross daily and follow Him. This can be unbearably hard, but there is something amazingly powerful in God’s Word that enables us to endure to the end.

We may find partial theological answers to fear, suffering and death – and there is a place for that – but God’s ultimate answer is Himself. A person who walked the dusty streets of Palestine and who was like us: facing fear, suffering and death. He can sympathise with our weakness and hardships because, amazingly enough, He experienced far worse. Christ never asks us to go through anything that He hasn’t experienced Himself.

Yet, at the same time, He is not like us. He is God Almighty. He went to the cross because of His love for us. He holds the keys to death and hell. He can save us from fear, suffering and death. I am a living testimony that His presence can be experienced through His Word and my prayer is that you, too, will know His closeness as you look at His Word.

Thirdly, and finally, I have found that fear, suffering and death can be redemptive because in Christ we have hope. My cancer has been a powerful driver in motivating me to share my faith. I have written a book for non-Christians about the only real hope we have in the face of death. What do we have to offer in response to the coronavirus? Hope in Christ.

I have found that people are intrigued by the hope that I have. It is nothing particular to me; every Christian has the same hope. Jesus stands in front of us in our fear, suffering and grief and says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ ( Jn. 11:25).

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