A review of Hope Beyond Cure by Adam Scott, first posted by Dave Miers…
“It’s actually very serious.”
That was the last thing I wanted to hear from the doctors treating me.
An MRI had apparently revealed a large arterial tear in my neck and the consensus was that I’d probably had a stroke. It all started feeling very serious. I was 28 years old, laying in a hospital bed, surrounded by pensioners who were apparently healthier than I was – go figure!
It was the first time in my life that someone spoke candidly and clinically with me about the reality of dying and it was terrifying. I’d always expected dying to be a future, far-off, unfortunate but inevitable reality, but someone with more authority on the subject was telling me that perhaps my presumptions were wrong.
That’s probably why I’ve appreciated reading Hope Beyond Cure by David McDonald as much as I have. It’s a book written by a pastor who was humble enough to admit that facing death can be terrifying and perhaps our presumptions are wrong.
The opening chapters recount the events leading up to his cancer diagnosis and the emotional turmoil that followed. He talks openly about how the insidious nature of his illness filled him with fear, doubt and hopelessness. It’s a gutting and incredibly humble way to start a book about hope: in the context of a terminal illness.
Given how raw and real the book begins, you’re left with the impression that the kind of hope it’s going to dish up is going to have to be robust enough to withstand a daunting prognosis and remain relevant in the face of death. That’s not an easy task given that hope has become synonymous with wishful thinking in our culture.
For example, Ben Folds sings a song called Picture Window that talks about hope that’s cruel and inappropriate in the context of a terminal illness. He sings:
“you know what hope is,
hope is a bastard,
hope is a liar, a cheat and tease,
hope comes near you, kick it’s backside,
got no place in days like these”
Hope Beyond Cure engages with the kind of false hope that Ben Folds sings about and exposes a few of our favourite places to find it. Whether it’s in medicine, positive thinking or relationships, David gently points out that they all leave us exposed and each can be the very thing that Ben Folds describes: a liar, a cheat and a tease. They’re false hopes because none of them can promise to endure in the face of death.
Off the back of that David argues that we need something solid to anchor hope in. Because death is a serious business, we need a equally serious hope – not wishful thinking or clutching at straws. We need a serious hope that aims even higher than a cure for the illnesses that will ultimately take us, a hope that will flavour life and endure in the face of death. That’s the kind of hope that David ends up introducing when he talks about Jesus.
Hope in Jesus isn’t cruelly inappropriate wishful thinking. It’s all the things false hope isn’t: true, trustworthy and reliable. It doesn’t become inappropriate or irrelevant when we’re facing death, and because of that, hope in Jesus is worth having.
Towards the end of the book David writes this:
“I have no idea how many days, weeks or months I have before me – few of us do. Our times are in God’s hands and he alone knows when they will come to an end. But we don’t need to fear that day. In the resurrection of Jesus, God has taken away the sting of death. As Paul reminds us:
“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?”
In the years that followed my injury, I’ve had countless scans. Apparently, there’s no longer any evidence of that terrifying time. I’m really glad about that, but the truth is one day something else is going to break and the wheels will fall off. That’s why I’m so thankful that real, authentic, robust hope is what I have – it’s what we need to endure in the face of death and to flavour life in the here and now.
Hope Beyond Cure says that hope is found in Jesus and I couldn’t agree more.