I wonder if there is good in dying from cancer. Is there a deathbed in front of which I can say, “That was good”? We certainly would not call cancer good. If looking at the pain and death only, who could honestly say, “That is good”?
But maybe God can redeem cancer too. What if the good thing is not death, but that this person was the kind of person that could die well? What if she bore witness of Christ to her doctors and nurses? What if she never complained, but spoke often of seeing Christ soon? What if she clung in hope to Scripture throughout the drawn-out, painful process? What if she never feared death, even as he closed bony fingers around her lungs?
“That was good – not her pain, but her stubborn joy.”
Augustine wrote, “No man loves what he endures, though he love to endure. For though he rejoices that he endures, he had rather there were nothing for him to endure” (Confessions, 148-149; Barbour, 2013). So yea, suffering is not in itself good. There is nothing intrinsic to pain that warrants our approval. What he gets at, I suppose, is the brighter shade visible in suffering – “he rejoices that he endures.”
Was it a good thing that the U.S. 4th Infantry Division lost 81 men at Utah Beach on June 6, 1944 (see Ambrose, D-Day, 292)? Of course not. But it certainly was a grand thing that the U.S. 4th Infantry Division was of the right stock to prove successful on D-Day. It was a good thing that those men were the kind of men who would keep advancing under such conditions.
I don’t think it is a good thing to suffer, but it’s a good thing to endure suffering. A positive reading from the doctor should not provoke us to say, “This is good.” But perhaps we can become the type of people who would say, “This is going to be good.”
I’m going to call this stubborn joy. By atheistic standards, there is no reason to have it. But the Christian worldview demands it.