The Cancer of Self-Righteousness

Just over ten years ago, my wife, Ruth, had a crisis of health. You may have already read Ruth’s story in the previous devotion–now as Paul Harvey would say–Here’s “the rest of the story”...or at least another part of it.

When Ruth was diagnosed with cancer, it was one of the most devastating days of my life.

“Mr. Kuder” – “Paging Mr. Richard Kuder”

The voice of the intercom echoed throughout the cavernous, oversized waiting room at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital. I walked slowly to the receptionist and she handed me the phone. It was the doctor in the operating room. 

“Mr. Kuder- I have not so good news and not so bad news. Which do you want to hear first?"

The not so good news is that it is cancer, the not so bad news is that it is not aggressive. It is a tumor type that is slow growing and the cure most often is surgery. Considering your wife’s age, and the fact that you have children, I suggest that we take a radical approach to her surgery. My heart and life fell through the floor. There I was, standing alone in the waiting room having to decide Ruth’s future and a “scenario” that we did not discuss in all of our pre-surgery meetings. I prayed for wisdom and had about two minutes for that wisdom to arrive. I decided that giving Ruth the best chance at living a longer life was better than risking a less radical surgery and a greater chance that the cancer would return.

The next time I would see Ruth, was something that I will never be able to remove from my memory. She was in such pain and I felt so helpless. As Ruth lay in the recovery room, every few minutes a tortuous grimace came to her face. Why would God let this happen? Who deserved this? I thought about Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, but it didn’t matter.   

In the weeks ahead, as Ruth’s condition improved, mine got worse. Instead of being grateful that God had spared her life and had begun to restore her, I became increasingly angry with God. I resented that God had chosen her and me for a Job-like experience. My spiral continued until a few weeks into Ruth’s recovery when we had a scare that required us to go to the emergency room at Sloan Kettering. Wasn’t it enough that God had put us through this in the first place, but now there were going to be complications?  

As I sat in the emergency room at Sloan, I came face to face with pain and suffering like I had never witnessed. I also came to grips with my own self-righteousness. I broke down. For the first time throughout this experience I felt God’s presence and his peace. I recalled Deuteronomy 31:6 “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

This is where my healing began. Who was I that I could be mad at God? My self-righteous notions of earning or deserving God’s grace or of being inoculated from the physical effects of sin were misplaced. Were the other patients: young fathers, mothers and children in the Sloan emergency room that night less deserving of God’s grace? The brokenness of our world illuminates how sin impacts every area of our life.

Romans 3:10 says, “There is none righteous. No, not even one." Our righteousness cannot be earned or deserved. It has already been obtained through the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

There is always a temptation to think that we are good enough, but Immanuel has come in order that we could receive the gift of righteousness through faith.