Written by Scott Leong

10/17/2017

Giant Fish, Diseases, and Other Ways God Loves Us


I was a pretty cocky 19 year-old. Not Alexander Hamilton cocky, but almost. I was smart. I had a full-ride scholarship to UC Irvine and the A’s were coming pretty easily. I was athletic. I enjoyed stretching the limits of my body’s physical capability by tricking (a mix of gymnastic flips, twists, and martial arts kicks). And I was musically talented, playing bass and singing for the worship team. I was the shining star in my own little universe. And life was good. But thank God that I was rescued from that.

It all started the summer I came back from studying abroad in Tokyo my junior year. After battling what I thought was just a flu, the body aches wouldn’t stop. They wracked the entirety of my lower back, and nothing seemed to relieve the pain. At the same time, a crippling fatigue seemed to hang over me for weeks. I would sleep over 14 hours a day and not feel rested at all.

No one seemed to know what was going on. After initial blood tests returned positive for anemia, my bone marrow was sampled for leukemia (which was thankfully negative). Doctors told me it was probably just a virus, and that my anemia should resolve itself in six weeks. But it didn’t. After a month, I was forced to quit school and return to northern California to be cared for by my parents.

Finally, on Thanksgiving Day, after months of exhaustion and discomfort and pain, the diagnosis arrived—I had Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). It sounds scary, but basically it just means that when there’s a full moon, I turn into a wolf with a six-pack.

I’m kidding. SLE, or lupus for short, is an auto-immune disease where my own body’s defenses attack my organs. Whereas normal human immune systems recognize pathogens (like some bacteria or viruses) as foreign and attack them to keep the body safe, my immune system thinks my own organs are the foreign pathogen.

What that basically meant is that my own body had put itself into heart and kidney failure. My body swelled with excess fluid. I could barely walk twenty steps without stopping to catch my breath. I developed a cough that wouldn’t go away—I could barely complete a sentence without breaking into a fit, let alone sing. The medications I was given made me too nauseated to eat.

From the hospital bed, lying in darkness and hooked up to various beeping monitors, I cried out to God. I had no strength of my own. My exhaustion was such that I couldn’t focus on anything for any extended length of time. My voice had deserted me. I felt like all the things that I had taken pride in had been stripped away from me. So I cried out in surrender and dependence to the same God that led Jonah to cry out from the belly of the fish. And that’s exactly what he wanted from me. He wants to be desired above all other things. He wants to be the foundation of our joy and hope.

John Piper puts it this way:

“Millions of nominal Christians have never experienced a fundamental alteration of that foundation of happiness. Instead they have absorbed the notion that becoming Christian means turning to Jesus to get what you always wanted before you were born again. So, if you wanted wealth, you stop depending on yourself for it, and by prayer and faith and obedience you depend on Jesus for wealth. If you wanted to be healthy, you turn from mere human cures to Jesus as the source of your health. If you wanted to escape the pain of hell, you turn to Jesus for the escape. If you wanted to have a happy marriage, you come to Jesus for help. If you wanted peace of conscience and freedom from guilt feelings, you turn to Jesus for these things.

In other words, to become a Christian, in this way of seeing things, is to have all the same desires you had as an unregenerate person—only you get them from a new source, Jesus. And he feels so loving when you do. But there’s no change at the bottom of your heart and your cravings. No change in what makes you happy. There’s no change in the decisive foundation of your joy. You just shop at a new store. The dinner is still the same; you just have a new butler. The bags in the hotel room are still the same; you just have a new bellhop.

That’s not what the new birth is. It’s not having all the same desires that you had as an unregenerate person, and just getting them from a new source. The new birth changes the bottom, the root, the foundation of what makes us happy. Self at the bottom is replaced by Jesus. God, himself.

What makes the born-again person glad is not at bottom that they have God’s gifts, but that they have God.”

God knows that only he can satisfy us, and he works unceasingly to help his beloved children understand that.

SLE is a life-long disease—as of 2017, there’s no cure. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When I take my medication every morning and every night, it’s a tangible reminder that I can’t depend only on my own body and mind. The striae on my body, a side-effect from glucocorticoid therapy, remind me of the scars that my Savior bears even now—scars that he acquired on Calvary to purchase me for himself.

God will never stop pursuing those for whom Christ died. In the past few months at Reality Church Stockton we’ve been hearing this over and over in our series on Jonah: our God is in unrelenting pursuit of us. He leads us to the point where we have no choice but to cry out to him. Sometimes he uses a fish. Sometimes it’s a debilitating disease. Sometimes, like for Job, it’s almost more than we can handle. Whatever it is, it’s not punishment. It’s a loving wake-up call from a Father to his child that he is all we need.

ScottScott is a member of our Music Ministry. He is usually seen grooving to tasty bass lines. In his spare time, Scott enjoys reading Fantasy novels and watching professional League of Legends.