A friend has been diagnosed with cancer. She is refusing treatment, despite her cancer growing from stage 1 to stage 2. Her reasoning: she believes her days are already numbered and that God has already determined how long she will live (Job 14:5 -- "man's days are numbered"). Yet Hezekiah pleaded with God for an extension of life, and he got it (2 Kings 20:6), so why would it be wrong for her to follow his example -- so she could live longer? I am highly concerned for my friend, whose fatalistic view could lead to an early death. Any advice on how to handle this?
It was smart of you to reference 2 Kings 20. Hezekiah is told by God he will die; the king prays; and he receives 15 extra years -- dying at 54, instead of 39. I would definitely share this passage with her.
As for Job 14:5, the point is that eventually we all will die -- our days on earth are not unlimited. I suppose you could interpret this fatalistically, but there’s no compelling reason to do so. To illustrate, if my physician gave me the bad news that "my days are numbered," it would be odd if I insisted that he tell me exactly how many days I had left. That's not the natural meaning of the phrase! The numbering of days also comes up in Psalm 90, where Moses writes,
10 Our lives last seventy years
or, if we are strong, eighty years.
Even the best of them are struggle and sorrow;
indeed, they pass quickly and we fly away.
11 Who understands the power of Your anger?
Your wrath matches the fear that is due You.
12 Teach us to number our days carefully
so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts. Ps 90:10-12 HCSB
As for declining treatment for fear of offending against God's will:
- First, the example of Hezekiah is ample warrant for accepting treatment. Prayer and divine response and medical treatment were all involved (2 Kings 20:7).
- Second, since he is omniscient, God knows whether we will opt for chemo or not. Although he knows our future, his foreknowledge is based on decisions we make in this life. We have free will.
- Third, in light of the Bible's exhortations to be faithful stewards of what we have received from the Lord, your friend ought to life as long as she can continue to be of service to God.
Despite the drift of all these scriptures, interestingly, your friend's attitude seems to be more Muslim (as in kismet) than Christian. It is fatalistic, as you note.
I'm glad Jesus didn't reason this way when the crowd at Nazareth tried to throw him over the cliff (Luke 4:29). He could have thought, "It must be my time; I had hoped for three years to train the disciples, but evidently the Father has determined that I die today." Christians rejoice that he did not give in to such thinking (Luke 4:30), for there was still much to do. Helpful?