False Hope, False Guilt
by Kenny Gardner

There was an article in the Dallas Morning News several years ago entitled, “The unhealthy side of wellness,” with the subtitle, “Wellness ideas can build false hope, false guilt.” The article dealt with the idea that if we think right—if we have a positive attitude, if we’re optimistic and confident, if we have a strong faith, then we won’t get sick—or if we do, we’ll recover. One lady, who had just finished chemothera-py treatments for breast cancer, was told by another lady that she had cured herself of breast cancer through meditation and alternative medicine. The first lady “wasn’t en-couraged. She was paralyzed with fear.”

It’s easy to see why she was upset. She had just endured chemotherapy and now someone was telling her that all that harsh treatment was unnecessary—that there was an easier way: just eat right and think nice thoughts and you’ll be fine. In fact, if you’d been eating right and thinking right all along, then you wouldn’t have gotten sick in the first place.

This kind of thinking almost blames the patient, doesn’t it? It really shouldn’t be all that surprising that patients with serious diseases often feel guilty and depressed. They can’t help but feel that maybe if they’d done things differently they might not have gotten sick, or if now they do things just right, then they’ll recover. A psychiatrist at M.D. Anderson was quoted as saying that cancer patients who don’t respond well to treatments “very often feel that they have failed, or that their faith wasn’t strong enough, or that they were weak somehow.”

“For people who don’t have a good prognosis, that’s a guilt trip they don’t need,” said one author and counselor.

The fact of the matter is, we are all subject to illness and disease, and we all have bodies that are going to get old and frail and eventually give out. Sure, we can do a little to postpone the inevitable, and we shouldn’t purposely harm our bodies (after all, our bodies have been given to us from God), but in the end we are all going to grow old and die. So what we should do is, first of all, accept the fact that we are frail crea-tures, and secondly, show compassion to all those who are hurting. Let’s not give them unwelcome advice about what they should or shouldn’t have done, or what they should or should do now. Along that same line, let’s not give them false hope. Of course we believe in the power of prayer—we know that God hears our prayers and understands our struggles—but that doesn’t mean that God is going to give us every-thing we want or think we need. While we believe in God’s providential care, let’s not tell those who are hurting to expect some kind of miracle. Occasionally a brother or sister will leave the impression that they think God is still working miracles today. No, that’s simply not what the Bible teaches; no one today is calming a storm, walking on water, or raising the dead. Unusual, unexpected, coincidental, and even hard-to-explain things happen today, but these are not miracles. Perhaps sincere but definitely misguided believers who tell others to expect a miracle are giving false hope to those who are already dealing with difficult struggles.

Oh, the lady who said she’d cured herself of breast cancer through meditation?
She died two years later. Of breast cancer.