A shift of perspective frequently happens in the Psalms, the beautiful poetry of the Hebrew Bible. The writer will describe the misery of his situation and ask God’s help but at the conclusion will imagine that help has already arrived and the attitude turns from complaining to praise and gratitude. In modern psychological language we would say that the author has reframed the situation by adopting a wider perspective, encouraged by the way God has helped in the past. The writer has changed his/her attitude to the situation, seeing possibilities and challenges when he/she previously only saw causes for depression. For some examples of this reframing take a look at Psalms 22, 27:13-14, 69:30-34, 71:24. It helps to read some of the earlier verses of the Psalm to see the misery before the reframing. Psalm 22 is an inspiring instance beginning with the words Jesus quoted on the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and ending with the assurance, “he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried … I shall live for him” (Psalm 22:24b, 29c).
We might say that the reframing involves changing our concept of God as well as the situation. Initial reactions often see an angry or punishing God behind the situations life throws at us. But if we gain a wider perspective we see a loving God beyond our initial fear and anger. A wrathful, punishing God is a human projection, as Mother Julian of Norwich described, “I saw no wrath except on man’s side … for wrath is nothing else but a perversity and an opposition to peace and love. And it comes from a lack of power or a lack of wisdom or a lack of goodness, and this lack is not in God” (p.262, Julian of Norwich, Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist Press, 1978). However, I learned early in hospital chaplaincy work to allow people to express their negative projections towards God. Getting angry with God is often cathartic and may lead us to move beyond our small worldview. People do not get serious illnesses like cancer because God is against them. On the contrary God is on their side. Cancer is one of the symptoms of our divided, fallen world, not an indictment of a particular person.
I have been privileged during 38 years of ministry to have known many people living and dying with cancer. I remember most of them for the magnificent people they were or continue to be. I do not remember their outbursts of anger and fear (which are a healthy initial response to tragedy) but I remember the divine courage and love that infused their lives. They reframed their worldview, a gift to all of us. There is a new family drama on the ABC family Channel, “Chasing Life” (set in beautiful Boston), in which the heroine, April Carver (played by Italia Ricci) is confronting her cancer, leukemia. At the conclusion of episode 8 she described cancer as a gift because it had made her face life in a new way and revealed a previously unknown source of determination and courage and love within her. That is a very contemporary case of reframing.