God is good. But some might scoff, “If God is good, why do some Christians suffer from terminal cancer?”
There are no easy answers to this question, and if you are a believer who does suffer from terminal cancer, you might take some comfort from the true story of the late Dr Richard Teo Keng Seng.
Dr Teo had everything that most Singaporeans could aspire to by the time he was in his 30s — wealth measured in millions of dollars, a thriving aesthetics practice, and sports cars, including a Ferrari 430.
“I’m a typical product of today’s society,” said Dr Teo in a speech in November 2011.
“From young, I’ve always been under the influence and impression that to be happy is to be successful. And to be successful, is to be wealthy. So I led my life according to this motto.”
Despite being born into a poor family, Dr Teo excelled in his studies and was accepted in medical school.
In medical school, he chose the quick way to big bucks — by switching from opthalmology to aesthetics.
The move paid handsomely for him, and in the first year, his cosmetic surgery clinic ‘was raking in millions’.
Dr Teo’s newly-made wealth opened the door to high-society life. He loved dinning at Michelin-rated restaurants and rubbing shoulders with celebrities.
Dr Teo also loved life in the fast lane and, at the pinnacle of his life, owned sports cars like the Honda S2000, Subaru WRX, Nissan GTR and a Ferrari 430
On how he would spend his weekends, Dr Teo said, “Typically, I’d have car club gatherings. I’d take out my track car and go up to Sepang in Malaysia for car racing. It was my life.”
Dr Teo had no time for God although he had been baptised many years earlier. When his friends experienced a personal revival, they advised Dr Teo to return to church with them, but their advice fell on stony ground.
“In my arrogance, I told them, “You know what? You go tell your pastor to change his sermon to 2pm and I will consider coming to church,” said Dr Teo.
In his arrogance, Dr Teo also uttered the following statement to his friends, “If God really wanted me to come back to church, He will give me a sign.”
It was a statement which he later said he would live to rue, because by the end of 3 weeks, he would — without first being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer — find himself back in church.
Said Dr Teo, “My whole world just turned upside down. I couldn’t accept it. I have a hundred relatives on both sides — my mom’s and my dad’s — and not a single one has cancer. To my mind, I have good genes, I’m not supposed to be having this! Some of my relatives are heavy chain smokers. Why am I having lung cancer? I was in denial.”
Dr Teo also fell into deep depression. He searched for answers. There weren’t any… until he heard an “inner voice”.
Said Dr Teo, “There I was lying on the operating table, staring blankly at the ceiling in a cold, quiet operating theatre. Suddenly, I heard an inner voice; it was not coming from the outside; it was inside. This small inner voice was one that I had never felt before. And it said very specifically: “This has to happen to you, at your prime, because it’s the only way you can understand.””
“I said, “Woah, where did that come from?” You know, when you speak to yourself, you’d say [something like] ‘what time should I leave this place?’ [or] ‘where shall I have dinner after this?’. You’d speak from a first person point of view…whereas the voice that came spoke as a third party. It said, “This has to happen to YOU, at YOUR prime, because this is the only way YOU can understand.” At that time, my emotions just overflowed and I broke down and cried alone there.”
Dr Teo did later understand why the ‘small inner voice’ had told him that this was the ‘only way’ he could be made to understand. Explained Dr Teo, “I was just so full of myself that there was no other way I could have turned back to God.”
God continued speaking to him.
Said Dr Teo, “I was in bed one afternoon, struggling and asking God, “Why? Why do I have to go through this suffering? Why do I have to endure this hardship, this struggle? Why me?”
“As I fell asleep, in my dreamy state, a vision came and said ‘Hebrews 12:7-8’.”
“Now, mind you, at this time, I had not read the bible [and] had no clue what’s Hebrews. I don’t even know how many chapters there are. Totally clueless.”
“But it (the vision) said ‘Hebrews 12:7-8’, very specifically.”
“I didn’t think too much of it [and] continued sleeping. After I woke up, and I said [to myself], “What’s there to lose? I’d check it out.” Danny (Dr Teo’s close friend, who had previously advised him to return to church) had bought me a bible; it’s still quite new… So I flipped to the Old Testament. Hebrews to me sounds like something ancient, so it should be in the Old Testament right? So I flipped through the Old Testament. No Hebrews there. I was so disappointed.”
“Then I said, “Maybe [it’s in the] New Testament; let’s have a look!”. WOW — New Testament; there’s Hebrew’s!! [And turning to] Hebrews 12:7-8, it said, “Endure hardship as discipline as God is treating you as His children.””
“I said, “WAH!! Where did that come from?” I was getting goose pimples all over my body. I said, “This can’t be, right?” I mean, what’s the chance of somebody who has never read the bible to have a vision of a chapter [and] a specific verse that answers my question directly?”
“So at that point, I was sold [and] said [to God], “YOU WIN! YOU WIN!!””
“From that day onwards, I started believing in my God. And the last time I heard that inner voice was [at] the end of April. And that inner voice — same thing, in the afternoon, as I was sleeping. In a dreamy state, I just heard Him say, “Help others in hardship.””
“It was more like a command, rather than a statement. And that’s when I embarked on this journey [of] helping others in hardship.”
Dr Teo obeyed the command up to the day of his death. He reached out to numerous individuals, including single mothers, insurance agents, medical students, cancer patients and church members.
Mrs Teo, Dr Teo’s wife, told The New Paper, “He wanted to inspire those facing hardships, that life has more to offer than to be filled with hatred and emptiness”.
Dr Teo was adamant in getting his message across even as he lay sick and dying. According to Mrs Teo, a day before her husband died, his laptop was filled with new sets of photos to be shown to his audience. He had also been working on a new speech.
Dr Teo’s inspiring testimony of God’s dealing with him can be watched in the Youtube link below.
Dr Richard Teo’s story was featured in the 28 October 2012 edition of The New Paper.