It has been a year since I had the first of 43 radiation treatments for prostate cancer. While I am doing very well since those treatments began last September 10 and ended on November 7, 2013, what has not ended is a question that has repeatedly been asked of me over the last year. It is a question that about a year ago challenged the very core of my philosophical and theological belief regarding God’s dealing with His children. The question often asked of me is, “Do you believe God gives people sickness and disease?” I realize there are those who would contend that because God is sovereign, which He is, and that He is in control of all things, which He is, that God does indeed give people cancer. A student of theology and philosophy for over forty years, I know all the theological and philosophical arguments regarding this subject, but it moves from theory to the practical when it involves you personally – as it did me.
From my biblical understanding of God I cannot adopt the position, nor do I believe for a moment, that God gives people cancer, sickness and disease. If God is the Author of sickness and disease then what right do we have to seek healing? If God is the Author of sickness and disease, then if I seek medical healing from my present condition then I am acting contrary to the will of God who gave it to me. If God is the Author of sickness and disease then did not Jesus act contrary to the will of God when He healed those afflicted?
To me there is a big difference between saying God gives one cancer and the Lord, because of the sinful world we live in, allowing the natural processes of the world’s abnormality negatively affecting the world and our individual lives. One of the gifts God has given to humanity is the gift of freewill. With that gift comes the risk and possibility of making wrong choices, choices that oppose God’s best intentions for humanity. As the result of humanity collectively making wrong choices sin has a ripple effect that touches all of our lives in a variety of ways.
One of my favorite theologians, Francis A. Schaeffer, says it well, “I would say that I do not think Christians take the Fall and the present abnormality of the world with comprehension and seriousness. I mean by this that although Bible-believing Christians certainly do hold to a historical Fall and the present abnormality of the world as a theological truth, when it comes down to living, this is often forgotten. In other words, we forget that everything is abnormal today, and that much of the sickness in the world and sorrows in other areas are a result of this abnormality. Or to say it another way, there is much in history that God did not mean to be there, in the way that He created the world and created man.”
Sin has infected the world and as a result there is the possibility that it can affect all of us in a negative way. Sickness, disease, and the ills that we encounter are the abnormal flow of sin’s effect. The fallenness of the world means no one’s life is perfect and it means no one is exempt from fallenness disrupting their lives. Fallenness can temporally disrupt our lives visiting us with sickness and disease. This abnormality invaded my body, but with prayer and the Lord’s help I have and am using available medical means to fight against it.
While I do not believe God gave me or anyone else cancer, I do believe He can use such situations to bring about great good in our lives and in the lives of those we would not otherwise have come to know. God’s overruling providence overcomes the destructiveness the fallenness of the world seeks to bring into our lives. The Lord is able to bring treasures out of tragedy. He can always take a curse and turn it into a blessing (Duet. 23:5). He can always bring beauty out of ashes (Isaiah 61:3). He can always bring life amidst death (Jh 11) He can give us joy in place of sorrow (Isaiah 61:3). That is what we see at the cross. At the cross of Christ we see what looked like defeat turned into victory. The cross of Christ shines Light into the midst of our darkest night. At the tomb we see a sealed grave turned into a doorway of hope.
In the Christ of the cross is found the redemptive and resurrection power to overcome all that sin seeks to inflict upon humanity. The cross is our light in the darkness of sin, sickness, disease and evil. In the cross is found the reestablishment of all that is good, right and godly, which the goodness found in the holy-love of God desires us to experience in Christ. God in Christ weeping at the tomb of His friend Lazarus (John 11) reveals to me He is not the creator of sin, sickness, disease and evil, but He is the Empathizer with human suffering and at the cross, as our Emancipator, He beckons us to come and experience His resurrection and restorative power amidst sin’s scars.
In the Christ of the cross and His resurrection we have the guarantee that sin, evil, sickness and disease will not win at last. That is the message in the cross event: God’s holy-love and grace are more powerful and able to overcome death, defeat and destruction. While the world is abnormal as the result of sin, it is possible to bring all our situations and circumstances under the finished work of Christ knowing that in Him it is possible to live a life that has fullenness and beauty amidst the world’s fallenness.
We should not, and I did not, resign ourselves to the abnormality that visits us. What I believe honors and glorifies the Lord is when we bring that which is abnormal under the blood of Christ and let Him bring forth beauty. In so doing we are able to show forth His sufficiency in a fallen world, influencing others by our experiences that He alone can turn our scars into shining stars.