Something really upset me recently, and I’d like for us to talk about it today. It’s something that cuts right to the heart of Christian beliefs.
There’s probably no more dreaded thing to hear from your doctor than the words, “You have cancer.” Of all the diseases you could have, cancer is probably the most feared. It’s not necessarily just the cancer itself, the fact that you could die of it; it’s the endless tests, surgeries, and treatments, practically dying of the radiation and chemotherapy, possibly facing financial bankruptcy. Even if you survive the cancer, you’re life will be affected and maybe even ruled by it from now on. From the instant you hear the words, “You have cancer,” your life has drastically changed and will never be the same.
I talked with a woman recently whose daughter died of cancer—her only child, dead from cancer. As you can imagine, the woman was upset, very upset. And she sobbed, “It’s God’s will…” Now, she didn’t say that stoically, like she really believed it and had resigned herself to it. She said it more like she thought that since I was a minister, that’s what she was expected to say, and it’s more like she was groping for an explanation than stating a fact. I could hear the hurt in her voice as she said it. I left her house really disturbed over that. This poor old woman, husband dead, only child dead, and she herself not in good health, sitting there sobbing, “It’s God’s will.” I just couldn’t get that out of my mind.
You see, I don’t believe it was God’s will that her daughter died of cancer. I don’t believe that God in any way caused it or allowed it. When I got home, I just couldn’t get the image out of my mind of that woman sitting there sobbing, “It’s God’s will,” and so I sat down at the computer and did a google search on several search terms like, “Why did God give me cancer,” “Does God allow cancer.”
And frankly, I was shocked at what I found. Of course I knew there are Christians who believe that God either causes or allows cancer, but I thought they were in the minority, just a few scattered around here and there. I had no idea that there is apparently virtual agreement among so many Christians that God does either cause or allow cancer. From the biggest and most influential Christian websites on the Internet, to the biggest and most influential big-name evangelists, preachers, speakers, and Christian authors, there apparently is agreement that God either causes or allows cancer.
I thought that, over the years, I had seen so much in Christianity that I was beyond being shocked by anything, but this really shocked me. It actually made me mad. What got on my mind most of all was how very sad it is for people who receive a diagnosis of cancer to hear this stuff, be told this stuff. How very sad it is for an elderly woman who has lost her only child to cancer to be told, “It’s God’s will.”
Just having cancer is bad enough, but when you add to it these voices from Christianity telling you God either directly caused it or allowed it, it’s awful.
Here’s a smattering of what I found: “Cancer is an opportunity to glorify God.” “God has a purpose in it.” “God is trying to teach you something.” “God has a plan for your cancer.” “We must walk through the trials God sends as well as the good times.” “God uses the suffering for a greater purpose than we can understand.” “God gave me this cancer so I would love Him more.” “If we don’t follow God’s will, then bad things happen.” “You should embrace your cancer and get all the lessons from it God is trying to teach you.” “Cancer is a result of the curse god put on the earth because of sin.” “Sickness is a result of our sin.” “Sometimes God answers prayer with a ‘no.’” “We cannot insist that God answer our prayers like we think He should.” “Don’t second-guess God’s purposes.” “God grows us through cancer.” “God used my cancer to…do this or that.” “Eight things God taught me through my cancer.” “Don’t waste your cancer; get from it what God wants you to get.”
That’s just a sampling of what I found.
There seems to be two different beliefs. Some believe that God actively sends cancer on people. For some reason or another, God zaps some people with cancer. Others don’t like the picture of God that paints, so they don’t believe God actively causes cancer; He just sometimes allows it to happen. God could stop any cancer at any time, but sometimes He doesn’t.
So here’s the belief, which is apparently almost universal among many Christians: God is in control of everything, including cancer, so if you get cancer, God either directly caused you to get it or allowed you to get it. Either way, it’s God’s will that you have cancer, because if God didn’t want you to have it, you wouldn’t have it. When God gives you cancer or allows you to have it, He has a plan in it, a purpose. That’s the belief that seems to have fairly general agreement among Christians.
Given that, wouldn’t it seem like that if you have cancer, it would be wrong to have surgery to have it removed and any kind of treatments like radiation and chemotherapy to keep it away? It sure would seem like that. After all, you have the cancer because it’s God’s will that you have it—God either gave it to you or allowed you to get it—so if you tried to fight it, wouldn’t you be trying to thwart the will of God? Sure would seem that way. That would be the logical conclusion.
But that’s not what people say. Here’s what they say: You should go ahead and have the surgeries and radiation and chemotherapy, because it’s not really the cancer God’s putting on you; it’s that God’s trying to make you suffer. It’s the suffering through the surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy, all the worry and stress of going through all that, that’s really what God is trying to put on you. God’s trying to make you suffer for some reason. Maybe it’s to grow you in some way; maybe it’s to fulfill some kind of purpose in you or in someone else; or maybe it’s God punishing you for sin. Could be any of those; or could be all three. So, it’s not wrong to fight the cancer; it’s the suffering you will go through in fighting it that God will use to His purpose.
Believe it or not, some even take that one step further. If God gives you cancer, and you go to the doctor and get surgery and treatments and get cured, then that is said to glorify God. God, you see, is the one who healed you of it. God gave you the cancer, then healed you through surgery and treatments, and that gives God glory, because He healed you. Sounds absolutely crazy, yet many Christians believe that.
Imagine two women who get diagnosed with breast cancer. Both have the same kinds of treatments. Five years into the future, one is cancer free; the other is dead. Great blessing for the one whose cancer was cured. Give God the glory! Isn’t God good! God cured her cancer!
But what about the other woman, the one who died?
You might remember how a while back, we talked about how more and more people today are rejecting Christianity, how more and more people are leaving Christianity. With beliefs like that, who can blame them?
So let’s think about this. Does God really either cause or allow cancer?
As Christians, we always start with Jesus first, so let’s do that. Let’s look at Jesus in the Gospels. In the Gospels, we see that healing sickness is one of the main things Jesus did. Healing is actually what gave Him such a reputation that He drew huge crowds of people wherever He went. There are 26 separate healing instances reported in the Gospels, many of them of multiple people. And, it’s important to realize that these are healings of real sickness; they’re not “spiritual healings,” like so many Christians today try to pass off healing by talking about. So healing of real sickness formed a major part of what the Gospels report about Jesus. It’s a major theme in the Gospels.
It’s interesting that at no time did Jesus ever say that God causes sickness. At no time did Jesus ever tell a person that God had a plan for their sickness. At no time did Jesus ever refuse to heal someone. At no time did Jesus ever tell someone they should embrace their sickness and get from it the lessons God was trying to teach them. At no time did Jesus indicate that God allows sickness.
Jesus treated sickness as the enemy, and He always cast it out. Jesus never used sickness, brought it on, or allowed it. Whenever He saw it, He cast it out, got rid of it.
Jesus never attributed sickness to God. In Luke chapter 13 is the account of a woman who is all bent over and can’t straighten up. She comes to Jesus, and He heals her. It’s interesting who Jesus attributes her sickness to. It’s not God. Jesus says that she was bound by Satan. Satan is the one Jesus said caused it.
So, from the Gospels, we never see Jesus attributing sickness to God. Jesus never even says God allows it. Where Jesus attributes it, He attributes it to Satan. We never see Jesus saying God has a purpose in sickness. We never see Jesus saying God uses sickness. We never see Jesus not healing; He never tells a person they haven’t been sick long enough to get the lessons God is trying to teach them. Whenever He comes across a sick person, He heals them.
That’s what we get from Jesus. We always take that as primary, and then we make everything else the Bible says—the things outside the Gospels—fit in with that. We never take something outside the Gospels as primary and then try to make Jesus fit into that. We always take Jesus as primary and make everything else fit in with Him. We always start with the Gospels and make that the primary basis for everything else.
Now, I know people point to certain things the Bible says in different places and tell us they mean God causes sickness. But remember, every Christian belief is an interpretation of something the Bible says, and when we interpret, we have to always interpret everything in light of Jesus, in light of the Gospels. So the guide to the interpretation of the rest of the Bible is Jesus, the Gospels.
But, Christians who believe God either causes or allows sickness forget that. They start with other things in the Bible, see those as primary, and then mangle the Gospels in an attempt to make the Gospels fit those other things.
But a particular interpretation of selected things from the Bible is not the primary reason so many Christians believe God causes or allows sickness. As I was looking on the internet at all this stuff about God causing or allowing sickness, I came across something that went like this: “Of course God either causes or allows sickness. If He didn’t, He wouldn’t be God.” Did you get that—“If He didn’t, He wouldn’t be God”?
See what’s happening?
We get in our minds this picture of what God must be like, this definition of what we think God must be like. We have pre-existing beliefs about the very definition of God. We didn’t get them from the Bible; we got them from our own minds or from others—what we believe or have been told must be true of God.
We have the idea that the definition of God is that God is the Being that controls everything. God sits up there in heaven in complete control, pulling the strings on everything. That’s how we define God—the Being up in heaven who pulls all the strings. And then, with that definition of God, that idea of God, already in our minds, we go to the Bible and interpret the Bible to make it agree with the definition of God we already have. We comb through the Bible looking for this passage and that passage we can pull out and point to and “prove” that our definition of God is correct. What doesn’t agree we either ignore, gloss over, or try to explain away.
After we’ve done that, we have the “biblical” belief that God is in complete control of everything, and of course that means God either causes or allows all cancer, and if someone dies of cancer, God either caused or allowed them to die. That means that if someone gets cancer, it’s God’s will for them to have cancer; if someone dies of cancer, it’s God’s will that they died of cancer. After all, we have the belief that what God is is the Being up in heaven pulling all the strings, so if someone dies, God had to pull the string for them to die, and if He pulled the string, it must be His will.
That’s really where the idea comes from that God either causes or allows cancer. It starts with an idea we already have of what we think God must be like, then we go to the Bible and pick out what we need to support that idea of God. But this sort of logic leads to some really preposterous things.
This sort of logic extends far beyond God either causing or allowing cancer; it extends to everything. Using the same logic the belief that God either causes or allows cancer depends on leads to the belief that everything that happens is God’s will, even when a 3-year old child is beaten to death.
You remember the guy who was on trial here in Shelby a few weeks ago for beating that 3-year old child to death? If you believe God either causes or allows cancer, then the same logic that leads to that belief also leads to the belief that it was God’s will for that man to beat that 3-year old child to death. If it was God’s will that Mary down the street died of cancer, then the same logic that leads to that belief also leads to it being God’s will that this 3-year old child be beaten to death.
And if that’s the case, then the guy that beat the child to death shouldn’t be sentenced to life in prison, he should be immediately released from prison and praised for doing God’s will. That’s sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But it’s based on the same logic that says God either causes or allows cancer.
God gave us minds to reason, to think, and we should think about these beliefs instead of just blindly believing what some preacher says or what we read somewhere or what we’ve always heard. Think.
If we start with Jesus, and go from there, here’s what we find: God does not cause cancer. God does not allow cancer. God does not use cancer for His purposes. Cancer is not, in any way, part of God’s will for our lives. God is at all times opposed to cancer, opposed to any kind of sickness. God doesn’t cause sickness or use sickness; God fights against it.
It goes back to the most basic Christian beliefs. God’s will for us is life. God does not will for any of us to die. God does not will sickness on us. And, God does not allow any of us to die. God does not allow sickness on any of us.
Death is referred to in the Bible as “the enemy.” In fact, the Bible says death is the last enemy to be defeated. And so the Bible sees death, and the things that lead to death, like sickness, as an enemy God fights against. First Corinthians 15 says, talking about Jesus, “For He must reign till He has put all things under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
You see, we live in the time when Jesus is still fighting to put all things under His feet. That has not yet happened. Jesus is in the process of accomplishing it now. God is not causing or allowing sickness, and God is not using sickness. God is actively fighting against it now, at this very moment.
If you get cancer or any other disease, God did not send it, God did not allow it, and God is not using it. God is fighting against it, as hard as He can.
When anyone gets cancer, or any other disease, God immediately starts fighting it, working against it. Sometimes God’s power is able to win, but sometimes the other power is stronger and gets the upper hand. But no matter, in every case, God is fighting as hard as He can against it. God may not be able to defeat all sickness now; as I said, sometimes the other power is stronger, but one day, God will be able to defeat it all. We live in the time before that has happened, but we are assured that it will happen. When that day comes, God will give us new life, a life in which sickness and disease will have no part.
I really do believe that’s the way it is. That’s the message of Christianity.