Everyone has an opinion on cancer. Since my diagnosis I’ve been given books and blogs and articles to read. Some are conservative and mainstream. Others are out there and adventurous. I’ve learned about surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, phototherapy, herbal medicines, angiogenesis inhibitors, acupuncture, detox diets, and much more. It’s encouraging that research is advancing at a rapid rate and treatment options are available today that wouldn’t have been dreamed of a few years back. But it’s so confusing. There are so many voices. How do we know what’s best? How do we distinguish the quacks and the frauds from the progressive and informed? Do we just go with tried and tested or do we explore and experiment? I’m just grateful for my GP wife who is well equipped to ask the right questions and then translate the answers for me!
I’ve found something else disturbing, and it’s more theological than medical. A belief that treatment should be refused because it’s incompatible with faith in God. One man is refusing any treatment because his pastor has prayed for him and pronounced him to be healed. The problem is that he’s not healed. So what does he do? Conjure up faith that he really is healed, expecting his belief to eventually become reality? Or does he take the advice of family and friends and visit an oncologist?
The faith-healing movement has a lot to answer for. Promises of healing are sometimes presumptuous and dangerous. In some devastating cases people have died because they have refused simple, available, proven treatment options. I know of a number of people who’ve been left riddled with guilt because they (or their friends or relatives) have been promised healing if only they have enough faith. They’re rebuked for having hidden sin in their life. They’re criticised for having a weak faith or doubting God’s ability and willingness to heal. Sadly, this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading people to doubt the goodness of God and the validity of their own faith.
The Bible describes God as the creator of heaven and earth. He sustains our every breath, knowing every detail of our bodies and minds. He is Ruler over all and not constrained in any way by our actions or beliefs, or our lack thereof. He is the Sovereign Lord who gives life and takes it away. He is the Healer who sometimes chooses to heal and other times does not. God works through our trials, struggle, sickness, and pain. He doesn’t promise to remove all suffering in this life, but he does promise to use it for our ultimate good. God has set a day when our healing will be full and complete, but this will be after our death and resurrection.
Ongoing illness needn’t be understood as a sign of personal sin or evidence of a lack of faith. It may simply be a part of God’s good purposes for our lives in this world of decay and death. Nor should we think that God’s ability or willingness to heal is in any way contingent on our faith. Jesus heals many people in the gospels without any mention of their faith. We mustn’t think that our faith is the trigger mechanism that activates God’s power to heal. God can do whatever he likes, with or without our help.
And what’s more, as creator and sustainer of all things, God can use whatever he chooses to bring healing to people. If someone is healed through chemotherapy, then we can thank God! He made the brilliant minds that have taken the products of his creation and applied them to fighting the cancer. If someone is healed through surgery, then we can thank God. He gave the skill to the surgeons, anaesthetists, and nurses. If someone is able to keep the cancer from growing or spreading by keeping to a strict diet, then we can thank God. How generous is God to provide ‘natural’ ways of combatting the cancer. If someone should be healed without any medical explanation and contrary to medical advice, then we should thank God. How merciful is our God, and how great beyond our understanding!
And if God chooses not to heal someone, but to take them home to himself, then we can thank God! We can thank him for our life! We can thank him for his kindness in giving us new life in Jesus Christ! We can thank him for his promise to rescue us from our decaying bodies and bringing us into a glorious future with him.
Healing – medicine or miracles? I really don’t mind. I’d love to be miraculously healed, and soon. I’d be thrilled to have chemo, or targeted drugs, or some other therapy succeed in eradicating all the cancer from my body. I’m very grateful that God has sustained me thus far and I look forward to many days, weeks, months and years ahead – God willing! But death awaits us all, one way or another, and I thank God most of all for the hope of the life to come.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade —kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire —may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9)