Sunday, March 18, 2007

Cancer: A gift from God?

Today I heard a sermon on Jonah, chapters 2 and 3. It is a well known tail (pardon the pun) of Jonah being swallowed by a giant fish, and the themes/sections of the sermon were on the character of crisis, the character of Jonah, the character of Nineveh and the character of God.

One of the points being made was that crises are times to cast off the peripherals of life and focus on what matters. The preacher quoted a friend who likes to say that canver can be (of was it is, I can't remember) a gift from God. My response is to say a few things.

Firstly, this seems to me to be perverse. James tells us that God is the source of all good gifts - how can cancer be a good gift? Yes, such crises can be opportunities for us to learn many things, but terminal cancer is for humans an evil thing, a painful, life ending, relationship severing disease. Even the Christian emphasis on life after death cannot fully rescue it - since there us a much stronger NT emphasis on life after, life after death (i.e. resurrection). Let's not confuse ends with means.

So what place for cancer. If you believe in meticuluous providence, then God gives you cancer. If the creation has the potential to develop - the cancer arises out of the process of evolution, and is part of it without being a good thing. Does that mean that the best of all possible worlds is one where cancer exists? Is it a soul making universe wher conscious beings get cancer? Perhaps so. However, I think a realistic view of the way God works means that sometimes things happen that we can learn from and grow from, even when it kills us or the ones we love, without that suffering, illness and death being a gift as such.

It is not a "gift" I want, I just hope and pray that if I ever had it, the gifts I would receive would be patience, peace, hope, the love of friends and family.

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