Cancer, Denial, and the Sovereignty of God
Paul Tautges has served Immanuel Bible Church in Sheboygan, Wisconsin as pastor since 1992. He is also an adjunct professor of biblical counseling and conference speaker. Paul has authored eight books including Counsel One Another, Comfort Those Who Grieve, The Discipline of Mercy, and Brass Heavens. He is also the editor of the popular Help! discipleship counseling booklet series (24 titles). Paul is a NANC Fellow and a Council Board member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition. He and his wife Karen are the parents of ten children. Paul blogs regularly at counselingoneanother.com.
- 2014 Jul 09
“I’m sorry. I don’t think I caught that. I have what?” “I said the tests are conclusive. You have cancer. I’m very sorry.” It doesn’t matter what has transpired before we or our loved ones hear these words, or what happens after. In that first frozen moment, we tend to go completely numb. The impact is so great it paralyzes us emotionally— perhaps for months! Our first response to disaster is disbelief: No, that just can’t be. Surely the tests are wrong. Maybe we need to see another doctor! This can’t be happening to us. Maybe we’re the ones receiving this diagnosis ourselves, or maybe those hateful words are directed instead to someone we love. Maybe that’s worse.
So begins Deborah Howard’s newly released eBook HELP! Someone I Love has Cancer. After the opening paragraph, above, this caring sister in Christ shares a page from her own story—a story of facing cancer alongside her brother and then her husband. Since denial of the truth is very often the first response to the news of cancer, Deborah Howard spends the first chapter of her mini-book giving us counsel to move beyond denial toward embracing suffering as part of God’s providence in our lives.
The first step in this journey is to progress beyond denial. Denial is a monstrous foe that prevents constructive movement. It puts a barrier between you and God when that’s the last thing you want! There should be nothing in your life or attitude to hinder your prayers to him. When we’re in denial, we deny the providence of God. We must remember that God is the divine Master-Planner of our lives. Nothing happens to us that is not brought about by his sovereignty and intended for his purposes. Death, sickness, heartbreak— all products of man’s original fall in the Garden of Eden— are parts of his plan for us. These elements of life are not given to us capriciously. They have nothing to do with chance or fate, but everything to do with the careful plan of a righteous and holy Father, who brings these things into our lives for a divine purpose. It’s natural for us to try to run from disaster. This is not new to our generation. King David eloquently described this particular kind of anguish in Psalm 55:4–7 when he wrote, “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. And I say, ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.’”
Most of us tend to try to escape pressure. We have other unattractive tendencies as well. We may want to whine, complain, lash out, or give up. However, the Scriptures tell us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2– 4, emphasis added). Meditate upon these truths. It’s important for us to understand them, and to take them into our hearts and minds so we can apply them to the pressures we experience. Another verse worthy of meditation in tough times is Isaiah 26:3, which says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (emphasis added). Does “perfect peace” mean we’re never tried or tested? No; but it means that we can be at peace in the midst of the trial. Our earthly struggles should not come as a surprise to us. Remember 1 Peter 4:12, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” Scripture shows that the Christian’s life is typically peppered with suffering. In fact, we’re promised hardship! Jesus tells us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16: 33).
Thus, the Bible doesn’t tell us that believers will not suffer; instead, it assures us that we will! But it urges us to remain steadfast under the pressures of this earthly realm. What does it mean to be steadfast? We’re told that when we remain steadfast, we will be made perfect and complete, spiritually mature and lacking nothing! Trials produce staying power and life transformation! Through trial, God molds us into the people he wants us to be: “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3– 5).
Suffering takes its toll on us, sometimes emotionally, sometimes spiritually— and sometimes physically. Sickness and death are a part of life. It is important that we look at our suffering through the lens of Scripture. Thus, a cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean that God has abandoned us. Cancer is not out of God’s hands or bigger than he is; it is but another tool in his divine toolbox. Therefore, when we go through this kind of painful trial, it is important to constantly remind ourselves that our pain and suffering have a purpose! We may not be able to see these results with our earthly eyes or conceive of them with our finite minds, but there is an overarching purpose to our lives—God’s will, which is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12: 2). Our suffering will always produce two results— good for us and glory for God. Always!
Written by a hospice nurse, HELP! Someone I Love has Cancer is a tender book filled with biblical help and hope. Get this eBook for $1.99 from Shepherd Press, publisher of the LifeLine mini-book series. You can also listen to a radio interview with the author here.