What Cancer Taught Me About God
Regis NicollRegis Nicoll's weblog
- 2008 Sep 30
“To be commanded to love God at all, let alone in the darkness, is like being commanded to be well when we are sick, to sing for joy when we are dying of thirst, to run when our legs are broken.” (Frederick Buechner)
A while back I made mention of my bout with cancer as it related to a particular God encounter. Now, having two friends who are undergoing aggressive cancer therapies, I write a fuller account of that experience in hopes that it will encourage others in similar situations.
To say that my life has been richly blessed would be an understatement. I have had a fulfilling career, wonderful family, and enriching opportunities with gifts and abilities that have given me a rewarding sense of purpose and accomplishment—all which led to a lofty measure of self-sufficiency, until the winter of 2001.
Angiosarcoma . . . Clinical trials . . . Quality of life . . . Quantity of life . . . were the sound bites steaming through my consciousness as I strained to focus on the oncologist’s words. After 10 days of diagnostic procedures, the biopsy results indicated that I had rare cancer. In the collective experience of the oncology group, there had been only three prior cases, with the longest survivor lasting less than one month. As I lay listless in the hospital bed, I silently gasped, “Why me, why now? Why?”
So began my test of faith.
Two months prior to my diagnosis, I had been praying the prayer of Jabez for God to “enlarge my territory.” My intention was to have a greater impact for the kingdom in my teaching ministry.
At the time I was leading a church class in a four-week study on facing spiritual conflict. Halfway through the series, the initial symptoms of my illness surfaced. Mere coincidence? Although we are tempted to chafe at the suggestion of divinely orchestrated affliction, Scripture is full of such examples. For instance, the Apostle John tells us,
"As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind. 'Neither this man nor his parents sinned,' said Jesus, 'but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (John 9:1-3)
Did I think God caused my illness? I didn’t know. Although John’s account indicates that the blind man’s affliction was not a judgment, Paul tells us, “When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:32).
What I knew, intellectually, was that we inhabit a world in decay. From the beginning, our willful action against the Creator has caused us to be hurled ever deeper down the descending spiral of suffering, disease, death, and sorrow, where we and all creation groan for relief.
What I was about to learn, experientially, is that our weakest and most vulnerable condition is where we encounter God in fullest measure. To continue reading, click here.