Tag Archives: cancer

The Death and Resurrection of Debbie

[HT Frank Turek]

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Does God give people cancer?

A section out of this story caught my eye recently:

A Baptist of Calvinist leanings, Chandler believes everything is in God’s hands and foreordained in a way people can’t fully understand. As he’s tried to stay well, he’s continued to preach to his youthful audience that they should get ready for suffering, and trust God will walk them through.

Trusting God to bring us through difficult circumstances is one thing, praising God for giving us a life-threatening disease is quite another.

We trust God to sustain us through difficult hardships, and we might even praise Him for bringing about good in spire of those hardships. However when we praise God for giving us those hardships we begin to raise some potentially faith-destroying questions about evil and suffering and how God fits in with it all.

Many are reluctant to address this subject because of the deep emotions that it often illicit, especially from those who are suffering through these circumstances. And while I recognize there is a time and a place to discuss this issue in a more objective sense, I believe that sloppy theology around the questions of natural evil like this cause many to run, not walk, away from the faith every year.

Natural evil

First lets examine what natural evil is.

Evil and suffering exists within a fallen and broken world. This includes not only man-made evil like rape, murder, and infidelity. It also includes the state of affairs we should expect to find in a less than perfect world. Things such as tornadoes, earthquakes, forest fires, etc.

Also diseases.

The one thing that all of these have in common is death. And we know from Scripture that God not only did not create death but came and volunteered to taste death so we wouldn’t have to, thereby defeating it.

Now it would be wrong to say that God never causes the death of others. He does many times in Scripture. He uses disease, war, and famine to chastise nations. However these occasions were 1. proclaimed ahead of time 2. only done as a result of punishment and 3. they had as their aim correction for the purpose of reconciliation, that is, they were not vague in the least.

So the logical conclusion here is that if God is sovereign in the sense that Matt claims He is, that is “everything is in God’s hands and foreordained in a way people can’t fully understand”, then God must have given Matt the brain tumor and is therefore must be punishing Matt.1

Denying the logical conclusion

Some might object,

Chandler’s videos have often addressed the difficult questions of suffering, including whether it’s God’s will.

During a break at his most recent visit to Baylor hospital, Chandler said, “At the end of the day, I don’t believe God gave me this cancer, but I do believe he could have stopped it and didn’t. … God is not punishing me, but somehow, for my joy and his glory, he’s let me endure this and walked me through.”

Chandler is the first to acknowledge that he’s balancing Christian resignation with a flat-out effort to stay alive.

Why would their be a need to balance “Christian resignation with flat-out effort to stay alive” if the “Christian resignation” is not based on the belief that God ultimately gave him cancer?

Matt Chandler is a wonderful guy and it pains me to watch him struggle not only with a physical disease, but also with a theological disease.

As I pointed out above, Chandler’s view of God’s role in nature is causal (“everything is in God’s hands and foreordained in a way people can’t fully understand”). That is, God causally determines all things to come to pass according to His will (this is a belief shared among many Calvinists like Piper, Sproul, Voddie Baucham Jr., etc.). So if you combine this causal view of God’s role in nature with his last statement which follows a traditional compatabalist position, you end up with the logical conclusion that God gave him cancer. What is sort-of amusing (if it weren’t for the fact that it has the potential to completely destroy a person’s faith) is that he recognizes this conclusion as the logical outcome, and like a man jumping in front of a train in a valiant (but utterly futile) attempt to stop it, he issues the statement cited above. However, like a train, the logical force behind the earlier view of God’s sovereignty (interpreted to mean causal determinism) steamrolls right over this attempt to prevent the logical conclusion from following. The simple fact remains that no amount of convoluted reasoning can help him avoid the ugly logical conclusion his theological system forces him to.

Beliefs like this one are toxic.

It is the #1 reason people walk away from or are discouraged from pursuing Christ is that pastors like Matt call into question God’s character with their sloppy theological systems.

Matt has cancer because he lives in a fallen world. Period.

If any lesson is to be gleaned from his tragic situation it is that this world is broken and fallen and is in desperate need of a savior.

  1. If this sounds familiar, it should. This line of reasoning is exactly what many of Job’s friends followed. []
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Did God kill my child?

In a recent conversation on a Calvinistic friend’s Facebook page1 I read a comment by a lady who claimed assurance and comfort in the midst of loosing her child2 through the notion that God causally directs all events that come to pass.

In other words, she holds the belief of many reformed folk that God killed her child.

Sadly, this belief is the logical outcome of an a priori commitment to the philosophical presupposition of causal determinism, the notion that God maintains meticulous causal control over His world so that all events that come to pass are not only indirectly attributable to God (He is, after all the creator and sustainer of all things) but directly attributable to God3.

Another variation of this line of reasoning can be seen whenever a reformed person contracts a disease especially a life-threatening disease like a tumor and/or cancer. Almost immediately they are “comforted” by the notion (usually reinforced by others who are desperately looking for a way to comfort their grieving friends) that God gave them4

But is the view that God causally controls everything that comes to pass really comforting (much less true)?

While God certainly is sovereign5 and while Satan may or may not have had a direct hand in the death of a child or the contraction of a disease6, one thing we do know is that God is not in league with the sin and death he came to defeat through resurrection.

If he did, God would quickly become a monster to be feared, for the wrong reasons, and loathed rather than worshiped and loved.

Blessed assurance does not come from the notion that God causes and directs the evil He purports to stand against in both character as well as action. No, blessed assurance comes from the truth that God is wholly opposed to sin, death, and destruction. Indeed, our hope in the resurrection is but a foretaste of the completed victory over all death we look forward to when Christ reigns supreme.

So the answer to the question we started with is; No. God did not kill your child. God didn’t give you cancer. God doesn’t tempt anyone with evil and God is not tempted by evil. Evil is not necessary for good. Death, is evil, an enemy of God.

God is good. God is love. God is genuinely opposed to evil and He really will make sin, death and hell end one day. Just not today.

Until that day we are to have faith that God really is good and opposed to evil and that He really will defeat it in the future, and what we are given until that day as evidence of the truth of these claims is the resurrection of Christ.

For a more in-depth treatment of the problem of evil, I highly recommend Bruce Little’s work along with Udo Middleman’s excellent work: Innocence of God.

  1. Who subsequently banned me for the conversation described here. In his mind, it is far better to call one of your brothers in Christ a devil for saying God didn’t kill someone’s child for no reason than it is to admit your pet theological system may have a flaw in it. Gotta love those ‘doctrines of grace’! []
  2. Not recently mind you. From what I gathered, this happened a few years ago giving her time enough to get the reflection stage of grief which allows for a more objective and rational analysis of events and circumstances. []
  3. Many who maintain a belief in the 5 points of Calvinism also humorously deny the existence of any other causal agents in God’s universe []
  4. Or permitted in some milder forms, though He causally controls everything else which serves to merely abstract the ugliness of the underlying assumption of causal determinism. []
  5. It’s also helpful to note here that sovereignty does not necessarily entail complete causal control over all events. Otherwise, where would we assign the guilt of sin and evil we see all around us? []
  6. Sometimes our suffering is the result of the pain we find in a broken world []
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