On Tuesday 18th of April, I will be going into the Royal Brompton Hospital here in London for the first of two operations to remove my lung metastases. There are five lumps in my left lung, which will be done first, and two in my right. The largest is about the size of a 10p piece (a quarter, for Americans). I will be in hospital for up to ten days, and so will be unavailable to answer email during that time. The second operation is six weeks after. Until then, I am on vacation and also unable to answer email.
Recently, an American Christian author called John Piper also underwent surgery for cancer – his was of the prostate. On the eve of his operation, he sent round an excellent piece entitled “Don’t Waste Your Cancer“. All of it is worth reading, but the first point he made struck me particularly. He said:
You will waste your cancer if you do not believe it is designed for you by God.
It will not do to say that God only uses our cancer but does not design it. What God permits, he permits for a reason. And that reason is his design. If God foresees molecular developments becoming cancer, he can stop it or not. If he does not, he has a purpose. Since he is infinitely wise, it is right to call this purpose a design. Satan is real and causes many pleasures and pains. But he is not ultimate. So when he strikes Job with boils (Job 2:7), Job attributes it ultimately to God (2:10) and the inspired writer agrees: “They . . . comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him” (Job 42:11). If you don’t believe your cancer is designed for you by God, you will waste it.
It seems entirely perverse to consider cancer as a blessing from God, but the more I think about it, the more I realise he’s right. God does bless me, and also other people, through my illness.
For example, one major thing it has done is that it has given me a closer, more real and more certain hope of heaven. The possibility that in ten years one might be dead concentrates the mind wonderfully – both on not wasting a minute of any day, but also on looking forward to the wonderful eternity that awaits. This is where, as I wrote on a friend’s wall recently,
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
Having a sharper and firmer vision of the object of that certain hope is the first large way that God has blessed me through cancer.
Secondly, as my illness is treated by surgery rather than radio or chemotherapy, it leaves me free most of the time to pursue a high-energy don’t-waste-a-minute lifestyle, but the need to recover from the operations also forces me to stop every so often and relax – something I probably wouldn’t do enough of if left to myself. I know that, over the past few extremely busy weeks, I have been looking forward to taking a breather and spending some time in bed.
Lastly, the scars the operations have left me with have been the trigger for countless great conversations where I am able to testify to the grace and kindness of God in my life, and encourage other people to turn from their rebellion and experience that grace for themselves.
So, perhaps incredibly to some, I have come to believe that my cancer was designed specifically for me by God, and to thank him for it.
Comments on this blog have been disabled while I am away due to spam, which is incredibly frustrating because I really want to hear what people think about this. Please email me at the usual address, and forgive me if I don’t reply for a while.