Thank God For Cancer

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.

22 thoughts on “Thank God For Cancer

  1. I was Gerv’s boss at his non-Mozilla job. His decision to reorganize his life not to waste a moment was part of what inspired me to leave the corporate world and start my own software business.

    So, I agree with him that the effects of his cancer have been wide-reaching.

  2. hi, i got to know about your blog from a friend’s RSS feed. while i do agree with the fact that God can use cancer, i seriously doubt that He designs it. cancer, as far as i can tell, is a product of the fall – same as sin, death, sickness and all other manifestations of the devil. man sold out to the devil and became his son and was then entitled to have manifestations of his father – the devil.
    God can use cancer to steer our lives despite the fact that the devil intends to kill us with it, but accepting that God authors it – i don’t agree with that. rather, i’d say His great purpose is not hampered by it. He can accomplish His good work despite it.

  3. while i do agree with the fact that God can use cancer, i seriously doubt that He designs it.

    The difficulty with this view is that it means that there are some parts of Creation which God did not create or design, and it means there are some parts of the world over which he does not have total control. I don’t think the Bible teaches either of these things.

    And the book of Job clearly shows us that God has power over the devil. The devil cannot touch Job until God gives him permission. What you are suggesting is close to a “God vs. The Devil” fight – a form of dualism.

  4. I have to say that I am not a great beliver in the positive factors of cancer.

    4-and-a-bit years ago my girlfriend developed breast cancer. She was fairly high energy then, and still is. We are getting married in the next month.

    She has been through surgery, chemo, radio and is still on various medication to subvert her hormones. She goes to regular check ups (which I also attend for the most part – if she is told she has mets, I would rather be there with her).

    She is also a GP, and every week, gets to tell a few poor souls they too have breast cancer and will be entering the cancer treatment system. Of course, every week, she gets to tell people they are going to die. Cancer is not a great way to die, and some leave behind young children. Not great if they are single parents. My girlfriend’s life is not easy. There is no escape from the reality of cancer. It knocks on her door every day.

    There are many cancers which don’t provide people with much life to be active in. A lot are discovered late, when people have only months to live. A friend died recently within weeks of discovering cancer. Another friends mother within a couple of months. The plum was a couple where the father was given a year to live and then the mother was killed leaving 4 kids to be fostered.

    I can subscribe to your view of being effective in life (although many people manage this without cancer), but that is it.

    Finally, get well and stay well !!!

  5. I have to say that I am not a great beliver in the positive factors of cancer.

    I’m not surprised; if you are not a believer in the loving sovereignty of God, and the saving power of Jesus Christ, then there’s no reason you should be a believer in the positive factors of cancer.

    If you believe this life is all there is, anything which shortens it has no upside.

  6. “Of course, every week, she gets to tell people they are going to die. Cancer is not a great way to die, and some leave behind young children. Not great if they are single parents. My girlfriend’s life is not easy. There is no escape from the reality of cancer. It knocks on her door every day.”

    RNC, I think it is accurate to say that Gerv is not claiming that cancer is, of itself, a positive improvement of life. if so, he wouldn’t be seeking to defeat it physically. However, the question one needs to know when one faces his own mortality is this: Does God care? and the second question is this, “If He does care, does He have any power to do anything about this?” As a Christian, Gerv can be confident that the answer to both questions is “Yes.”

    That leads to another question, “If God cares and if He can do something about it, then why did I get cancer in the first place?” Gerv listed some of the benefits to show God working even through this.

    You girlfriend tells people that they are going to die. perhaps this comes as a shock, but if I were to tell the same thing to every person I met, I would be telling each one the truth. We don’t seem to notice that we are all going to die. If we die in 10 minutes or 10 years, the time is too short, and the result inevitable. “There is no escaping the reality of death.”

    How we die and when we die, are indeed in the hands of God. So, why can we not accept that if it happens when we are 80 as if we die of cancer at 30? Is God good if we die at 80 but not if die at 30? In both cases, the death was preventable by Him. However, He is in control and knows that is best. Now to a more important question:

    Why do we die at all? Answer: we are fallen. We are sinners. He Who is holy does not die. We do. A second important question: Can death be defeated? Answer: yes. Jesus did it, raising from the dead. Third question: Can I beat death? Answer: yes. Jesus’ desire is to be believed in, trusted in, and relied on, for the forgivness of sins. He makes us holy through His sacrifice. Then, He finishes the job by guaranteeing no experience of death to anyone who will believe. Yes, there is seperation from the body, but no death: we go from life to life. And, one day, when He returns, we even get our bodies back, except they are indestructable then, and pain free, and eternal.

    God’s plan? to bless and not curse. to save and not condemn. Our problem is our wickedness. His kindness is shown in the man, Jesus.

    So, your girlfriend must say to some, “you are going to die.” I can say that to all. But, I can also say to all, “But that is only physical and temporary if you believe in Jesus. you don’t really have to die at all.”

    Gerv’s words about cancer show the greatness of God applied to a real-life tragedy. we live in a world that can’t handle cancer, and despairs in its face, as your own words confirm. Gerv has victory over cancer and death guaranteed, and he can stand. if he must suffer by God’s design with this disease, it is not pleasant in itself. However, ultimately, he will stand forever and that gives him the worldview he displays here.

  7. However i may hate to admit it, as a 20 year old young man who just spent 20 years thinking he would live forever………As a christian I have to agree. God is the end all be all, perhaps if I were to live, my life would be worse after my death. I have to tell myself these things. Just like a parent knows whats best for their kids, God being my father has to feel the same way. My physical death is certain, its nothing no human wants to experience but something that everyone WILL. I wish it weren’t so, on my days like today, in which i have a bitter attitude, I have to remind myself, it is Adam’s fault. Not Gods. Had Adam listened to what his father told him, Id never die. But, he didnt, and I will, for my transgressions. Its something that is hindering my faith right now, and I can only hope with all that is in me that I will be able to face it stronger and stronger each day that passes. I dont know, and no one else on earth knows why people have to suffer with cancer, but I have to believe that God does. However much I may want to live forever, it just isnt meant to be, this world will one day not be the same place I wish to live in…….if anything itd be nice if time would stop, but it wont, the earth will keep spinning on its axis. Theres really no two ways of looking at it. Even from a scientific point of view, this world can literally only hold so much life until theres not enough food, or the environement gives out. Math wise, it is a mathamatical certainly that i will die, for all who have came before me have, and all that come after me will too, even the ones who havent been thought about yet. Thats why every day that goes by i can only hope to get closer to God, so that im worthy of his prescense. Keep up the positive attitude Gerv, it may not be ur time after all, and do what ure doing, die for your religion, not your disease. God bless you.

  8. James,
    your courage and sorrow and bewilderment all seem to mix together in your post. Thanks for being so vulnerable. May I comment on a couple matters that accentuate the hope we have?

    Adam did cause the fall, but that in itself works out for our best, not our detriment. The fall led to God sending the solution to the fall: Jesus. His death on the cross to reverse the effects of the fall forever will, in the end, work for our better, not our worse.

    As for life on this earth we love it because we know it. God, in the Bible, has promised a better life, but not floating in the sky somewhere. Jesus will raise His followers from the dead into indestructable bodies that cannot sin or be sick or know pain. This will be better than a return to the Garden of Eden, for Adam before the fall is inferior to Adam after the resurrection. The earth itself will have the curse removed, and we shall indeed be alive.

    Furthermore, in Christ, there is not death. this is the promise of Jesus. All who believe in Him will live, even if we die. Your conscience mind will know not even a moment of death.

    Lastly, we yearn to live and dread death, even though all bodies die, because we were made for life. And, the God who made us for life, will give us life, forever.

    Peace. Place your trust in the One of middle cross. He died for your sins. He rose for your salvation.

  9. Your words seem to belong to a happy man. I’m touched with that strength that lives inside a brave man who you are.

  10. this post reminds me of what in AA they call a “Grateful
    When I first heard of this concept I thought it
    was ridiculus… For me, being an incest survivor (in our
    meetings they tell us we’re not victims we’re
    survivors…we were just kids, what could we do about it)
    the concept of being grateful that I was abused seemed

    Then I listened to John Bradshaw’s “Spiritual Gifts of Your
    Childhood Pain” and I understood.

    I learned things like: “I appreciate you’re abandoning me
    because it taught me to be self reliant” an NLP reframing
    of the meaning we associate to the events that shape our

    I lost my Father to Prostate Cancer last year. My Dad and
    grew closer, near the end he worried if he left a healthy
    legacy for me, my brothers and our children… he did
    I learned to accept him, warts and all

    … much to my surprise, in doing this I learned to accept
    myself warts and all. I’ve given this legacy concept much,
    much thought since then. I now live with my children in
    their house. My youngest daughter, a teenager, now has
    respect for me and her elders (never in a thousand years
    did I hope to see that happen)

    I fell off the sobriety wagon after 6 years clean, became a
    crack addict, cleaned up, passed numerous drug tests, got
    my CDL license back, restarted my Internet publishing of
    self destructive behavior websites.
    I used to own
    , now located at

    Bradshaw says:
    “the best gift we can give our kids is for them to see us heal”

    Dad healed

    I healed

    My kids are grateful

    Did God know what he was doing?

    I think so
    David Bruce Jr.

  11. HI

    I have read the first message with interest. As a born again Christian (my home church website is and please feel free to visit and ask for prayer) I don’t beleive God designs cancer, more that he permits it to happen with a greater purpose in mind. This may sound a bit perdantic I know but my intermate experince with God and his holy spirit does not leave room for me to accept that there is anything but love in God’s character, and that while I agree he can use cancer to concentrate our mind or alter attitudes or habits, I cannot say hand on heart that the prelonged suffering and pan that some people go through was something that Jesus would die for.

    At the moment I know several people with cancer, one friend has cancer in her thumb that can be removeed with surgery (according to the Doctors), one has secondary cancer which is treatable with chemo and my mum has medically incurable pancratic cancer with secondaries in her liver which is one of the worst cancers with the least chance of survival convensionally, but every day I pray to God for healing and sustainance for her. While it is true only God knows what is in store, there are only two options I see being according to his ultimate plan. The first is my mum’s salvation and her gentlle and painless journy home and the second (my prefered option given a chioce) is mums salvation and complete recovery. Anything inbetween is not complete and therefore I cannot see how it can be in God’s plan.

    To anyone suffering from cancer you have my complete and unreserved sympothy, but a reminder to stay strong and the only diagnosis you should listen to is God’s trust him with your heart. In the more extreeme cases you have to as it is all you have but even when it is medically treatable ask God for help and please don’t do it alone.He puts you in a family for a reason, and if you aren’t part of a church please try and find one we don’t bit :) ). For thoses who’s relatives and friends have cancer like me, don’t be afraid to confess to God when you are feeling wobbly and your faith is not as it should be, being told you could lose a loved one is painful and is a big thing to deal with, don’t think that it is just your friend or relative who has to adjust you do too. However, do try and do you crying away from them and remember what ever you are going through, it must be 10 time worse for them, but that its is not to say you don’t have valid feelings that need to be talked through. In my experience my cell group (or whatever you smaller church group is called) has been invaluable, I know that without them and the wider support of my church I would have crubbled completely.

    Finanlly its an old addage but one that is very apt for the friends and family of people with cancer. While you don’t want arguments they are a fact of life, unless you are really lucky, espcially within families (I hope so anyway, otherwise I am in trouble when I get to Heaven) try to avoid them where possible but where you cannot make them short, keep short accounts and make the appology quick in comming (even if like me you have to walk away for a short time first). I will admit I have had a couple of aurguments with mum since she was diagnosed, where I walked away and took some time to calm down but the only person who was hurt was me as I lost precious time with my mum, something that becomes more obvious the more ill someone is. I know this seems silly to say and maybe others are better at controllling their feelings but for me when I am stressed my temper is the first to go and it is all to easy to argue over silly things. I am learning to control that part of me and God has always blessed me with the time to appologise but I am very aware this is through his grace and that I would never forgive myself if he didn’t. Also remeber that life does not stop as much as you would like it too (I know I am trying to write up a PhD and hold down a part-time job) so don’t be ashamed to ask God for help there too. God knows we need rest and if your like me something like this really stops you from being able to plan your time effectively. Ask God for help, make time for him, and look for his answers.

    So I guess I am saying, wherever you are in you journey with cancer, let God in. If you don’t know him yet and are just despirately looking for some help (which I totally understand) please trust me God DOES love you, your cancer IS NOT a judgement and if you let him in he WILL help, even if he choses not to cure you. I know this last part may seem hard and I’m sorry if this is not what you wanted to hear but we all have a set time on earth, all God asked is that we use it to get to know him and he will accept you with open arms whenever you let him in, even if it is at the last minute.

    If you haven’t yet asked him in them I urge you to pray this prayer with me

    Lord God, I am sorry for the things that I have done in my life that have not been as you wanted and where I have got things wrong. I am so greatful that you sent your Son Jesus to die on a cross in my place so that I could pray this prayer to you, to ask you to come into my life and guide me from now on. I lay down my plans for my life and surrender to you and ask for you for help and ask that you would send your Holy Spirt to help he in my time of need. Lord Jesus I thank you so much for you sacrafice and for the gift of forgiveness for my sins that you purchased for me by your death, so now in return I give my life to you for you to plan and guide. Holy spirit I welcome you. Amen.

    This may seem a simple prayer but I am yet to meet someone who has pray this or something like it and has said ‘ you know what I really wish I had waited a while’. Remeber as bad as this seems God DOES love you, ask for his help and seek his answer whether that is in a person, the bible, the church, or whatever. The only way he can be limited is by not looking for and expecting to be answered.

    May God love you, help you, and bless you at this your time of need.


  12. I cannot say hand on heart that the prelonged suffering and pan that some people go through was something that Jesus would die for.

    Jesus said his followers would suffer; Paul said that Christians would suffer. Christians suffer every day in many parts of the world.

    The danger of saying that there is nothing but love in God’s character is that you remove his judgement, righteous anger at sin, jealousy for his Bride and so on. God’s personality has many parts.

    While I pray that your Mum would be saved, it’s an inescapable fact that millions of people die unsaved every year. Is that not in God’s plan? Is God reduced to just hoping for the best and seeing if it works out? Surely we must assert that God is in control of everything and therefore some people being unsaved are part of his plan, just as cancer is.

    Furthermore, I don’t think this is a depressing thought, but a massively encouraging one. Which is more comforting – a God who merely wrings his hands impotently at suffering, saying “oh dear, this wasn’t in the plan”, or one who knows and directs all, and so if we suffer we know it’s for our good and part of his plan to sanctify us?

  13. Hi Gerv

    I have read and thought about your comments. First of all thank you for saying that you will pray for my mum. I am a little confused about your comments, the bible quite clearly states that God is Love, and I accept that sometimes that means a rough ride and times of suffering as God shapes us to his ultimate plan, but saying that it is in God’s plan that people should die unsaved just doesn’t sit easily with me and leave me at peace as it should it is truely part of Gods plan. John 3.16 says ‘For God so loved the world he gave his only Son’ and also (sorry scripture reference has escaped me) ‘My plans are to prosper you not to harm you’. However, it is inescapable that we live in a fallen world where God allows free will, and while I don’t believe it is in his plan to let people die unsaved, because he allows free will, anyone who submits to God does so as a free will offereing of sacrifice. Unfortunately, that means some people will choose not to submit to God, so I guess your right in that it is God’s will to give us a free choice but to say it is his will is that some people should go unsaved doesn’t leave me at peace as it should. God is all the things that you describe but the one thing I have battle against in my own mind in recent months and still refuse to belive is that he is vindictive as I feel he would be to the people he decideds should go unsaved. It is our choice and one God paid the ultimate price to secure for us so that his rightous anger and vengence could be satisfied that justice had been done when he pardons each of us from sin.

    Sickness is a consequence of the fallen world in which we live but God in his wisdom will use that to his advantage to shape and mold us to the people he wants to be, if we remain open to his holy spirit and guidence. He will provide all the help and grace we need but again a prolonged agonising death is not something I can see God allowing to happen unless the person still has issues to deal with or is still in need of salvation, in which case I can see a loving God prolonging life to give people time to choose to put things right with him and others. This is not the actions of a hash rathful God but one of a loving and caring God who wants the best for us even if that means dicipline sometimes. I do agree God has many aspect to his personallity (just as we do) but I hope that I have explained how he only ever uses them in a loving way to those who accept him.

    I really hope that I have not upset you with this comment but I wanted to clear up a few things, although knowing me I probably misunderstood your comment and have just restated what you were saying in a different way.

    Thank you again for your prayers for my mum, they are much appriciated and needed


  14. a prolonged agonising death is not something I can see God allowing to happen unless the person still has issues to deal with or is still in need of salvation

    But that would mean that Jesus and (probably) eleven of the twelve apostles “still had issues to deal with or were still in need of salvation”. They all died prolonged, agonising deaths. Yet they glorified God in doing so.

    I think perhaps you are wrongly assuming that if Christians suffer then God is being harsh or cruel, or if people die unsaved because God chooses that it be so then God is being vindictive. I don’t believe either of these things are true. Primarily, I believe this because God is a God of justice and love. This means he cannot be harsh or cruel. Even if we cannot always see why we suffer, we are called to believe that it is for our good or that of the kingdom – and so is not cruel. And because God always judges justly, he can correctly judge that some shall not be saved, and not be vindictive.

    The alternative is that God wants everyone to be saved but they are not – i.e. God is not sovereign, he just has to hope for the best. That line of thought leads off down some very worrying paths…

    Why is this important? Because if you believe that God wants everyone to be saved, and then people you know are not, you will start to doubt God’s sovereignty. And if you believe that God would not give anyone a prolonged death unless they had “unfinished business”, then if a Christian you know has one, you will unnecessarily doubt their salvation.

  15. She is only 6 years old what kind of plan is that??? 2 weeks ago they say 6 months or a year is all. No treatment no hope! what kind of plan is that? Tell me I dont see how this will help anyone. WHAT KIND OF PLAN IS THAT! Its times like this you wonder is there a plan and what kind of GOD plans that?

  16. 6 years old… Response

    Maybe you are what needs to happen in spreading the word???

    I will pray for her, it will not be in vain.

  17. I am a 37 white female that found out 2 days I have breast cancer in both breasts. I feel that God has always been a part of my life. I was baptized at the age of 12. I feel that I was much closer to God before I found out I was diagnose with cancer than I was at the age of 12. God has a plan for everything that happens to you in your life it is our place not to judge his plans , just try to live the way he wants you to. I have became really close to God since my husband and I got back together. I was living in sin without him in my life,ADULTERY. Since we have been together we have had our uphill battles but the battle of cancer is the most severe battle. We have overcome drugabuse and I KNOW WITH GOD’S HELP WE WILL OVERCOME MY BREAST CANCER! I feel that my job from GOD is to try and bring other’s to him due to my cancer. That is my goal and my victory will be cancerfree one day. My friend doen’t understand my enthusasim from my situation, but my strentgh is fromGOD!

  18. I found out I have Lung Cancer, 1 tumor on my right lung and lumps in my right and left lung. God has been working with me really hard for the past 4 months. I now see what he was getting me ready for. He had me look at my life and was changing me for his purpose. When I got the news the day before thanksgiving 07 I felt such a peace with the news ( unlike anything I have ever experienced ) I gave myself to God at the foot of his cross that his will may be done with me. Sure you look at reality in a new way and see things through God’s eye for his purpose. I am thanking God for everything that happens to me. On my web site I have listed things I am thankful for which helps me see what God has put in my life. My time may be short but I am living for God’s purpose.

  19. I found out I have Lung Cancer, 1 tumor on my right lung and lumps in my right and left lung. God has been working with me really hard for the past 4 months. I now see what he was getting me ready for. He had me look at my life and was changing me for his purpose. When I got the news the day before thanksgiving 07 I felt such a peace with the news ( unlike anything I have ever experienced ) I gave myself to God at the foot of his cross that his will may be done with me. Sure you look at reality in a new way and see things through God’s eye for his purpose. I am thanking God for everything that happens to me. On my web site I have listed things I am thankful for which helps me see what God has put in my life. My time may be short but I am living for God’s purpose.

  20. My husband was diagnosed with Stomach cancer, last year November (2006), We believed God to heal him… we had never been closer and more in touch with God before… Unfortunately.. God’s plan was not to heal him, he passed away in April 07, at the age of 28…
    I still trust God… as Romans 28:8 says.. He works ALL things for the good of those who love him, who were called according to his purpose….
    I find it very difficult understanding God, but we are not suppose to I guess! God never lets you go!!!
    I know my husband is marching around Heaven now.. as he was SO full of life on this earth,.. I can imagine he is much more full of live in Heaven..

    Knowing God gives me hope I will see my husband again… On the other side.. Imagine living without that hope???

    I also know God took him for a reason, still seeing the reasons unfold!!!

  21. The doctor told me I had an 85% chance that the 5 lobes and tumor were cancer. After the tests of all kinds the results came back negative, no cancer found.
    However it could develop into cancer. I can only thank God for for this and I
    waiting to see what his purpose for me now is. My web site has a page called thoughts for the soul- what I thank God for. This is helping me deal with everything and a little humor. my site is
    Thank God for this site Amen Ned