Saturday, 18 February 2006

Cancer and the will of God

Tyler Williams points to an article entitled “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” by the popular Reformed writer John Piper. Piper, who is himself currently battling cancer, tries to emphasise God’s sovereignty by describing cancer as a “gift” and “blessing” which is “designed for you by God.” But as Tyler points out, language like this is offensive: it is offensive to a Christian understanding of God, and it is offensive to the real experience of human suffering.

In contrast to John Piper, here’s what Karl Barth had to say: “[Sickness] is opposed to [God’s] good will as the Creator and has existence and power only under his mighty No. To capitulate before it, to allow it to take its course, can never be obedience but only disobedience towards God. In harmony with the will of God, what man ought to will in face of this whole realm ... and therefore in face of sickness, can only be final resistance” (CD III/4, pp. 367-68).

Cancer is related to God’s will only as that which God rejects and negates—it is an expression of the threatening power of chaos which God has set himself against. Those suffering with cancer may therefore be comforted not by trying to convince themselves that all this is somehow God’s bitter “gift,” but by recalling that, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, God has forever said No to darkness and death, and Yes to light and life. God’s “sovereignty” is not an abstract principle of determinism, but it is the fatherly Lordship of God’s grace, as revealed once and for all in Jesus Christ.

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