Can Cancer Be God’s Servant?
Our sovereign God weaves millions of details into our lives. He may have one big reason, or a thousand little ones, for bringing a certain person or success or failure or disease or accident into our lives. His reasons often fall outside our present lines of sight. If God uses cancer or a car accident to conform us to Himself, then regardless of the human, demonic, or natural forces involved, He will be glorified.
In March, my beloved wife, Nanci, lost her four-year battle with colon cancer. All 54 years I’ve known her, Nanci loved Jesus. But from a front-row seat, I watched a wonderful—and supernatural—change in those last four years.
In 2019, Nanci wrote to a friend and fellow cancer sufferer,
The cancer battle has been tough. However, my time with the Ancient of Days (one of my favorite names for God) has been epic! He has met me in ways I never knew were possible. I have experienced His sovereignty, mercy, and steadfast love in tangible ways. I now trust Him at a level I never knew I could.
I saw Nanci meditate on Scripture daily, read great books about God, and journal—writing out verses, powerful quotations from Spurgeon and many others, and personal reflections. One unforgettable morning, after meditating on Psalm 119:91, “All things are your servants,” she shared with me what she’d just written:
My cancer is God’s servant in my life. He is using it in ways He has revealed to me and in many more I have yet to understand. I can rest knowing my cancer is under the control of a sovereign God who is good and does good.
Brokenhearted and Thankful
Nine months later, at Nanci’s request and on short notice, our daughters and their families gathered to hear her speak final words of overflowing love for us and unswerving trust in her sovereign King.
As one of our grandsons sat beside her, listening to her struggling to speak and to me reading powerful words from her journals, he said, “Grams, if you can trust God in this, I know I can trust Him in whatever I’ll go through.” Another grandson told her, “I will never forget what you said to us today.”
Exactly one week later, I held her hand and watched her take her last breath in this world under the curse.
Every day during those four years, I witnessed God’s sanctifying and happy-making work in my wife: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:3–5).
Nanci and I—and thousands worldwide—prayed daily for her healing. God’s final answer was to rescue her from suffering and bring her into his presence where it’s “better by far” (Philippians 1:23). Through her afflictions, He achieved in her an eternal weight of glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4:17). She praised Jesus for it, and I will forever do the same, though I miss her immensely.
Why God Permits What He Does
When our ministry posted Nanci’s words, “My cancer is God’s servant,” someone responded, “WHAT? God does NOT give people cancer. Jesus bore our sicknesses and carried our pains on the cross.”
That reader is not alone in trying to distance God from suffering. But by saying sickness comes only from Satan and the fall, not from God, we disconnect Him from our suffering and His deeper purposes. God is sovereign. He never permits or uses evil arbitrarily; everything He does flows from His wisdom and ultimately serves both His holiness and love.
Joni Eareckson Tada often shares the words of her friend Steve Estes: “God permits what he hates to accomplish what he loves.” God’s “permitting” something is far stronger than it may sound. After all, whatever God permits actually happens; what he doesn’t permit doesn’t happen.