Monday, February 27

God's Gift?

In the controverial article that started the God and cancer brouhaha, John Piper also says, "You will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift." It's not just the description of cancer as God's design that some people find hard to swallow, but some also have trouble with the idea that something as nasty as cancer could be a gift.

Are they right to find the idea that cancer is a gift repulsive? Is it an insult to God and to us to think of it that way?

First off, let me say that I agree that cancer is nasty. The illness is energy sapping, nausea causing, pain making, and pretty much like rotting from the inside out. And the treatment is no piece of cake either. Any statement you make about the nastiness of the illness, you could probably say about the treatment as well, including that it can kill you.

I also agree that cancer and all other nasty diseases entered our world as a result of the fall. Cancer is the direct result of evil coming into God's perfectly created world. It is here doing it's repugnant work because our world was placed under a curse. Cancer is part of the bondage of decay that the whole of creation was subjected to by God.

How then, can it be right to call it a gift? We can call it a gift because to those who belong to God, and in whom God chooses to allow it, that's exactly what it is. For us, trials--like cancer, for example--as something God purposefully allows for us, work something good.

In a mind-boggling turnabout, what is part of the curse of creation becomes a blessing and not a curse for those who are being redeemed. God is working out the fullness of our salvation through some of the very same things that came into this world as a result of him subjecting creation to futility.
My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything. (James 1:2-4 NET)
Trials test our faith and produce endurance in us. Trials sand out our imperfections and work toward giving us a flawless finish. In an awe-inspiring paradox, the futile becomes purposeful in God's hands.

That doesn't mean that trials are a piece of cake, or that we will be dancing the happy dance throughout them. They will cause us deep-pit sorrow, but those who trust God can have true joy in the midst of sorrow. Those who trust God when they are in the thick of trouble will find themselves loving God more, thanking God more, and anticipating the presence of God more. They will value what is eternal--the things that don't change or decay or rust or die--more than they ever did. They will know more than ever where they belong, and to whom they belong.

That is a gift. A true gift. A perfect gift. And "every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.... (James 1:17 NET)" And now I've going to write something that's hard for me to write, because it's something I wrestle with as much as anyone; but here goes: The true insult is in not recognizing that difficult circumstances can be God's good gift and being thankful for them.

Update: Lots of discussion on this one, so read the comments, too.

Brandon of Siris linked to my last post on this subject and added some important thoughts.
.....a key fact about hope: people get genuine hope only from something that serves as a sure foundation for it.

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