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With cancer fresh on our minds with the pathology report of Matt Chandler, I thought it might be helpful to link to John Piper’s piece, “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.” This was written soon before Piper’s prostate surgery in early 2006. David Powlison, also diagnosed with prostate cancer, added his own thoughts to each of Piper’s points, which can you can read at the above link.

May the Lord use this to help each of us think through God’s glory, sovereignty, compassion, and care with regard to sickness and health and in view of the coming days of death and glory, pain and peace.

Here’s the outline:

  1. You will waste your cancer if you do not believe it is designed for you by God.
  2. You will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift.
  3. You will waste your cancer if you seek comfort from your odds rather than from God.
  4. You will waste your cancer if you refuse to think about death.
  5. You will waste your cancer if you think that "beating" cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ.
  6. You will waste your cancer if you spend too much time reading about cancer and not enough time reading about God.
  7. You will waste your cancer if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepen your relationships with manifest affection.
  8. You will waste your cancer if you grieve as those who have no hope.
  9. You will waste your cancer if you treat sin as casually as before.
  10. You will waste your cancer if you fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ.

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Comments:


27 thoughts on “Don’t Waste Your Cancer”

  1. Hey Justin,

    Here’s an honest observation (I’m not trying to be cheeky or anything like that). I notice in Piper’s list that he stresses that cancer is a gift from God and that we should not view it as a curse instead of a gift. I truly believe the truth that God works all things for good for those who love him yet, at the same time, I see cancer incredibly evil. In the gospels we don’t find Jesus saying things like, “this disease is a gift so don’t waste it.” Instead we see Jesus giving healing diseases, treating them as a result of the curse, as a foretaste of the age to come. Diseases and illnesses can be for the glory of God but we need to balance that with the truth that the sufferings we go through are part our ‘exiled’ state and the gospel of the Kingdom offers hope in the face of illness.I’m sure Piper would agree with everything I’ve said but don’t you think it needs to be stressed more in light of the gospels?

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Yes, Nick, I think that’s a very fair observation.

    2. Nathan Wall says:

      Piper would probably respond with John 9:3, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him,” or John 11:4, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

      And of course Rom 8:1 and Gal 3:13. God cannot curse anyone twice. If Christ became a curse for us, in its entirety, then the only thing left for us are gifts.

  2. By the way, thanks for posting that. I just read about Matt Chandler. That is very sad news; however, it is amazing to witness the suffering of someone who’s rejoicing in the Spirit and looking forward to the restoration of all things!

  3. David Wayne says:

    I agree with Nick on this. A friend recently counseled me in this regard on I Corinthians 10:13, there is an analogy here. The illness itself is not inherently good, just like the temptation or trial are not treated as “good” things in I Cor. 10:13. But God does provide a way to bear up under them and uses them for His glory. It’s kind of like the way God turns even the wrath of men to His praise.
    Will be praying for Matt, cancer is an awful thing but it also opens up avenues for some remarkable displays of God’s grace.

  4. mike brown says:

    I agree with the majority of Piper’s points, but I know that when I was first diagnosed with a serious medical condition, this message caused my considerable anguish. With the benefit of time, I can appreciate what Piper is getting at, but his tone in points 1 and 2 come dangerously close to celebrating cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.

    In my estimation, CS Lewis is absolutely right in that our Father uses pain as a “megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” However, death, sickness and decay are signs of the same curse that caused Jesus to bellow with rage at the death of Lazarus. God has also given us the language to express outrage at pain and death in the books of Job, Lamentations and the Psalms (amongst others). These things were in one sense not intended for us and are a tragic consequence of our sin.

  5. Roberto G says:

    The points are so punctuated in themselves that I’m sure Pastor Piper would not disagree with further elaboration. After all, he did allow David Powlison’s comments to be published with his. However, points 1 and 2 are standard Reformed/Calvinistic pastoral responses to being touched by something like cancer. How could cancer in the life of the believer (or anyone) take God by surprise since He ordains whatsoever comes to pass? How can cancer be viewed by His children as a curse coming from their heavenly Father? Pastor Piper’s admonition is as much Biblical as it is necessary. His emphasis is to not be paralyzed by the evil of cancer, but to justify God in His design to use such an evil as an instrumental good. We do that when we worship God every Lord’s day through the finished work of that great cosmic evil of our Lord’s crucifixion. And on this basis we are to learn to view the most evil things that buffet us as ultimately conquered and converted for ultimately good purposes.

  6. Josiah Faas says:

    http://5pointscc.org/dan/

    My friend Dan’s pilgrimage through cancer – cancer certainly not wasted. The back entries are good.

  7. Freedy says:

    Thanks for the post that was very inspriationl and useful. I just read about Matt Chandler. which is sad news; however, it is amazing to witness the suffering of someone who’s rejoicing in the Spirit and looking forward to the restoration of all things!

    http://youthforjesus.com/2009/12/the-wrath-of-god-is-coming-are-you-ready/

  8. Mike B says:

    I mostly agree with this, I was IIIB Lymphoma. The problem is that we all aren’t on the same page in our walk when cancer enters. Or when cancer exits–if it does or in what manner. The lesson of God’s sovereignty is that He writes His own chapter in our life as I learned, mostly without our help because we are rendered helpless. His strength is proven perfect in our weakness. I’m still ill with the after effects of the chemo. Cancer isn’t a testimony strategy list. It’s by faith and the evidence isn’t always visible.

  9. Carol says:

    So….in light of #’s 1 & 2, what is our responsibility to fight cancer (or other diseases)? Considering that cancer, in particular, often offers treatment options that are worse (at the time) than the disease seems to be, would a Christian be in error to refuse treatment and instead rest in God’s sovereignty over his or her life? I’ve been wrestling with this as I recently walked through it with a friend who chose natural treatments rather than chemo.

    1. Marilyn Gardiner says:

      Good questions! Does anyone consider that cancer and other diseases may be a result of the garbage we are eating? I hope this does not come across as cold because it would not be a true reflection of what is in my heart. God gave us amazing bodes; our bodies are made to heal i.e. colds, cuts, etc. We treat the illness or the sore and it gets well again. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the kinds of foods we eat, processed, packed with preservatives and flavor enhancers that our bodies were not designed to handle. I could go on, but suffice to say that my understanding from Psalm 103 tells me that we get strength from our foods; and we get poisoned from foods too, right? So, therefore, it is possible to get healthy and sick from the foods we eat – what we choose to put in our mouths may be the answer.
      I don’t see God being glorified in sickness because it would be contrary to what He did on the cross. He paid for our sins and our healing. Does it make sense that someone who has an invested interest in our health would also delight to make us sick?
      If a person truly believes that God wants them sick, then it would make sense that they would not seek treatment. Wouldn’t that be seen as fighting God’s plan? You should get a hold of Dr. Lorraine Day’s DVD, “Cancer Doesn’t Scare Me Anymore”. Recovering from cancer herself, she has a lot to say on the subject; it will add some valuable insights on cancer, medicine and our bodies that is surprising coming from a medical doctor.
      As Christians, we have to examine all the evidence in order to avoid falling into error, which leads to more wrong choices and reaping the consequences of it.

  10. Aerodynamic Penguin says:

    Nick, in the first comment, made a lot of points I wanted to make, though more succinctly. Thanks, Nick! I want to say, too, that 1) and 2) seem to be quite dangerous points, when they aren’t couched in the perspective that Nick (or, more importantly, the Bible) offers. If you take points 1) and 2) to their logical conclusion, every evil thing that happens is a gift. Sexual abuse, torture, slapping babies, etc. These are horrors! (Of course John Piper agrees.) My point is that though God allows these things, that doesn’t mean they are gifts. He allows them for our benefit, but let’s not make them good. Let’s call them the results of the Fall. Let’s remember that Jesus died for them, and that at the Eschaton He will restore all things by applying the work of His cross — and the result will be that cancer (and all sickness and so forth) will be destroyed. Praise the Lord.

    The other point that I want to make is that if you take points 1) and 2) and focus on them, you’re much less likely to trust God for the possibility of healing. As someone who has prayed for many people to be healed, and has seen God heal many people, 1) and 2) are fatalistic.

    1. Bob Exentaur says:

      But Piper is committed to a theology that says even evil and sin bring glory to God and so obviously he is going to say that what most people call evil is a “gift.” I think Piper is right to say that we have to learn to see our sufferings in relation to God. But Piper’s Edwardsian Calvinism disallows him from appealing to the classical Augustinian Christian notion of evil as a privation of the good. He cannot but see evil like everything else as glorifying to God which is why various people shudder at some of Piper’s statements like this because it would seem to lead to a terrible morality where the horrible rape of a young girl gives the same glory to God as a teenager who resists sexual temptation. It’s one thing to say all things work together for good, quite another to call evil “good.”

      1. Nathan Wall says:

        Yet Paul received the same objections (Rom 6:1), so Piper might be on to something.

        1. Bob Exentaur says:

          I fail to see how Paul talking about how the reality of grace does not nullify obedience is related to this point.

  11. Hey,

    Just to clarify. I was not outright disagreeing with Piper. I just think that some of his points need to be nuanced. I believe that God is sovereign over all things (even the evilest of evil). Yet I don’t think that gives us any reason to call evil good (which, again, Piper probably wouldn’t say). My view is that God, as the sovereign over all things, can work all things together for good, even the evil. However, the evil is still evil. The pain is still pain; all of this is a part of the curse and Jesus came to reverse the curse. This is why Jesus proclaimed the kingdom AND healed diseases, cast out demons, etc. The healings were a sign/taste of the reality; God has come to reverse the curse through his Son and he has made it possible for us to be a part of it through his cross and resurrection. As the redeemed community we ought to continue to ‘push’ against the curse through the Spirit (as the apostles did). Yet if we are always calling suffering “a gift” then I am afraid that we might be held back from doing so. So although I am not outright disagreeing with Piper it is important to stress the evil of evil so that we are motivated, as the church, to do something about it.

    1. Nathan Wall says:

      Hey Nick, I’m not outright disagreeing with you either, but just to nuance some of your nuancing of Piper’s statements (to add to the discussion), don’t you think Scripture speaks like Piper in many places? e.g. 1 Peter 4:13, Acts 5:41, Romans 5:3ff, Colossians 1:24, Philippians 3:10, Matthew 5:10 …

    2. Nathan Wall says:

      I think what Piper’s wanting to do is say more than “God can use cancer to our good.” He wants to say “God designed cancer for our good.”

      As Spurgeon said, “I dare say the greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness … If some men, that I know of could only be favoured with a month of rheumatism, it would, by God’s grace mellow them marvelously.”

  12. Nick,

    I’m tracking with you. I had a very similar response to this when I first read it. Cancer is not good, but God can use it for our good.

  13. Nathan,

    I think Brad’s comment says it well, “Cancer is not good, but God can use it for our good.” What I am saying is that the suffering in and of itself is not good. Disease and sorrow is evil but we can rejoice IN these things because we can display Jesus to the world and we have the hope of New Creation.

    I wonder if there is a difference between suffering in general and suffering for the name of Christ. I don’t know.

  14. “I think what Piper’s wanting to do is say more than “God can use cancer to our good.” He wants to say “God designed cancer for our good.”

    So is cancer a good thing?

    1. Nathan Wall says:

      Is the death of Christ a good thing?

      The death of Christ was the greatest horror the world has ever seen, and totally planned and orchestrated by God for us. Christ’s death was a blessing. So is cancer (for any believer). That’s the point.

      1. Marilyn Gardiner says:

        I agree that Jesus suffering and death was indeed planned by God for a purpose; it was prophesied about and the reason for it is quite clear: to redeem sinful man and to restore us back to relationship with God as well as to bring us healing and deliverance. Jesus spent a lot of His earthly ministry healing the sick and liberating those who were bound by demonic spirits. If sickness was truly a gift from God then He would not healed them.
        I think before we can say something is of God or not, we need to understand God’s heart. It seems contradictory to say that cancer is a good thing from God when it does not line up with what He did through Jesus earthly ministry and death on the cross. The Bible tells us that Jesus healed all who came to Him.
        There is only one instance that I recall that God refused to heal and that was with the Apostle Paul, who asked three times for healing. God’s purpose in it was quite clean; Paul had received a lots of revelations and God was keeping Him from becoming prideful. What is interesting about that case is that it wasn’t a illness unto death; Paul was able to continue with ministry in good health except for the thing that the messenger of Satan was using to buffet him. In the book of James, believers are told to confess their faults to one another that they may be healed and also instructed to call for the elders of the church to pray for them; why bother getting someone to pray for us if God wants us sick? I would think that we should definitely seek God’s healing as Paul did and as we are instructed to do. If we do not get any answers or relief, then we should look into what we can do to improve our health and well being – not only for relief of the present sickness, but to learn how to walk in health by caring for ourselves using the food and medicine available to us.

  15. Roberto G says:

    I know of a man who was called home to be with the Lord via glioblastoma multiforme. In the midst of his battle with cancer, before it ravaged his cognitive abilities, his son shared with him the painfully blessed irony that even though he was afflicted with this brain tumor, he is much better positioned now than he ever was when he was healthy and outside of Christ. In themselves, whether natural or moral, evils are evil. But this in no way whatsoever precludes the Christian to view his affliction through the eyes of faith as a gift. So, the bare assertion that cancer is evil is minimalist for the Christian. It is an insight that the Church has embraced since the beginning and it is reflected in the following:

    A DIALOGUE-ANTHEM

    CHRISTIAN vs. DEATH

    Christian: ALAS, poor Death ! where is thy glory ?
    Where is thy famous force, thy ancient sting ?
    Death: Alas, poor mortal, void of story !
    Go spell and read how I have killed thy King.
    Christian: Poor Death ! and who was hurt thereby ?
    Thy curse being laid on Him makes thee accurst.
    Death: Let losers talk, yet thou shalt die ;
    These arms shall crush thee.
    Christian: Spare not, do thy worst.
    I shall be one day better than before ;
    Thou so much worse, that thou shalt be no more.

    This stance, posture, attitude, mentality, this response to the evil of death is the result of a maximalist view of God.

  16. Nathan Wall,

    Is the death of Christ a good thing?

    I think you are slightly missing the point. Piper’s article has raised the spector of whether or not cancer is itself a good thing. Not that cancer can work out for the good of those who love good. So your question is wrong. What you should be asking is, “Is death a good thing?” Is death good just because Jesus died? The Bible explicitly defines death as an enemy. Cancer is an evil part of this fallen world. There is no good in cancer. But God can use it for good.

  17. That should be “can work out for the good of those who love God*”

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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