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Can Cancer Be God’s Servant? What I Saw in My Wife’s Last Four Years

Mercy Outstrips Hardship

Nanci and I experienced many glimpses of God’s sovereign purposes for years before her cancer diagnosis. We saw that my becoming an insulin-dependent diabetic 35 years ago was God’s plan to increase my dependence on Him. And we saw, 30 years ago, that a lawsuit by an abortion clinic for $8.2 million was His way of moving me from pastoring a church we loved into a ministry that reaches further than we ever imagined.

God’s hands were not tied by my genetic propensity for type-1 diabetes (the result of the curse), or by the vengeance of child-killers (the result of human sin and demonic strategy). He didn’t merely “make the best of bad situations.” He took bad situations and used them for His glory and our highest good. His sovereign grace far outstripped our hardships.

If this were not true, anyone facing a terminal illness would have to believe they experienced bad luck, and that God is either not as powerful or not as loving as He claims to be. Parents who have lost a child would have to believe the death was a meaningless accident, and that it wouldn’t have happened if only the child hadn’t been at that place at that time, or if that man hadn’t been driving drunk, or if a thousand other circumstances had been different.

If onlys and what ifs can rule our lives and drive us crazy. Instead, embracing God’s higher purposes—even when invisible to us in painful and tragic events—affirms God’s greatness. This is not fatalism. It is trust in the character and promises of our faithful, all-wise God.

My friend David O’Brien told me, with his slurred and laboring voice, that God used cerebral palsy to deepen his dependence on Christ. Was he better off? He lived convinced that his 81 years of suffering were no cosmic accident or satanic victory, but a severe mercy from the good hand of almighty God.

Reasons Outside Our Sight Lines

By God’s grace, Nanci fixed her attention on His attributes. Only eight months into her cancer journey, she wrote,

I honestly would not trade this cancer experience to go back to where I was. These last months have been used by God to propel me into a deeper understanding and experience of his sovereignty, wisdom, steadfast love, mercy, grace, faithfulness, immanency, trustworthiness, and omnipotence.

Psalm 119:71 says, “It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” If affliction was good for the psalmist, then withholding that affliction would have meant withholding good. The universe is first and foremost about the purposes, plans, and glory of God. God sees eternal purposes and plans and knows ultimate good in ways we cannot.

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.

“O great and mighty God, whose name is the Lord of hosts, great in counsel and mighty in deed” (Jeremiah 32:18–19). God is at work behind the scenes, and one day we will understand our suf­fering’s hidden purposes.

Will You See What She Saw?

Without a doubt, as I saw so clearly even when my tears overflowed, cancer served God’s purposes in Nanci’s life. I said at her service, “The most conspicuous thing about Nanci in her cancer years was her wonderfully big view of God, which she fed from Scripture and great books. The more she contemplated God’s love and grace and sovereignty, the more her trust in him grew.”

So I said to our gathered family, friends, and church members—many of them facing their own painful trials—what I sensed God saying to me: “That huge, beautiful, and transforming view of God is yours for the taking. So why not spend the rest of your life pursuing it?”

This article originally appeared here and is used by permission.