God Is Bigger Than My Cancer

“There’s no doubt about the diagnosis,” the doctor said. Incurable cancer. A fatal disease. I had just celebrated my 10th anniversary with my wife, and we were busy raising our children, aged 1 and 3.

The next week, as I prepared for chemotherapy, my wife smiled and handed me a handmade card, colored bright with crayons and signed by a 15-year-old girl with Down syndrome in our congregation. My tears flowed as I read the top:

“Get well soon! Jesus loves you! God is bigger than cancer!”

My tears were a mingling of grief and joy. Yes, God is bigger than cancer, and bigger than my cancer! The girl in my church wasn’t denying that the path of my future seemed to be narrowing, hidden beneath the fog of a diagnosis. But she testified that God is greater: The God made known in Jesus Christ shows us that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

In my tears, I relished the fact that in the body of Christ theological truths are not a commodity trafficked and controlled by theology professors like myself. God is bigger than cancer, period.

Does God Owe Me 80 Years?

As I learned more details about my diagnosis, I realized that overnight my expected lifespan had been chopped by decades. This news reinforced my gratitude for each breath and the gift of every moment—the opportunity to hug my children, to cherish my wife, to labor in my vocation for God’s glory.

Cancer changes your perception of life. Each day comes to us as a gift from the gracious hand of God—whether it is the last day of a short life or the first day of a long and healthy life. But living into the reality that each day is a gift also involves coming to recognize a stark, biblical truth that is deeply countercultural: God is not our debtor.

Surely God is not capricious or untrustworthy. God has disclosed himself as gracious in his dealings with creation, with Israel and, most fully, in Jesus Christ. The Triune God binds himself to covenant promises that include, envelop and hold us in a communion that sin and death cannot break. God is faithful to these promises, fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

But this does not mean life is “fair,” or that we are shielded from all of the present consequences of sin and death. God is not our debtor. He does not “owe” us a certain number of requisite years of life.

God does not “owe” us a certain number of requisite years of life.

Christ promised to never leave us as orphans (John 14:18).

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J. Todd Billings (@jtoddbillings) is the Gordon H. Girod Research Professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary. He is the author of several books, including, most recently, a theological reflection on providence and lament in light of his 2012 cancer diagnosis, titled, Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ (Brazos Press). He lives in Holland, Michigan with his wife and their two young children.