Is Cancer Good?

Here’s a thought provoking article a friend sent me about evolution and cancer. The author, Morgan Bolt, graduated from Messiah College in May of 2014, and was diagnosed with cancer the following October. The article delves into the dark world of death, evil and suffering, and questions if cancer is part of God’s good world.

The article strikes a cord with me because I’ve been forced to confront this ugly disease on multiple fronts; my dad died from cancer in 1976, my sister was a victim in 2011, and I began my own personal battle with cancer in 2008.

I hope to offer a respectful critique of the article. There’s a lot that Bolt writes about that I’m in full agreement on, however I disagree with his conclusion that cancer is part of God’s good world.

Firstly I’m encouraged by his attitude and perspective. Despite the hell he’s had to endure since his diagnosis, he hasn’t harbored resentment towards God and hasn’t questioned, “why me?” Many people have fallen into despair over their battle with cancer. Nobody wants to endure such trials, and nobody wants to see a loved on suffer and die from this insidious disease. But Bolt says he was able to overcome these trials through his understanding of God and his creation.

Like me, Bolt found comfort in God’s word; the book of Job is an enduring testament on suffering and God’s ultimate plan to use it for our good- even though it doesn’t seem that way from our limited perspective. Bolt rightly points out that we shouldn’t fall into the trap of blaming our misfortune on some wrongdoing, as if the disease or suffering is retribution for an act of sin we or someone else committed. Nonetheless he realizes the consequences of sin in the world and how it effects us.

I think the consequences of sin is a little more complicated than what Bolt alludes to, but I’m glad he didn’t struggle with wondering what he had done to deserve cancer. He explains how liberating it was to understand that, freeing him to enjoy life. I can totally relate. But he goes further, stating that the past year was one of the best of his life. Amen!

I can vividly remember how cancer turned my world upside down. Yet it turned out to be one of the best things that had ever happened to me. There was so much good that came out of it; my relationship with God was strengthened, as was my relationship with my wife. I’m very thankful for the lessons I learned from my battles, including a healthy perspective on life. I’ve grown as a person, and more importantly, I’ve grown in my faith with God. I can joyfully say that God is good, all the time.

Now here’s where I disagree with Bolt. He says if he believed in a “fixed, unchanging creation,” he would have serious, troubling questions about cancer and would likely harbor rage towards God and question his existence. First, I’m having trouble understanding exactly what he means. I don’t know anyone who believes in a fixed or unchanging creation, so that seems like a pointless worry. But , even if God did create things in a way that were fixed and unchanging, why should that cause one to lose faith in God? If we lived in such a world, how would we know we’d prefer a world of change where cells mutate and cause cancer?

I think his argument is flawed. He says that if he believed in a fixed and unchanging creation, but came down with cancer anyway, then he’d be angry with God because the existence of cancer in his body would demonstrate that his original belief was false. But instead of being angry at God, he should be angry at himself for believing a false premise in the first place. I’d argue that he never should have believed in a fixed, unchanging creation in the first place. Instead he should have believed that God’s original creation was very good, without death, disease or suffering, but that good creation was corrupted by sin, and that’s why we have to deal with cancer.

To be sure, there won’t be cancer, death, disease or suffering when we get to heaven. God tells us in Revelation 21 that there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. Is Bolt saying he doesn’t want to be included in such a kingdom, or he’d prefer to be someplace less perfect? As a fellow brother in Christ, I’m not sure why he’d allude to such a thing, and I seriously doubt that’s what he wants. Maybe this was his way of explaining how we can benefit from bad things.

To me it came across as a jab at creationism. He’s writing for Biologos, an Intelligent Design advocate that believes evolution over creation, and it sounds like he’s associating a fixed and unchanging creation with young earth creationism. However, while I don’t believe in evolution, I don’t believe in a fixed, unchanging creation either. That would imply nothing was intended to change, or has changed since the creation. All dogs, for example, would look identical, and we wouldn’t see the 500 plus breeds and species we see today. Imagine if every dog looked exactly like a wolf- that might sound boring, but at least we wouldn’t have to worry about cancer and other abnormalities.

But that’s largely irrelevant since we don’t live in such a world. It’s interesting though that Bolt says he’s been blessed to have embraced evolution. So he partially credits his belief in evolution for giving him comfort, as if he couldn’t believe in God if evolution were not true. This doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t believe in evolution, yet I believe in God and am looking forward to spending eternity in heaven with him and his people. My faith doesn’t hinge on my belief in evolution or creation, yet that’s how it comes across for Bolt. Why would he be so angry at God if evolution were not true? It seems that he’s under the belief that, if evolution were not true, then that means God “caused” or “allowed” the cancer, and he couldn’t worship “that kind of god.”

I confess that I do believe in that kind of God, so to speak. Scripture makes it clear that not even a sparrow will fall to the ground outside of God’s provision (Matthew 10:29). This means God is in complete control over every aspect of our lives, which is a good thing. Even Bolt realizes that God’s plan is better than any plan he would devise (he admits if he were God he’d probably impose a “fixed” creation with people incapable of evil). Therefore, since he knows God’s plan is the best plan, why not accept whatever plan he chooses without resentment? That’s my perspective- I used to accept long ages, and now I consider myself a young earth creationist, but no form of creationism defines me aside from my faith in God. I’m perfectly content with whatever plan God has chosen; it’s just that I believe God did create a perfect world less than 10,000 years ago. Where we are today is merely a consequence of what has occurred since then. God created the heavens and earth, and he ordained for all living organisms to reproduce according to their kind. Since God said it, I believe it. That doesn’t cause me to lose any sleep or shake a fist in anger at God.

Bolt is amazed that God created a “continually changing universe,” and to him, that means cancer is not evil. He says cancer is a messy, ugly, but necessary “byproduct” of our ever-changing universe, and we live in a world of “constant flux,” where survival depends on constant adaptation, and we’re fortunate to have change… otherwise life would go extinct. It’s also interesting that he refers to this kind of change as a “gentle whisper.”

I’ve never heard evolutionary change referred to as a “gentle whisper.” Normally its referred to as “red in tooth in claw,” but I guess it sounds comforting if you’re advocating evolution. To me that sounds like a cop-out. The ugly truth is, cancer is a result of sin, and it’s not good. Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and that resulted in death, disease and suffering. Prior to that, there was no sin. God pronounced his original creation “very good.” But there’s nothing good about cancer, and to say it has always existed contradicts God’s proclamation. Acknowledging that cancer is bad, however, doesn’t mean we can’t benefit from it; on the contrary, God will work out all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). Cancer is bad. But God intends to use it for our good.

While I respect him, I think Bolt misunderstands creation and evolution, and I’d encourage him to embrace Biblical creation. Of course we see animals adapt and survive- not because of evolution- but because God has instilled great diversity in their DNA. However, since Bolt believes in evolution, which relies on mutations as a catalyst, cancer is a necessary ingredient for the kind of change he has in mind. Evolutionists think that’s how things were from the very beginning, making humans the result of all those genetic flaws over eons of time. But that’s not the case at all. If Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned, there would be no cancer, death, disease or suffering. Organisms would reproduce after their kind without genetic mutation, and we would be completely content. Animals and people would still “change” since God created variation in their DNA, but there would be no mutations. Yet we’d have much of the incredible diversity we see today. The only difference is that the changes wouldn’t arise from the need to survive; it would happen simply because God loves diversity.

The issue I see is that Bolt’s views on evolution require corruption in our DNA, and that’s not good. But to him, that makes cancer a part of God’s good world; otherwise man would never have evolved. It’s only by the grace of cancer that we ever evolved in the first place. So God is actually using cancer to advance our evolution. But this ignores the fact that the human genome is becoming more and more corrupted over time, and we’re not evolving into a superior new species (nor is any other organism).

Lastly, I do believe that one day God’s people will be in heaven, and once there, we’ll have new, spiritual bodies that won’t be subject to decay or mutations. Now that doesn’t mean things will be dull, as Bolt presumes life on earth would be if not for evolution. Rather things will be restored to the state God originally created- which is very good. We’ll finally know what it’s like to be without sin, and it will be glorious.

I would argue that cancer was not part of God’s good world and original creation. That came afterwards as a result of sin. Cancer is not good, but we can learn and grow from it. We can be sharpened by it and be refined, but ultimately it is part of God’s plan to make us mature and complete (James 1:2-4).

2 thoughts on “Is Cancer Good?

  1. ‘Tis an excellent response, Jon! I am really grateful to hear your thoughts on that article, especially since you have a personal perspective on this difficult topic. The thing that perplexed me the most about Morgan’s article was that cancer, of all ailments and diseases, should be considered good, when it seems to me that it is the one most clearly illustrative of the fall, since it is almost symbolic of sin’s self-destructive nature — bacteria and viruses that ail us might be argued to have existed before the fall without negative effect, but cancer is almost definition perverse. However, you make a good point by observing that Morgan’s acceptance of God-guided evolution necessitates the perspective that cancer is good, because mutation is an essential element to biological evolution.
    Again, thank you for your blog! It helped clarify my thoughts on that article.

    • Thanks. Biologos has a lot of strong Christians, and they accept God’s word, but it’s hard to get around God’s proclamation that his creation was “very good” while believing in evolution and cancer at the same time, long before Adam’s fall into sin. The only way they can do that is by denying that cancer and death are bad or the result of sin, and declaring them to be part of God’s good creation. But, to me, that defies logic, and one has to do spiritual gymnastics to explain how cancer and death are good, especially when Scripture calls death the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26).

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