Cancer & God’s Will

There are some days I will always remember. November 27, 2002 is one such day. On that day I watched my friend die. Leukemia won. Three days later I officiated his funeral. It wasn’t my first funeral, but it was the first funeral of a close friend. Part of my responsibility that day included delivering the meditation. I won’t go into everything that I said, but near the end I made the following statement; “I am not here this afternoon to tell you that it was God’s will for Bryan to die.”

Today, thirteen years later, I stand by what I said.

For as long as I can remember I have struggled with the idea that everything that happens is somehow part of God’s plan. I am not alone in this debate. People of faith have been arguing about this for millennia. In the theological world it is the debate between predestination and free will. Are we just cogs in God’s grand plan?  Puppets controlled by the puppeteer.  Or do we have the freedom to make our own choices? Do we have a say in what happens?

As a pastor I have occasionally prayed the “panic prayer.” It goes something like, “God please heal this person, but if it isn’t your will then help us to accept what happens.” This type of prayer allows us to shift all the responsibility (blame) to God.  In some ways it is the modern equivalent of washing our hands of any significant role in God’s world. God is going to do what God is going to do and we cannot change the course of what will happen.

These concepts have been swirling around in a new way since Rita was diagnosed with cancer. The idea that God gave Rita cancer to somehow fulfill God’s will seems both small and mean. Put simply, cancer sucks. I cannot imagine any scenario where God would feel the need to create cancer.

This journey into cancer has tested my faith. I have wondered if God cares. At various times I have prayerfully demanded action. In many ways the quality of my faith has been weighed. Somehow in the middle of all of this I am getting to know a God who is really good at turning lemons into lemonade. For that I am learning to be thankful.