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 Five Things to Do When You Hear the “C” Word

 David Alan Black  

What should you do when you come to face to face with cancer? Allow me to list five truths I am facing more fully as Becky and I pursue God in the midst of our cancer journey.

1. Panic. That’s right. I said panic. Your initial gut reaction to hearing the “c” word is probably going to be fear and alarm. That’s okay. More than anything else, you need to be honest with yourself. After all, you are learning one of life’s greatest lessons: There is no escape from pain and suffering in this world. You can live obediently, you can pray every day, you can read your Bible, you can claim the promises of God, but problems will still come. The only difference this time is that your problems now include cancer.

2. Realize that the pain of cancer will never go away. The rhetoric we’re all used too – just trust God, rest in His sovereignty, depend on His never-failing grace – must give way to a deeper reality, the reality of God’s “severe mercy” (as C. S. Lewis, who lost his wife to cancer, once put it). A firm belief in the sovereignty of God and the truthfulness of God’s Word does not mean that we look away from the ugly pain and pretend it isn’t there. Come to Jesus just as you are, admitting your sorrow and accepting the ache in your soul that will never go away. He, the Man of Sorrows, understands you perfectly.

3. Allow the cancer to draw you closer to God so that you can know Him better. There is no other reason for living. Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). We are placed on this earth to get to know God intimately. And He uses discouragement and disappointment to get our attention. He is under no pressure to make our lives easier. He has no obligation to take the pain away, no matter how many times we may recite the “prayer of Jabez.” We need to remember that the point of Christianity is not us or our need to feel loved and valued. We exist for God, and not the other way around. He cares about our pain, but He matters more.

4. Walk with God. I mean, like Enoch walked with God, consciously and intimately. It’s our choice as to whether we will allow cancer to draw us closer to God. God’s agenda for the pain is to bring us and Him together so that we are walking together and not moving in separate directions. By walking with God I mean surrendering our lives to His purposes, fully aware that He does not guarantee the comfort of His children. Our relationship with Him must be on His terms. Somehow His presence must penetrate our lives in the same way that cancer spreads through a body. The question we need to ask is this: Are we merely fighting cancer, or are we walking with God? Are we willing to cooperate with Him as His beloved children in a plan bigger than ourselves?

5. Finally, focus on living out your heavenly citizenship. All of our sinful passions spring from a desire to make our lives happier in the here and now. Like a thirsty deer, we chase after the water this world offers. The self, full of urges for its own welfare, actually prevents us from living fulfilled and happy lives. God has told us that we are citizens of another world, yet we live as though our citizenship were here. If our deepest goal in life is personal comfort and joy, we will be miserable. The way to break out of a self-oriented approach to life is to allow Him to stir up in our hearts a desire for Christ and His eternal kingdom, an all-consuming passion that eclipses all lesser passions. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. It cannot be faked or self-produced. Only God can enable us to face the terrifying truth about cancer and cause us to turn away from this-worldliness and develop a vision for kingdom living until He calls us home. We are called to live by kingdom standards, rather than the values determined by Hollywood, Madison Avenue, or even the Cancer Hospital. We no longer live for ourselves but for God – and for others. If the “leading edge” of cancer is the discovery of pain, the “trailing edge” of cancer is experiencing the power of God acting through our lives and ministries. We rediscover our identity as pilgrims and strangers on earth whose purpose is to love and serve other people as Jesus loves and serves us.

Here, then, are five truths I am learning from cancer. We cannot learn these truths merely by reading about them. We learn them by experiencing them. As you face the “c” word honestly, perhaps God will use these truths to point you forward.

February 9, 2012

David Alan Black is the editor of

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