Is cancer the result of sin? This is a question that you have probably faced at some point in your life. One of the most dreaded things to hear at a doctor’s visit are these stinging words, “You’ve got cancer.” Undoubtedly someone in your family or circle of friends has been stricken with this disease. Diagnosis can range from minor topical treatments to extensive surgery and chemotherapy. Sadly, we have all seen loved ones struggle through those last days knowing that the treatments are only prolonging the tightening grip of the disease.
It is during these dark times that we begin to ask questions that probe the deepness of the soul. Night after night of reflection can bring even the strongest Christian to the point where he asks this question, “Is my illness a result of sin?”
The disciples fell prey to this same heart temptation as well! In John 9 Jesus and the disciples come across a man that had been blind from birth. Do you remember the disciples’ response?
“And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2)
The natural assumption is that when we see people going through suffering it is a result of sin. So is cancer the result of sin? Well, in the end the answer is yes….but please don’t hate me yet! Let me explain.
Did you realize that an entire book of the Old Testament is set aside to share with us the story of Job and to understand life’s devastation from his perspective? Let’s dig into his story.
Job was an upright man. Scripture tells us that in all of his living Job was a man that feared God and walked righteously. He was a faithful family man that was devoted to one wife and raising his ten children. Job was also a wealthy man; his riches exceeded the wealth of all others that were living. He had thousands of cattle, sheep, and donkeys as well as the servants and land to tend them. He was blessed in every imaginable way!
Then disaster struck. One day filled with tragedy defines the rest of his life and shapes the direction of the Job narrative. All his children were killed as the house collapsed in a windstorm. Fire from heaven killed all his sheep. The Sabeans descended and took all his oxen and killed his servants. The Chaldeans attacked and took all his camels. In all of recorded human history, the calamity of Job is rarely rivaled. Shortly after Job was stricken by boils over his entire body. His physical frame was brought to ashes as he sat and pondered the reasons for all that had happened.
Job’s Steadfast Faith
Scripture declares that in this time of searching, Job did not curse God. His integrity held firm and He trusted by faith in Jehovah. Job recognized that we should rejoice when we receive ‘good’ from God and should also rejoice when we receive ‘evil’ from the hands of the same loving and gracious God. Even with those around him pushing him to give in and perish, Job’s steadfast faith drove him to trust that God was good no matter the circumstances.
Enter Job’s three friends: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. They sat with Job for seven days without speaking a single word; they saw that he was overwhelmed with grief and pain. When they finally begin to speak, their words are anything but encouraging. “Job, your problems are your own fault. Did God ever punish the innocent like this?” “Job, only those that plow and sow iniquity reap the harvest you are reaping.” “Job, if your hands are full of iniquity, then confess and put it away from you!” Do you see what his three friends did? They told Job that his cancer (his suffering) was because he had a heart full of sin! Job’s friends fell prey to the tempting conclusion that bad things happen to people only as a result of their bad behavior.
Simply put, Job’s three best friends got it all wrong! Their misdiagnosis was a result of their misunderstanding of suffering and pain. They were convinced that only the unjust and unrighteous suffer. THEY! WERE! WRONG! How foolish we are to think that because a person loves and serves God with all their heart that life will be filled with ease. Job understood this and exclaimed, “…shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10)
In the same way it is foolish for us to look at difficulties in our own or other’s lives and automatically assume that physical ailments are the result of our own sinful behavior.
So, we come back to the beginning question, “Is cancer a result of sin?” Well, in a nutshell the answer is ‘yes’ but not necessarily your own sin. To be more exact, cancer is a result of a particular sin that occurred thousands of years ago. The sin penalty of Genesis 3 placed the curse of death on human flesh that has rippled down through the centuries. Generation after generation of sin-cursed humans have passed their sin-cursed DNA to their sin-cursed children. Do you get the point? Cancer is the result of our sin cursed flesh.
While the cure for cancer is something that is being researched feverishly in hospitals, universities and labs worldwide, there is a cure for the problem of sin that affects the heart of every man. In the same passage in Genesis 3 where we see sin enter into the world, we also see God making a promise to mankind of a Redeemer that would one day come and make all things right…the seed of Eve that would crush the head of Satan the serpent. This was fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ who came to earth, lived as a sinless man, willingly followed the path to the cross, and paid the price for the sins of mankind.
While the consequences of sin on our bodies will never be fully reversed, there is a Redeemer that has come to undo the curse of sin in your heart!
When Job came to this realization it radically changed his perspective about his life circumstances. There was a confidence that Job possessed at the end of his trial that he did not process at the beginning. God used his journey of affliction to strengthen his faith and to draw his gaze heavenward. This steadfast faith is what gave him the strength to say these words…
“For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: ” (Job 19:25-26)
My prayer is that God would use the trial you are going to strengthen your faith as well… so that you also will trust in God and his goodness as you face life’s trials.
Senior Pastor of Needham’s Grove Baptist Church in Seagrove, NC
Pastor DJ Harry has been pastoring in NC since 2015. He speaks regularly at retreats and camps and hosts the “Let’s Talk Church” podcast. Pastor Harry also ministers through Chosen Vessel Pottery by making custom coffee mugs. He is currently pursuing his D.Min from Pensacola Theological Seminary. Pastor Harry and his wife Lorrie have been married for 26 years and have 4 children.