Why does God let children die of cancer? To answer this question we need to understand some fundamental truths about how this world works.
THE INJUSTICE OF DISEASE
Why does it feel so wrong to us when a child slowly wastes away with disease? There are many reasons. It goes against the natural order of things: children aren’t supposed to die before their parents. It also hurts us and we hate things that cause us pain. We think that the things that hurt us must be evil, therefore cancer is evil. Who do we associate with evil? Satan, of course, therefore Satan is to blame for cancer. This is the theological trail many Christians go down: they end up blaming Satan or else they sigh heavily and say “It’s a fallen world.” Still others personify the disease itself and treat it like a conscious being. “#&%$@ cancer!” is a phrase we see posted on internet profiles by those who are feeling frustrated and helpless as their loved ones suffer in front of them. But is cussing out cancer really getting us anywhere? And is plastering colored ribbons all over the earth really rushing us towards a cure? Suppose they found a cure for all cancers tomorrow and began passing it out for free in every country. Do you know what would happen? A new, nastier, scarier disease would suddenly spring up in our midst. Why is this? Because the One who created this world wants disease to be a part of it.
THE ORIGIN OF DISEASE
The way Christians try to blame everything on the Fall is ridiculous. When we talk like Eve sent the universe spinning out of control the moment she bit into the fruit, we are completely denying what is right in front of our eyes. We need to start back at the beginning of Genesis and try again. No one forced God to curse Adam and Eve with pain, hardship, and physical death. He came up with the idea of making our lives a trial all on His own because this planet was always intended to be a place in which we grow through suffering. So what does this tell us about God? Is He some kind of ogre? No, He’s not. But from our perspective, His methods can seem very cruel.
In order to understand why God inflicts kids with cancer, we need to understand what His priorities are. Keeping us comfortable, happy and healthy while we are on this earth is not at the top of His list of important things. If He had wanted this place to be a perpetual paradise He would have made it one. Instead, He made Heaven a paradise and arranged for almost our entire existence to be there, provided we properly submit to Him (see Understanding Salvation: Meeting the Demands of Three Gods). We’re only on this earth for a brief blip of time, and while we are here, we are supposed to be growing closer to God. Everything that He does to us down here is with our spiritual best in mind. That includes inflicting children with malignant tumors.
Whenever we find ourselves feeling enraged about some form of suffering, it is because we’ve zoomed the lens in far too close. When we get upset about kids dying of cancer, we are only thinking of ourselves and our immediate earthly happiness. We’re not considering the long-term view. We’re putting the temporary above the eternal in value and worth. God does just the opposite. He says the eternal health of souls is far more important than our momentary sorrow on earth. We say pain is pointless. He says pain is a catalyst for causing great change in people’s hearts. We see a child suffering and say that God is cruel. He sees one child’s experience affecting hundreds of lives and shocking souls out of a fatal stagnation. God hurts us in order to heal us. Everything He does is for our best, but too often we refuse to put any trust in His motives, even though He has proven Himself to be infinitely more loving, faithful, and wise than we are.
No one is more dedicated to the well-being of humans than the One who created them in the first place. This world isn’t something that God stumbled upon one day and took a mild interest in. We are His carefully crafted, intricate masterpieces. He hovers over us constantly, meticulously arranging every detail of our lives. Tumors don’t just happen to people because of bad genes or exposure to toxins. God creates tumors in bodies with the same precision as He creates all of our internal organs. Tumors grow because He makes them grow. They are detected late because He blocks us from finding them early. They are cured because He cures them, and they kill us because He wants them to. God works through medicines, doctors, and a host of other things, yet we must not get so focused on His methods that we miss seeing Him. No child comes down with cancer by random chance or because God abandoned them to the clutches of Satan. God personally selects all the victims of cancer with great care, and it is not because He hates them or is just trying to punish someone.
THE FATHER OF OUR CHILDREN
All children belong to God. He is their true Guardian and when He involves us in their care it’s understood that it will only be for a temporary amount of time. At some point, He takes all of His children back again to an eternal dimension where He parents them directly. On earth, we human parents are simply mediators whose primary job is to teach children who their eternal Father is. Sometimes He gives us a lifetime to love and care for His children on earth. Other times, He reclaims them after only a few years. Do we really have the right to accuse God of being unfair in taking back what is rightfully His? Yes, it hurts terribly, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. But to tell God that He was wrong to take what His own hands have madewell, that simply doesn’t work. Other souls are not our property.
From God’s perspective, no one dies prematurely and no one dies late. We say they do because we have preconceived notions about how long people should live. We’ve decided that there’s a rule that all children are supposed to outlive their parents. God never gave us any such guarantee. We’ve decided that anyone who dies from diseases or violence has been cheated. This simply isn’t true. God is clear that He predetermines the number of days that each soul will live on this earth, and no one fails to complete their full assignment. This is because no one can end a life without God’s cooperation. He alone has the power to separate soul from body, and to withdraw the breath of life that He put into us.
Humans try desperately to control the lifespan of themselves and others, yet God says that no one can do anything without His cooperation. We can plot and scheme all day, yet it is God who ultimately decides whether our plans fly or flop. We come up with new miracle drugs for cancer, yet it is God who decides who they work on. Some survive chemo, others die from it. Some are cured and stay cured, while others get constant recurring growths. Why is every case so different? Why can’t we find a formula that always works? Because God is involved. He has a far more important goal in mind than curing our physical bodies. He is after our souls.
GETTING OUR ATTENTION
God wants creatures who willingly choose Him, He doesn’t want robots. So while He controls every atom in existence, He also gives us some degree of choice. On a soul level, we are given the option to accept or reject Him. God wants His relationship with us to be a two-way street, not something He rams down our throats. He then spends our whole lives arranging events and experiences that will entice us to seek Him out. What happens when we see a child dying in front of us? We start asking why. We start looking for a cosmic source of justice. We start wondering if life really is some random set of coincidences, or if there could be some purpose to it all. We reevaluate our own lives and wonder if we’re really living for what is important. When the child dies, we look for some external source of comfort that can fill the void in our hearts. We wonder what our child found on the other side of death. We wonder what we will find when our turn comes.
It is when we feel helpless and distressed that we remember God. Too often that is the only time we remember Him. If we had our way, we’d erase all pain from this world and thereby take away one of God’s most effective means of securing our attention. Then we’d all become completely self-absorbed and totally ignore His existence. Does God smile on this plan? Not hardly. Our Creator loves us too much to let us walk away from Him without a fight. He will do anything it takes to intensify our interest in Him
God is the One who makes pain feel stronger when children are involved. Any good parent would much rather suffer themselves than watch their children suffer. This is the way it is supposed to be. God has set up levels of suffering on this earth. All trials are not equal. Some we can easily cope with, others temporarily devastate us. God inflicts children with incurable tumors when He has determined that only extreme measures will accomplish the soul changes He is after. It doesn’t always mean people are fighting Him. Sometimes there is no rebellion at all, yet God has decided it is time to push souls on to the next level of maturity. In every case, He carefully arranges which lives will cross paths, and the intensity of each person’s exposure to the suffering child. Some will sit at the bedside in hospitals, up close to the agony, while others will only receive brief updates through the internet. Every position is carefully arranged by God to spark conversations between Him and us. When a friend of ours is hurting, our natural instinct is to pray for them and tell God to stop doing what He’s doing. Our advice is utterly useless, and our wishes often misguided, but by getting us to talk to Him, God hopes that we’ll be willing to do some listening as well. He has things He wants to teach us in these moments. He isn’t just stirring us up so we can tell Him how to better run His universe. If we want to grow from these experiences, we must be willing to let God lead us instead of trying to lead Him.
When souls cooperate with God beautiful things happen. We change into something better than we were before. Our trust in God deepens. Our perspective of life shifts closer to the eternal viewpoint. Our priorities improve. Even if the changes are only temporary, they are worth it, for we will be all the swifter to respond to Him the next time a crisis arises. It is only when we close our hearts to God that we stagnate. When we demand healing, and even threaten to walk away from Him unless He gives us what we want, we only end up harming ourselves. God is not going to take orders from us. He will continue to do what He knows is best for hundreds of people, even though we selfishly demand that He care only about our personal pain.
If we are to thrive through suffering, we must recognize that there is a bigger picture involved. God is a multitasker who is always accomplishing many things at once. Yes, our suffering matters to Him very much, but to ask Him to stop caring about every other soul who is being positively affected by our pain is going too far. Instead of accusing God of being cruel, we need to give Him the trust He deserves. God knows what is best for us. As parents, we should be well acquainted with the principle that what a child needs is not always what a child will enjoy receiving. It is the same with us and God. He has promised to do what is best for us, even when it requires some misery on our part. The question now becomes, are we going to trust His judgment? Or are we going to insist that we know better than He does and wallow in self-pity? If we are wise, we will not go through life defining ourselves by the pain we have gone through, and the loved ones we have lost. Instead, we will let pain accomplish its good work in us and then let it go. In this world, God uses evil to bring about a greater good. If we align with His Spirit, He will teach us how to thrive through all forms of suffering.