Cancer and the sovereignty of God : the truth lived out

PJ Smyth

I have just read PJ Smythes blog and was so impressed by the way he is living out in practice the truths that I have been fumbling around with in theory. It strengthens my conviction that biblical truth is first and foremost to be lived and experienced not abstracted and systematised. I will reproduce a couple of chunks here but please read the whole thing for yourselves.

“Ok, so which is it? Is this cancer from the devil or from God? ‘And’ is one of the most important theological words and my current situation is a classic case in point. The answer is of course that this cancer is both from God and the devil, and therefore our response needs to include acknowledgement of both/and. I will try to explain:

Is this an attack from the devil? Definitely. Jesus and the early church invariably considered sickness to be from the devil. Reflecting back on Jesus’ ministry Peter says, ‘God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him’ (Acts 10:38). Sickness didn’t exist before the fall and will not exist in heaven (Gen 21v4). God is clearly a healing God. He healed me of hypoglycaemia earlier in my life, and from time to time uses me to heal people. Just last Sunday I prayed for a young boy needing an op who no longer needs an op – a miraculous healing.

So, our response is to be in 100% faith for my healing, and resist this villainous attack of the devil against me, my family, Godfirst and the advances that we are making in Joburg. I believe that God will heal me either through a non-medical source or through the chemo.

Is this permitted by a sovereign and loving God?

Definitely. The devil is given a certain amount of rope by God (see Job Chap 1). But every demon, circumstance and molecule is in submission to a sovereign God (Is 46v9-10; Eph 1v11) who is ultimately working all things together for his glory and our good (Rms 8v28). And, God is a perfect Father who is committed to sanctifying us, and so he uses the non-sovereign, short-sighted, evil attacks of Satan to ultimately do His will in our lives.

So, our response is to trust that our perfect heavenly father is using this experience to ‘disciple’ me (Heb 12v7), mature me (James 1v2-4), and so it should be received with gratitude, faith and joy. Please pray that I can mine this opportunity for all it is worth and emerge like Job saying, ‘My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen’ (Job 42v5). I pray that I would end up in a place of deeper godliness, intimacy with God, and future usefulness to him.

The ‘And’ in Daniel – a great summary

Look at these extraordinary verses from Daniel 3v17-18: ‘If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, O king, that we will not serve your gods.’

Did you see it? They believed 100% that God would deliver them from the furnace, and they believed 100% that God was still God and worthy of their obedience and worship even if he did not deliver them. Their faith in ‘healing’ was 100% pure…but it was ultimately trumped by their faith in God. I think that they were aware that efforts to oversimplify the workings of God are usually destined to fail. I think that they were conscious that life this side of heaven has some unanswered mysteries in view of a God whose ways are higher than our ways. But, this did not cause them to retreat into apathy and lack of faith – on the contrary, they had 100% pure faith in God to deliver them…and he did. Faith for healing glorifies God. Healing glorifies God. And above all, faith in God’s loving sovereignty glorifies God.”


Some encouragement:

Heb 12:7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons… No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

God has strengthened my soul so much already with encouragements from scripture and from other sufferers through history. I warmly embrace this trial that will help purify my faith and develop my godliness, patience, perseverance and I trust make me a better Christ-follower, wife-lover, father, friend, and pastor to Godfirst and Joburg. I feel I need chastening and refining so much, and am so grateful to my Heavenly Father for his discipleship and training. And all this is proof of sonship in God! What a privilege. It goes without saying that I am trusting God for 100% healing at his earliest possible convenience! I had the privilege of seeing a little boy healed as I prayed for him a week ago and anticipate similar for myself.

Much love and faith to you all,


I hope it’s ok to reproduce it here in this way. It’s just that I find his perspective on this so helpful. Basically, if I understand it right, cancer is from the devil, he wants us ill because he hates us, but God uses suffering and hardship for our good. God doesn’t suddenly decide one day “I’ll make so and so ill”, the devil does that. But God is working behind and through all of the devils evil schemes to bring about his sovereign purposes. The devil intends it for harm, but God intends it for good.

It reminds me of what Joseph said to his brothers about the time when their jealousy lead them to sell him into slavery.

Gen 50:20   As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (ESV)

This for me it the key passage on suffering and sovereignty of God. Did God want Joseph sold into slavery? Certainly not in the same way his brothers did. Does God like slavery? No. Should we fight against slavery? Yes. Will he be with us in that? Yes. Does he like people being falsely accused and thrown into prison? No. Should we work to free those falsely accused? Yes. Will God help us do that? Yes. Does he work out his good and perfect plans through sickness and injustice? Yes. He can and does work a greater good through evil actions. Ultimately he didn’t want us to sin, he hates our sin, he is wholly opposed to it, it is our responsibility, yet he glorified himself through it by sacrificing his son for us. He did not work around our sin, making the best of it. The lamb was slain before the foundation of the world. The whole of history therefore, with all its sin and suffering, exists for God’s redemptive purposes to be gloriously worked out in Christ. Though good and bad things are very mixed up right now, they will be polarised when Jesus comes again. There will be a wonderful new creation in which there is no suffering, sadness, sickness or death for those who belong to Jesus.


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