Monday, May 11, 2009

"Cancer a gift" says Piper. If so, then what isn't?

In order to uphold the doctrine of God's sovereignty, Piper asks that we do not waste our cancer and see it as designed by God, and as a gift from God. It is a good thing to uphold God's sovereignty, and I do believe that God is in control of all that happens to us, both good and bad. But is it a mistake to call it a gift?

Cancer is wretched. It may result in fruit, but in itself it is not a good thing. Cancer is not what God intends for the body in the created order is it? It just doesn't seem right to therefore call it a gift

I find it hard to get past the logic of Piper, as well as the use of biblical texts I might add. But if cancer is a gift, what isn't? By calling cancer a gift because it was designed and given by God, we therefore call every single thing that happens in our entire lives whether good or bad a gift from God. Therefore everything is a gift, and nothing is not a gift. This does not seem right. Or have I missed something?

This post got me thinking about the issue, over at F&T.

24 comments:

Mark E said...

Yeah, that's a tough one mate. The comments on that F&T post attest to that! Having had a couple of family members die of cancer in the last few years, it's been something I've had to mull sadly over...

It seems to me that there's something to be said for ye olde classic distinction between God's decretive will and His preceptive will; His secret decrees, and what he yearns for. That's help me in my struggling with it...

geoffc said...

Thanks Mark, sorry to hear of your family experiences.

It seems to me that there's something to be said for ye olde classic distinction between God's decretive will and His preceptive will; His secret decrees, and what he yearns for. That's help me in my struggling with it...So are you saying that both God's decretive will and his preceptive will are Gifts, or one is and the other isn't?

Mark E said...

Cheers bro. I'm saying that everything is a gift in one sense. And evil really sucks too.

Well, this is a tricky one. Really cuts to the issue of God's sovereign relationship with evil. So I suppose I don't really have any clear answer for it. Except to say that we can hold to both a) Cancer is evil and it sucks and b) That the Lord is well, what the word LORD means. He's the Sovereign Lord of all. And futher, that all things work together for the good of those who love God.

One day in the future, we can look forward to asking Job that very question. Sorry to not give a super-clear, blog-bite-size answer!!! :)

Ali said...

I hear you too Geoff, but I do think Piper is onto something in seeing the circumstances God gives you as his gift to you. 1 Cor 7 is along these lines I think in saying that some have this gift and some another with regards marriage and singleness. I think the point is there that if you are married you have the gift of marriage and if you are single you have the gift of singleness - it's about the circumstances you have, not some supernatural gift that some single people or some married people have. Similarly, Elisabeth Elliot talks of the "gift of widowhood" after Jim Elliot died, as it being what God had now given her to glorify him through. (And I think you could argue also that neither singleness or widowhood was in God's original created order as well.) There might be a better way to express it than "gift" but I think the idea holds. Perhaps "gift" doesn't necessarily have to be "positive" - is that just a modern spin on that word?

geoffc said...

Hi Ali, I think a definition of gift would definately be helpful. I've always assumed gift had positive connotations, and I would assume Piper would feel the same. Happy to be corrected.

Regarding being against the created order, I was referring to what is a result of the fall. I dont think I would say singleness is a reszult of the fall. Cancer is the body decaying, and Christ came in order to redeem our bodies. Cancer is the opposite of God's redemptive plan, I think you could say.

Matthew 11:11 seems to assume to me there are good gifts and bad gifts. It seems what Piper is saying that a snake or a stone are positive gifts.

Ali said...

Hi Geoff,

Thanks for responding. Yes, I still wonder whether the way gift is being used here is in the sense of "given", and the circumstances you've been given, rather than in something being inherently good or bad in and of itself.

I am not quite sure I agree with you re singleness. I think that before the fall there is no reason at all why singleness would be a good thing - and creaturely design would certainly point to people being designed for relationship, and indeed, that is the only way they can fulfil the creation mandate to be fruitful and fill the earth. Post the fall singleness is a good thing because there are ways that it allows people to share the gospel, which now needs to be shared because people are out of relationship with God (and now they can be spiritually fruitful, in a way that wasn't necessary pre-fall). Tim Adeney hints at this in his latest Briefing article - from a creation point of view there would be no reason to choose singleness.

But anyway, this wasn't supposed to be about singleness but that as an example of where it seems that the circumstances you are in are God's gift to you. I certainly know people who have been through terrible things and now see them as a blessing because of what they worked in their lives or others lives. In the end I wonder if that is what Piper is really trying to say - the "all things work together for GOOD" thing, including cancer.

geoffc said...

In the end I wonder if that is what Piper is really trying to say - the "all things work together for GOOD" thing, including cancer.Well amen if it is.

I should say that this is not about "this is offensive to those who have cancer". It's theological, and I concede Piper could well be right. The issue is to do with the wording and definition of 'gift'. Piper says to view it as a gift, and not a curse. But insinuate that they are from God, and I agree with that, I'm just wondering if those are the only two options to choose from.

In no way should we take away the sovereignty of God as well as the fruit of suffering that the Bible makes so clear.

Thanks Ali for your comments, giving me something to think about.

Ali said...

Hi Geoff,
Apologies for how long it's taken me to get back here. But, yes, that's a good thought that perhaps there is another "category", so to speak.
Anyway, thanks for the post. I don't comment on blogs all that often (mainly cause I can't actually access them at work) so you got me out of the woodwork - it's something I find interesting to think through.

geoffc said...

Not a problem Ali, thanks for dropping by!

Piper's pastoral sensitivity and theological rigour has been a constant encouragement in my walk with Christ. I think he's great.

Anonymous said...

Excellent question. It's kind of an "elephant in the living room", one of those things that sounds great in the minds of believers but I'm sure that there are many of us who wonder if Piper has gone off into extra-biblical territory, at the expense of the spiritually vulnerable who might hear his message and find it lacking in compassion.

Even if all things happen under God's sovereign will, that doesn't mean that all things are a "gift". I think one way of getting perspective on this is to look up the word "gift" in a concordance and see all the contexts in which it appears in the scriptures. Not once is it used to describe illness or anything else that causes suffering. In the case of cancer, I think it is more often the case that God may allow suffering as an indirect consequence of us messing with his creation (ie. children who get cancer when their schools are next to sites where there are industrial toxins - their cancer is neither gift nor punishment for them, but rather a natural consequence that, in our fallen world, can affect the innocent).

Someone brought up 1 Cor 7 and the issue of singleness. It should be noted that the "gift of singleness" is a modern invention, a term that was coined by the editors of the Living Bible in the 60's. Now called the New Living Translation, it no longer contains this phrase, but rather refers to some having a "special gift", meaning that there are some people who are gifted in such a way that they voluntarily choose singleness (same said in Matthew 19:10-11) for the sake of the kingdom. But this is different than involuntary or "circumstantial singleness". The Bible never suggests that all singles have the "gift of singleness". Nor is widowhood considered a gift, with all due respect to Mrs. Elliot.

Indeed, every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17).

Ali said...
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Anonymous said...

"The ESV, the version I go by these days, says in 1 Cor 7 "But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another" - which I take to be talking about singleness and marriage."

It's not. "One of one kind, and one of another" is only one variant of the original Greek phrase (still used today)
“hos men houto de hos houto”, more correctly translated means "like so, and so forth". It's not an either/or proposition, as "single or marriage" -- it's non-specific and infinite. There are many different gifts we all might have from God...the possibilities are endless!

"So whatever is said about singleness, from this passage, must also be said of marriage."

Why? 1 Cor 7:7 doesn't even mention marriage. I agree that nobody ever says that some married people have the "gift of marriage" and some married people don't, and yes, it would just be a useless thing to say -- just as telling the involuntarily single that they have the "gift of singleness" is also useless.


"Granted other passages in the bible may hint that some have a special ability to be single, but I personally have been single a long time and have never met one, neither has anyone I know - so they are rare, whoever they are."

I agree that those who make the choice to be single to do kingdom work (ie. those who join religious orders) are rare and gifted individuals.

"If I have this right the word "gift" here used is the same word used in places like Rom 5:15, where we have the free gift of eternal life - coming to us without merit etc. If you have it, you have it."

Likewise, an innate ability or talent that we are born also comes to us "without merit". That's why it's called a "gift".

"Otherwise you end up saying something profoundly unhelpful to a whole score of single people ie you are single but you really shouldn't be because you don't have the gift for that."

It's far more unhelpful to tell a score of single people that it doesn't matter if they marry or if they don't since God will take care of everything. Make no mistake, God does not suspect the consequences of decisions that go against human nature. For the vast majority of individuals, the less marriage, the more pre-marital sex.

"I think there is a deep comfort in suffering knowing that it has been given to you by God..."

Actually, most people do not find that comforting.

"...and will make you more like Christ". There is nothing in the scriptures that say that suffering, per se, makes you more Christlike. Suffering in the cause of spreading the gospel, yes, suffering in general, no. As a matter of fact, this erroneous notion has misled some into unnecessarily enduring or even seeking out suffering.

"and be used for your good"

I agree that God can use all things to his greater good, but not all things happen for your own personal good (although God's greater good is all of our good, it's not all about us).

Ali said...
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Anonymous said...

"Because the whole of 1 Cor 7 is about being married or not being married, as I see it, is why."

Actually, 1 Cor 7 is about what is permissible and advisable, vis a vis marriage and singleness. It was to assuage anyone who might think (as some did at the time), that it was less than holy to marry, or to have sex (even in marriage). Also, to set the parameters for singleness -- it's fine (but only if you can contain yourself sexually) and perhaps preferable "for the sake of the present distress" v. 25-26, as Paul was anticipating the pending persecution of the early church.

Again, it's about what's advisable or permissible for people to do -- it was never meant to be a big declaration about what God is going to do for you, in regards to making you single or married.


"I’d be interested in what you would say to encourage the involuntarily single? Because telling them to just get married certainly doesn’t solve any problem or tell them anything helpful (I am one of them, so I think I get some say in what is useless or not :) ...). I have scores of friends who would marry tomorrow if they could, but there aren’t a lot of options."

Why do you require that the bible "encourage", specifically, the modern single, who feels they are in their situation involuntarily? Whether or not they really do have options is also a matter of modern perception, and that's a human factor, not a divine one. But that's a bias that you miss when you assume that every believer's choices are divinely appointed. You end up white-washing human error and folly.

Sometimes God allows suffering to individuals, societies and generations as a consequence (direct or indirect) for personal and collective decision-making that does not align with His natural design. In no way is He obligated to spare us that suffering.

Ali said...
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Ali said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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