You will waste your cancer…

Carlos Wilton, Presbyterian pastor and cancer survivor, has an excellent post up where he comments an article by a second ministerial cancer survivor. This time the cancer survivor is John Piper, mega-church pastor and Prostate cancer survivor.

Piper’s article, Don’t Waste Your Cancer, lists 10 ideas for using cancer to affirm and strengthen faith. Wilton comments on the 10 ideas, agreeing with 7 and eviscerating the others.

You might want to go read the original first article and Wilton’s response before moving to my non-theist response which you can find after the fold. I am not as nice as Wilton.

First off, I find the initial premise strange. The idea that once can waste cancer any more than one could waste debilitating allergies, blindness or perhaps the wonderful view of a sunrise each morning is foreign to me.

Cancer happens; allergies happen; sunrises happen. While the diagnosis of cancer forces people to come to terms with issues like mortality, being, time and perhaps their place in the universe, it is arguably no different than any chronic, potentially deadly illness. It can’t be wasted any more than today’s sunrise was wasted.

I daily celebrate the smallest things in my world. (For example, today is a weasel day for me; perhaps the highlight of my week. Why? I was lucky enough to spot one of the little ferret-like, wire chewing varmints on my way to work. He stopped and looked at me, wiggling his nose and with his round ears straining for every sound. Our paths crossed and parted; I carry the quietness of the moment with me for the rest of the day.)

Thus, you can’t waste cancer. You can use it to readjust your thinking. You can use cancer to attempt to find meaning in your life or to reinforce the meaning you knew existed. The choice is individual. But I think “wasting” the opportunity of a life-threatening illness is like wasting the opportunity not to be pushed off a bridge. It is not something I directly understand. While I quote original items, you might consider my comments answering the question not “You will waste your cancer…” but “You miss the opportunity …”

Note: I reordered the points, much like Wilton, simply to put what I consider realistic reactions first.

“You will waste your cancer if you refuse to think about death”

Cancer reminds individuals of individual mortality. The diagnosis is like the sound of the incoming mortar to a soldier, survival – the near miss. Do you think about death? There is a simple question that can answer that. Do you have a legal will? If yes, you have thought about death. Humans approach risks poorly. Cancer is a reminder that risk can sometimes become a very deadly reality. Remember though, cancer is only one risk of many.

I don’t morbidly ponder death, but I do approach it and spend time thinking of my place in society. I can’t conceive of a life after this one, existence just ends. But I do ask the question of how that life ends. But a life changing event that gets one to examine their life? I would agree with this.

“You will waste your cancer if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepen your relationships with manifest affection.”
Any setback used to increase solitude as opposed to outreach is poorly used.

Often the reason for this is a false sense of being a burden, an unease with making people, well, uneasy, modern society’s disconnect with death and serious illness. Using each day to reconnect with people or brighten someone’s day is good; using specific events perhaps to reconnect with lost family and friends is also a good thing; retreat unadvisable at best.

“You will waste your cancer if you grieve as those who have no hope.”
Strange thing to say. Once could rephrase this simply to say – “don’t fall into an unending depression” or perhaps “buck up little camper”. Depression and grieving is a part of the process; some overcome it quickly, others have more trouble.

To present hope where hope is still possible is good advice, to despair in the face of unchangeable realities foolish.

“You will waste your cancer if you spend too much time reading about cancer and not enough time reading about God.”
Um – No. Sorry.

While I do spend a fair amount of time reading about what other people think about God, I would prefer understanding the process of the cancer; what treatments are available and why one is chosen over another. Especially in an early detected, slowly developing illnesses or a chronic problem. It is better to be able to understand enough to stop one specialist from overturning the months of work done by a prior health professional. It is also important to understand and be able to listen to the person who is treating you.

Should one bury themselves in scripture? If it helps the depression/hope thing that’s fine. But being an informed patient is equally important. Study scripture? Study Sun Tzu!

Know your enemy and know yourself, find naught in fear for 100 battles. Know yourself but not your enemy, find level of loss and victory. Know thy enemy but not yourself, wallow in defeat every time.

“You will waste your cancer if you fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ.”
Um – No. I can understand Wilton, it’s his job to agree with these things. To me, this sentence is an oxymoron. I just can’t go there. For me “Truth” and “Glory of Christ” just don’t match up.

But to each their own.

“You will waste your cancer if you seek comfort from your odds rather than from God”
Interesting. On the one hand, creationists and intelligent design people, including Piper himself, will use chance as an argument to further their interpretation of the will of God. Here the odds should be ignored in favor of belief.

I would agree that an undue interest in playing the odds isn’t called for. Just like the idea that you might not win the lottery, but someone probably will.

Cancer and cancer treatments are like a lottery with players who are forced to play. Some will win and some will lose. But to focus exclusively on the odds when you can’t change the game isn’t healthy.

On the other hand, judicious use of statistics can help determine what treatments are useful.

“You will waste your cancer if you think that ‘beating’ cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ.”
Beating cancer in this case is like thinking you can beat the bus running you over. There is no winner.

As a matter of fact, ultimately the patient always wins even in death. The day the patient dies, so does the cancer.

“You will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift.”
Wilton attacks this much as I would.

My objection to this one lies in the false dichotomy Dr. Piper sets up, between a curse and a gift. I think my cancer is both. I would never describe it as anything other than a curse – yet, I would also say that the experience of having cancer has been a surprising gift, in many ways. It’s led me to new sources of strength, opened up new relationships, forced me to think more about others, centered my mind on higher things.

I would agree with Dr. Piper if he were saying, “cancer is not only a curse, it can also be a gift.” But, set it up as an either-or, and I have to cry foul.

On one level I agree with Wilton.

On the other hand, why choose to make it an either or question at all? It is not both, it is neither. Any event can be chosen to be wonderful; any event can be chosen to be horrible. Forcing one to think in those terms doesn’t help the situation any; it is better to learn that all things have many different facets and use that knowledge daily.

You will waste your cancer if you treat sin as casually as before.”
I’ll just leave the response to Wilton. I think he says enough here.

In the course of my pastoral ministry, I’ve encountered way too many sick people who are laboring under the misapprehension that their illness is a form of divine chastisement visited upon them by God. I try to free them of that particular monkey-on-the-back. I won’t deny that some illnesses have a psychosomatic element, through which, say, unresolved guilt or suppressed anger can manifest itself as physical illness. Such illnesses can, indeed, be seen as a result of human sin – but they’re a causal outcome that grows out of the sin itself, not a divine punishment imposed from above.

“You will waste your cancer if you do not believe it is designed for you by God.”
Wilton also leaves no stone unturned on this. Read his response.

Does Dr. Piper actually believe his prostate cancer was custom-designed for him by God – that God went down the rows of souls waiting to be born, and said of the one who would be baptized “John Piper,” “this one gets a rotten prostate, it will make him a better person”?

But just for a minute think about what this Piper does. Not only does he feel that he “needed” to get cancer, as a minister he goes into hospital rooms and tells this to shell-shocked patients and families. Think about it for a second. In the morning you hear you have cancer, in the afternoon you learn, from someone you implicitly trust, that by the way it is your fault. I can’t think of anything more despicable. I wonder what he tells veteran’s families?

I think events like cancer or unexpected deaths do force one to re-examine their beliefs and faith if they have one. All experiences have an effect: for some it will increase their belief in God, for some that belief will be destroyed and for some faith revealed.

Piper seems confident that his view is correct and, being the head of a mega-church, his is able to influence thousands of people each week.

For inspiration in fighting cancer, I’d recommend turning not to the pied Piper and the Song of Songs but the song Força by Nelly Furtado to find the will to live:

It is the passion flowing right on through your veins
And it’s the feeling that you’re oh so glad you came
It is the moment you remember you’re alive
It is the air you breathe, the element, the fire
It is that flower that you took the time to smell
It is the power that you know you got as well
It is the fear inside that you can overcome
This is the orchestra, the rhythm and the drum

Remember: John Piper is bad:

16 comments so far

  1. Vicky on

    Hi Ben,

    I’ve read and thought about your response to Piper’s and Wilton’s blog on cancer. Interesting. Good thought on the solitude issue – you write – “Often the reason for this is a false sense of being a burden, an unease with making people, well, uneasy…” Very true.

    I’m a Christian and so don’t look at Piper as “the enemy” as you might, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with him or follow him blindly. And he isn’t advising anyone to turn to him – but more to our Creator – the one in “whom we live and move and have our being.” So next time you listen to “Forca”, think about The One who gives us life and breath! 🙂

  2. blc303 on


    I guess I’d have to say that following anyone blindly wouldn’t be a great idea. (Even me, not that I’d try to lead anyone anywhere. I’d get lost with an implanted GPS receiver and a pack of guide dogs.)

    On the other hand, like I said, I’m a non-theist so just don’t *get* “The One” thingy.

    I say non-theist as opposed to atheist (“There is no God”) or deist (“There is an ultimate force in the Universe that has created everything and oversees all at all times” – although I can really wax poetic on deist positions, they are really fun.). My position is also not that of the agnostic who says you can’t answer the question, “Is there a God?”

    My position says the question itself is unanswerable. Because the question itself can’t be answered, it is therefore largely unimportant. This by no means diminishes my respect and support for spiritually (although New Age crystal worship and tree-huggary are a bit of an anathema to me). I can’t support religions per say simply because to follow one automatically excludes others – there is no room in Christianity for the Dali Lama’s Buddist good nature. People like Tim LaHaye simply frighten me. How do you choose?

    I really don’t know exactly where Piper is in the spectrum of religious beliefs. As I researched this morning, he seems to be fairly far into the fundamentalist camp as opposed to merely in the religious camp. If that is true, I would have to reject his teachings because there would be far too many issues, political issues, moral issues which I absolutely reject.

    But Furtado’s “Forca” can be what one chooses. (In Furtado’s case it was actually the will to win the 2004 World Cup in Portugal, but that’s a different story.)

    There are people who say, “But for my faith, I would not have survived that experience”. I would argue, yes, they would have survived, but would have used a different lifeline. Both answers are correct.

  3. babychaos on

    You talk a lot of sense here. I do have a faith but I baulk at owning up to it because it’s not the kind of faith most people think of as Christian. I’m British and I’m an Anglican, that should tell you enough.



  4. Vicky on

    I don’t believe I am following God “blindly”. For me personally, it’s been an intellectual pursuit of various religions throughout my life and I have come to believe that the God of the Bible is the Way, the Truth and the Life. As a Christian, I do have much respect for a religion such as Buddhism and I love to read some of the writings of Buddhist monks. I realize there are some Christians who would reject that, but…oh well.

    I do think we all need to be careful about labeling others – you assume Piper is a fundamentalist and people have assumed the same about me – so then others think they know what I believe on every issue. They think all of the “fundamentalists” believe in and support the war in Iraq, for example. That is absolutely not true.

    However, I didn’t come to your blog to argue religion or politics with you, just to tell you I appreciated your insight into Piper’s article on cancer.

  5. blc303 on

    I don’t know if you should baulk at owning up to your faith. I think is is an important part of many peoples lives.

    You are right about labelling. If I were to “religiously” label Iraq war supporters, I’d probably use the word Dominionist and not Fundamentalist. Arguably, fundamentalism has shifted to the right with the more mainstream, deep Christian beliefs being called evangelistic. But then again I spend a lot of time watching this from the sidelines. Someone once said, if you’re sitting on the aisle in a theater, the person in the middle appears closer to the other side and farther away from your position than they really are. Too true.

    I thank you for your nice words and wish you very sincerely all the best.

  6. Vance Esler on

    Well, this was a switch! This time it was the Baptist (usually Armenian) presenting a fatalistic position, and not so much the Presbyterian (usually Calvanistic).

    The views of Piper, Wilton and Ben are interesting. All write from a victim’s perspective, though Ben’s (I hope) is still only imaginary.

    If you have followed my blog, you know that I view life from a Judeo-Christian angle. But in my role as a physician who takes care of cancer patients, I have to remain objective. It is not my place (nor my wish) to try to interpret the events from an existential viewpoint. My job is simply to help you live longer and better. Therefore, it doesn’t matter to me what your own views are. I will try to help you through it within your own worldview.

    Most patients want to make sense out of their illness. It seems natural to wonder why bad things happen when you are a good person and believe in a loving God. Thus I cannot blame Piper, Wilton, or anyone else for asking. Nevertheless I quit trying to answer that one a long time ago. I agree with Harold Kushner (When Bad Things Happen to Good People) that the correct question to ask is, “What now?”

    Whether patients pray, curse God, or remain indifferent is up to them. As for me, I will continue to do my best to provide the best science and human kind have to offer. I will also pray.

  7. Vicky on

    I said I wasn’t going to get into a discussion on religion or politics, but I can’t let this one pass by – Baptists = Armenian???? That’s news to me. All of the Baptists I’m familiar with are Calvinistic to the core – it’s more the Wesleyans, the Pentecostals, Methodists etc that adhere to the Armenian doctrine.


    Gonna check out your blog now, Vance!

  8. Vance Esler on


    Sorry about that. Perhaps I should have specified Southern Baptists. I forgot that there are geographical and sub-denominational differences. I don’t know about Piper, so I could have spoken out-of-place.

  9. Vicky on

    Well, I certainly didn’t know Southern Baptists were Armenian! And I have no idea about Piper myself. I’d never heard of him until some one sent me the “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” article. And then I just learned from Carl’s blog that he’s considered a mega-church pastor. I’d never heard of Ted Haggard either though until the scandal broke!


  10. Teresa on


    ” I’d never heard of Ted Haggard either though until the scandal broke!”

    I find that remarkable, because I’ve heard that from so many Chriatians. I’D heard of him before THAT scandel, and I don’t go to church.

    Of course, nobody cared when he was just being the usual kind of con artist…

  11. blc303 on

    Haggard was just the kind of no-name con-artist who ran the National Association of Evangelicals, a 30 million member religious think-tank/lobbing organisation.

    While Ted Haggard was homophobic, anti-abortion, anti-evolution (and, I suspect, not-too-hot-on-unicorns) con-artist , his old hunting grounds, the NAE, seem to be going to war with the Southern Baptist Convention.

    I think the problem is many religious people don’t think about Religion (with a capital R), they think about religion (small r), faith and the bake sale next week. That is how organisations like Focus On Family, NAE, SBC etc. get so much power.

    If you take nothing from this post, please spend an hour or so reading around Americans United or Theocracywatch. I don’t expect you to agree with or even believe all the things presented, but it does tend to make one think about why so many Republicans seem to be saying – “that isn’t the Republican Party I used to know.”

    And why it is is important not to say – I’d never heard of Ted Haggard.
    Again have a really nice day.

  12. Vicky on

    Well, the fact is I never did hear of Ted Haggard! So you can find that “remarkable” or unbelievable or you can call me a liar if you want – whatever – I’m not arguing with any of you on it.

    You can think /believe what you like; as far as Theocracy Watch, I’m a bit familiar with that, which from what I’ve seen tends to use EXTREME examples of fringe “religious” groups or nuts and then try to paint the entire spectrum of Christianity with that brush. No thanks. I don’t buy that either.

  13. Vicky on

    Aplogies for the snarky tone to my post above. I was feeling a bit defensive and there was no need for me to be.

    I don’t have the inclination or energy to expend on that type of attitude etc.

    Peace & Blessings to all,

  14. blc303 on

    I understand. In one sense I agree with your comment about fringe groups. I suspect I tend to overreact in the other anti-Religious direction.

    You are also partially right about TheocracyWatch. Although I don’t think they try to fight all religions (like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens), they are very concerned about the 10-15 percent of people who are very extreme, very motivated and very rich. But to say Theocracy Watch is anti-faith probably goes too far. They also support the InterfaithAlliance, a faith-based group doing much the same kind of work from the other side of the fence.

    If I come across as trying to paint Christianity with one brush, I again apologise. I have great respect for faith (even if I don’t have any 😉

    Again. I think we are both on the same wavelengths, just different timing.

    I agree Vicky – Peace.

  15. Teresa on

    I don’t know about the groups Theocracy watch targets being fringe. When their pundits are on CNN and their stratagists get mad face-time with our legislators, and I can’t hardly swing a dead cat without hearing people saying how the U.S. was founded as a Christian country…it seems like their message is active and potent well beyond the core people who know what the plan is. There might not be a lot of people saying they want a theocracy, but they are parroting all of the talking points that lead right on up to it.

    We’ve seen this before in history. Rushdoony wrote EXACTLY what he wants to do to America, and even though he’s dead, he has an army of followers who are determined to make it happen, and, just as predicted they have an army of willing footsoldiers who go about the work, insisting that it isn’t going to lead where the strategists keep saying they want it to go.


    Did you read what Neil said on my blog? liberals like the “Interfaithalliance” are fake Christians wwho have been treated much better than they deserve by the faithful.

    Neil is a swell guy and sweet as a peach as far as I can tell, but there are few things he tolerates worse than a liberal who calls themelves “Christian”.

    As Theocracywatch points out…he’s not in favor of Theocracy, but he is doing and saying EVERYTHING that the proponants of theocracy want him to do and say.

    So is he part of it? No, in every way that matters to him. Yes, in everyway that matters to me.

  16. blc303 on


    I think both you and Vicky are right. I think they are fringe in the sense that in numbers, the hard core folks only make up about 10%-15% percent of the population. Another 10%-15% are sympathetic, more willing to agree with a fellow conservative “Christian” then a liberal anything.

    The problem is that the 10% is very active. And in a country where only half the people really vote and the parties are split pretty evenly down the middle, 10% total makes about 40% of the Republican party. That means real power.

    About Neil. Yeah, I read his comments. *head shake, sigh*

    I had do bite my fingers not to go off the deep end and just — ooooh!! — attack. I guest the easiest questions are
    a)what exactly should those un-Christian Christians call themselves – Satanists, Scum-of-the-Earthers?
    b)what does he think should be done about them? Eliminated or deported; de-Raptured perhaps?

    I chose not to go there on your blog because it would have been pure snark and I didn’t want to get into another fight. And because as you put it, he might be a really sweet guy, but I’d ideologically like to toss him off a cliff.

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