What if cancer is a gift?

December 29, 2017

Four months ago I found a lump in my breast. And the Spirit clearly prompted, “This lump is a gift.”

This summer was the first time in a decade that I felt well. I was sleeping, I had energy, my usual symptoms of chronic illness were minimal. On top of that, my son’s health had improved enough for us to experience the edges of “normalcy.” My husband and I would look at each other with relief and whisper in awe, “We’re not in crisis mode anymore.”

A scary find

So on that mid-summer morning when I felt that lump, I wondered through frightened tears, What if this is cancer? After all we have been through, what if we’re about to face our biggest health crisis yet? God wouldn’t do that, would he?

We began a long and complicated testing process. Some days I had all the peace in the world—miraculous calm and confidence in God’s goodness. Other days, it was difficult to loosen fear’s vise-grip on my heart. Don’t make me walk this, Lord, I begged him. And then just as quickly: But if this is where you are going, I want to go with you. I don’t want to miss out on what you’re doing.

Even in the scariest moments, holding my breath for that decisive phone call, I knew he was with me. And as I hid myself in him during those waiting weeks, he confirmed, “This lump is a gift.” What kind of gift, I didn’t yet know. I hoped for the best, but readied my heart for the worst. Because what if the worst was the gift?

I’ve lost several dear ones to cancer in recent years. Two to breast cancer. I’ve watched the slow dying process and know that the worst can be cruel. I don’t want to suffer. I don’t want to lose my breasts and my hair, prematurely age and suffer more aches and pains. What comes naturally to me is the Art of Preservation. I want to save my life, not lose it. But looking back at 41 years of life, filled with various trials that have preceded this one, I can say with confidence: It’s always been in the losing—the surrendering—that I have found Life.

A peace prepared

It would be easy to say, “Nothing prepares you for a cancer diagnosis”—but it wouldn’t be true. God has been preparing me for the past year-and-a-half. In April 2015, I resolved to address some areas of emotional immaturity in my life (namely fear and anxiety), and I began working tirelessly through some amazing resources. I saw grace and growth like never before. Then at the beginning of this year, I had a renewed appetite to read books about people who have suffered with joy and courage. I devoured one biography after another—I couldn’t get enough.

It is in our human nature to be constantly surprised by life’s hardships. But Christ himself modeled a life of joyful suffering—and then called us to follow in his footsteps.

On top of that, God had me praying through the Psalms, which allowed me to tread every square inch of my life in truth. My Abba and I, we covered so much territory together between March and July. So when I sat in my doctor’s office on a Tuesday afternoon in early November, I was ready for the diagnosis: Cancer.

It is in our human nature to be constantly surprised by life’s hardships. To ask “Why me?” But Christ himself modeled a life of joyful suffering—and then called us to follow in his footsteps. Christ came to give his life as a ransom for many. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. But!—for the joy set before him, Christ endured the worst suffering the world has ever known.

My diagnosis is not the worst suffering I can imagine (I could quickly recite for you a list of far worse scenarios)—but still it feels like too much in some moments. On the darker days, my heart has echoed the Psalmist’s: “All His waves and breakers have crashed over me.” A decade of numerous intense trials has not let up into a season of ease and coasting. Instead, the storm rages on. But it was C.H. Spurgeon who said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that dashes me against the Rock of Ages.” These waves carry me to the one who says, “Peace. Be still.”

A childlike faith

Many of our friends have asked us how our six-year-old son is doing with all of this. To state the obvious, it’s hard. We decided early during the testing process (when a cancer diagnosis seemed likely) that we’d share frankly with him—but we’d do it in such a way that hopefully modeled joy and trust in Jesus. We want him to learn how to navigate suffering with an enormous view of God.

The night we received my official diagnosis, my son had tears and hugged me tight. I locked eyes with him and said, “This is hard, isn’t it, bud? It’s not good news. But God is with us, and he turns everything for our good. Everything.” My son paused, then asked us to read the story of the fiery furnace (Daniel 3). My husband read the account, which includes Nebuchadnezzar gasping, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the fire? But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” My husband closed the Bible, and after another pause, my son said, “There are four of us in this family.”

God doesn’t waste suffering, even on a six-year-old. He’s growing a tender heart strong through the uncertainty. He’s teaching courage and resilience to a little man who may need it in his generation more than I’ve needed it in mine.

God is with us. In the fiery furnace. In cancer. In your dark troubles too. He is a good God who gives gifts that are, ultimately, weighty with glory beyond all comparison.

This article originally appeared here.

Colleen Chao

Colleen Elisabeth Chao is a freelance editor and the author of the children’s book on suffering, Out of the Shadow World. She blogs about God's kindness to her through the unexpected chapters of her story, including singleness, depression, and cancer. She makes her home in Southern California with her husband Eddie and … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24