Is cancer a punishment from God?

Can bad things happen to your family if you’ve sinned? Does God punish people with cancer? Can He cure someone if He wanted?

(Gina, not her real name, an ADC student)

Answer given by pastor Christian Salcianu,
12 October 2022, Watford

Dear Gina, these are very hard questions, and really packed. I would try to build up a context for each and then provide some Bible references that address the matter. Thus, I hope, I will let the word of God speak for itself, limiting my approach.

Q1. Can bad things happen to your family if you’ve sinned?

Sometimes there may be consequences of one’s act upon others, for example: a pregnant mother taking narcotics that will affect her baby’s health and development; a decision taken by the leaders of a nation will affect millions (war, famine, etc.) even in the following generations. And yet the Word of God is crystal clear — each one is responsible for his/her own sin, thus no blame, no guilt. The Bible says:

“The word of the Lord came to me: What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel — ‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For everyone belongs to Me, the parent as well as the child — both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.” (Ezekiel 18:1-4, also see the entire chapter)

In that generation of Babylonian captivity, people blamed their parents for their own sufferings… Even today people tend to blame something else or someone else for the bad things in their lives. God is not exempt, put in the spotlight as a culprit, especially when there is not much which can be done (from a human perspective) to alleviate a pain.

However, the Bible makes it clear that there is another, one whose intentions are only evil, “an enemy” as in Matthew 13:24-29. Who is this enemy? The book of Job is also clear on Satan’s acts (see Job 1:6-19 and 2:1-7). Jesus Christ spoke at various times about the character of Satan, as one coming to kill, to lie, to destroy (John 8:44; 10:10).

Q2. Does God punish people with cancer?

When we inquire about God’s way of punishment, let it be known that it always comes with a desire to right wrongs — just as a parent may educate a child, or a judge teach the offender a lesson.

Please read the following text. It ends with an acknowledgement of punishment. But to get there one must know (or despise) God’s loving character. When God proclaimed His name to Moses, He was to be known, as the Bible says:

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished…”

(Exodus 34:7)

Is cancer a punishment from God? Did you know that the NHS says it clearly: “1 in 2 people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime”? One may not believe it, but that does not change it. When there is a 50% chance of getting something bad in your life, is that a form of (individual) punishment? Is that something from outside or is it perhaps related to our lifestyle? Is it genetic or does something else trigger it? As there are 200 different types of cancer, probably no answer will be anything more than a generic one, while each case needs to be examined individually.

We hate cancer and there’s nothing to love about it. Yet, as humans we sometimes have a wrong perspective about the bad things in life. Jesus said once (about Lazarus’ suffering) “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory.” (John 11:4). Jesus’ apostles, at another time, thought that the suffering in a blind man’s case was due to one of two options: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” And amazingly Jesus answered: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:2-3)

Probably here is our main challenge: how can suffering turn into something good? Will it? There are real stories of people who are today cancer survivors, see some cases from Adventist Health Centres here and here.

Q3. Can God cure someone if He wanted?

God can do all things. And He always wants the best for us. One can read Psalms 41:3 as a confirmation, or Isaiah 41:10 as a promise. Our part is to believe, as advised in James 5:14-15.

Probably the unspoken question, left in the future tense, anticipative, is… “Will God heal me? (or my loved one). The Bible says:

“Everything is possible for one who believes.”

(Mark 9:23)

Leave a comment