Yesterday Pastor John Piper had prostate cancer surgery. Early reports indicate that the surgery went well, and that he will soon be on the road to what we all hope will be a complete recovery. On the night before the surgery, he wrote an article called Don’t Waste Your Cancer. In it he meditates on ten ways in which cancer patients may miss what God intends for them through their cancer. This is a subject in which I have a personal interest so I read the article closely. His first point establishes a proper biblical framework: “You will waste your cancer if you do not believe it is designed for you by God.” It is not enough to say simply that God “permitted” the cancer. That’s true, of course, but to stop there leaves the faint impression that the cancer came in spite of God’s efforts to stop it. But Piper says (rightly) that what God permits, he permits for a purpose. Nothing ever “just happens”:
What God permits, he permits for a reason. And that reason is his design. If God foresees molecular developments becoming cancer, he can stop it or not. If he does not, he has a purpose. Since he is infinitely wise, it is right to call this purpose a design. Satan is real and causes many pleasures and pains. But he is not ultimate. So when he strikes Job with boils (Job 2:7), Job attributes it ultimately to God (2:10) and the inspired writer agrees: “They … comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him” (Job 42:11). If you don’t believe your cancer is designed for you by God, you will waste it.
In one of his books, Tony Evans puts it this way: “Everything is either caused by God or allowed by God, and there is no third category.” God causes some things directly, and he allows other things to happen. But it’s important to note that there is no “third category” of “bad stuff that just happens” or “bad stuff caused by free will wholly apart from God.” God is truly sovereign. He rules and reigns over the whole universe. Nothing–not even sin itself–can exist independent of God. It’s right at this point that we all struggle with the bad things we see all around us. It becomes very personal when you talk about sickness, suffering, child abuse, drunk drivers, suicide, and a host of other terrible things that happen in our world.
We must not say that God “allows” bad things to happen and then water it down so that our human free will becomes greater than God’s power. If you keep thinking about it, you finally come up against some truly huge questions: Why did God decide to allow sin in the universe when he knew what havoc sin would create? Why allow Lucifer to rebel? Why allow the serpent to tempt Eve? The answer must be that God decreed to allow it to happen. If God had not ordained to allow the entrance of sin, it would never have entered. Certainly there is a vast mystery that we will never fully comprehend this side of heaven. But we know that it is only by the entrance of sin that the glories of the gospel can be plainly seen.
Everything John Piper writes in the article is very helpful, but I wanted to highlight his starting point because this is where we must begin. What God allows, he allows for a purpose.