I have a good friend who was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma (cancer in his liver.) His name is Ed Norman, and we met in while attending college at Liberty Baptist College (later known as Liberty University) in Lynchburg, VA. Ed was a member of the musical group named “The EnPsalms” that my husband sang with during his college years. We’ve been friends with Ed ever since.
When Ed got his diagnosis, he was 55 years old. His is a rare form of cancer that has an annual incidence rate of 1–2 cases per 100,000 in the Western world (according to Landis S, Murray T, Bolden S, Wingo P . “Cancer statistics, 1998”.) It is also an incurable and rapidly lethal malignancy unless both the primary tumor and any metastases can be removed surgically (according to wikipedia .) In Ed’s case surgery was not an option because he is also diabetic. His prognosis was poor and when Ed asked the Doctor how long he expected Ed would survive he was told 8-10 months. That was 18 months ago.
But Ed would not want to be introduced as the man with cancer. He is and always has been first and foremost a Christian. His faith in Jesus Christ has always been the first thing anyone learned about Ed. He has spent his life helping others worship and love his Savior, most effectively through his quite amazing musical talent as a pianist.
Ed is not the first Christian we know who has been diagnosed with cancer. I can think of several members of our church who have passed away because of different forms of this dreadful disease. Upon hearing of their diagnoses we always react with shock and dread and wonder why such a terrible thing would happen to such wonderful people. As a person of faith, I believe that God has the power to heal anyone in an instant, and in fact has done so in the past. Yet that faith is tempered by the knowledge that the majority of time people are not miraculously healed but suffer and ultimately lose their battle with cancer.
So why does God allow His children to be affected by cancer, to suffer and to die from this disease? If He is truly their “Savior” why doesn’t He heal when He has the power to do so?
In no way do I claim to understand the mind of God, or to be able to explain the answer to this question. I can only share the thoughts that I have about this question, and hope that some percentage of what I think is correct, and in reading this someone might begin to think about what their response would be to such a diagnosis.
Cancer is not caused by God. All affliction of the human race is a result of our sin. That is why people of all faiths (and those who profess no faith) are afflicted by this disease….because we are all human. Christians do not become sin-less when they receive Christ; we are still human. But we have the confidence of knowing that our sins have been forgiven by the grace and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
So why does God allow cancer to affect his people?
I believe the answer to that question is the same answer to the question of why God allows ANY bad thing to happen to His people. I believe the answer is this:
God allows bad things to happen to His people to give them the opportunity to react to the situation in a way that will give witness to the grace, glory and love of God for humanity.
In my experience I’ve seen three kinds of responses when people are diagnosed with cancer (or when other terrible things happen to them):
1) The first response is from people whose lives have been a consistent witness for the Lord. Cancer shines a light on their testimony and allows them an opportunity to walk the walk, not just talk the talk through the scariest situation imaginable.
2) The second response is from people who are Christians but who have focused on their lives here on earth. Cancer is a wake up call and forces their focus from their earthly perspective to the heavenly perspective.
3) The third response is from people who do not have a strong faith in any kind of religion or God. Cancer causes them to become bitter and despairing in their situation because they don’t have the comfort or hope that their ultimate destination is heaven.
I can’t imagine not having the hope of heaven! I don’t know how people without faith make their way through this hard and unforgiving world without it.
Ed is definitely a member of the first group. And there is something inspiring and encouraging about hearing a person who knows the probable outcome of their situation is suffering & death and the end of all that they have known of life and love here on earth continue to praise the Lord and use his time left to share the saving grace of Jesus Christ with anyone who will listen.
It seems when someone is in that situation we all tend to listen a little more closely to their testimony. We think “Wow, I don’t know if I could have such a solid testimony if that was me.” But hearing this kind of a testimony gives us comfort to know that no matter what comes our way, if we believe in God and the Lord Jesus Christ He will give us the strength and grace we will need in that situation.
The video below is long….17 minutes or so. But I hope that if you are reading this post you will allow 17 minutes to listen to Ed’s testimony and his music. It could have an impact on your life and even your eternity.
And I promise this: You will never hear another pianist play the song “It Is Well With My Soul” and mean it more than my friend, Ed Norman.
Well done, Ed!