Cancer's Unexpected Blessings
When you enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, things change.
July 20, 2007
Commentator and broadcaster Tony Snow announced that he had colon cancer in
2005. Following surgery and chemo-therapy, Snow joined the Bush
administration in April 2006 as press secretary. Unfortunately, on March 23
Snow, 51, a husband and father of three, announced that the cancer had
recurred, with tumors found in his abdomen-leading to surgery in April,
followed by more chemotherapy. Snow went back to work in the White House
Briefing Room on May 30. CT asked Snow what spiritual lessons he has been
learning through the ordeal.
Blessings arrive in unexpected packages--in my case, cancer.
Those of us with potentially fatal diseases--and there are millions in
America today--find ourselves in the odd position of coping with our
mortality while trying to fathom God's will. Although it would be the
height of presumption to declare with confidence what it all means, Scripture
provides powerful hints and consolations.
The first is that we shouldn't spend too much time trying to answer the why
questions: Why me? Why must people suffer? Why can't someone else get sick?
We can't answer such things, and the questions themselves often are
designed more to express our anguish than to solicit an answer.
I don't know why I have cancer, and I don't much care. It is what it is--a
plain and indisputable fact. Yet even while staring into a mirror darkly,
great and stunning truths begin to take shape. Our maladies define a
central feature of our existence: We are fallen. We are imperfect. Our bodies give
But despite this--because of it--God offers the possibility of salvation and
grace. We don't know how the narrative of our lives will end, but we get to
choose how to use the interval between now and the moment we meet our
Second, we need to get past the anxiety. The mere thought of dying can send
adrenaline flooding through your system. A dizzy, unfocused panic seizes
you. Your heart thumps; your head swims. You think of nothingness and
swoon. You fear partings; you worry about the impact on family and friends. You
fidget and get nowhere.
To regain footing, remember that we were born not into death, but into
life--and that the journey continues after we have finished our days on this
earth. We accept this on faith, but that faith is nourished by a conviction
that stirs even within many nonbelieving hearts--an intuition that the gift
of life, once given, cannot be taken away. Those who have been stricken
enjoy the special privilege of being able to fight with their might, mind,
and faith to live--fully, richly, exuberantly--no matter how their days may
Third, we can open our eyes and hearts. God relishes surprise. We want
lives of simple, predictable ease--smooth, even trails as far as the eye can
see--but God likes to go off-road. He provokes us with twists and turns. He
places us in predicaments that seem to defy our endurance and
comprehension--and yet don't. By His love and grace, we persevere. The
challenges that make our hearts leap and stomachs churn invariably
strengthen our faith and grant measures of wisdom and joy we would not