Is Cancer Your Own Fault?
July 11, 2010 Blogs, Life's Tough Questions by: Tim Jennings, M.D.

Some friends of ours swear that they heard you say that if you get cancer it is your own fault (It is a sensitive topic because their mom recently passed away from cancer). I do not believe that you would have said that.

So, I wondered if you would write a blog about it so I could show them. It seems like a very elementary question, but they seem to be really hung up on that comment, and I think it is causing them to have a bias towards anything else you say.

So, I guess the question would be: Obviously there are certain medical problems that our lifestyle can cause or worsen. But as a general rule, when we get sick or something bad happens to us, is it our own fault? Does God cause it to happen?


Thank you so much for sharing this question and for allowing me the opportunity to clarify.

Cancer is horrible! I don’t know many people who have not been affected by it, either directly or through a loved one. My grandfather died of lung cancer when I was a teenager and my brother is currently undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia.

My grandfather was a SDA who lived a very healthy lifestyle, why should he die of cancer? My grandfather worked in a restaurant during the 50’s though the 1970’s. Even though he was an SDA and didn’t smoke, he breathed a lot of secondhand smoke, which most likely contributed to his lung cancer and ultimately his death. Was it my grandfather’s fault he got lung cancer? Absolutely not! He had no idea of the harm caused by secondhand smoke.

My grandfather made choices which he believed were healthy for his life. But in this world of sin we are all vulnerable to exposures of various kinds that are not our fault which can damage our bodies and contribute to disease, including cancer.

In our age of industrial waste, toxic pollution, oil and chemical spills, and nuclear technology any person, regardless of lifestyle may develop cancer. We may never know, this side of heaven, why a particular person developed cancer. Certainly, genetics play a role, but environment also plays a role, and all of us could be exposed to such toxins without any fault of our own.

So, if a person has cancer does that necessarily mean it is their fault? Absolutely not!

However, is it not possible for a person to choose activities, knowingly, which does increase their risk? Could a person, knowing the risks of smoking, choose to smoke? And if that person developed cancer would their choices be a factor?

The point your friend probably heard me making is that we live in a universe where cause is followed by effect, a person generally reaps what is sown. The question is, who did the sewing? We can sew into our own lives, but in this world others can also sew.

We can make choices to avoid sewing damaging things into our lives, and thereby reduce the risk of developing certain diseases. However, damaging things can be sewn into our experience by others, without our knowledge, just as happened to my grandfather, and sadly, the law of cause and effect still operates.

So, can we make choices to reduce our risk of cancer? Yes! Can we get cancer despite making all the healthy choices with no fault of our own? Yes! Can we purposely choose to do things which increase our risk of cancer? And the answer is again yes.

And finally, God does not cause people to get sick, but has created the universe to run on very orderly laws. When those laws are broken, by us, or to us without our knowledge, we usually reap the damaging effect of such violations – but not at God’s hands.

God hates how His creation has been damaged by sin and is working with all His agencies to bring pain, suffering, sickness, death and sin to an end and free us for all eternity to live in perfect health in His loving presence! We commit our energies toward that day!

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Tim Jennings, M.D. Timothy R. Jennings, M.D., is a board-certified psychiatrist, master psychopharmacologist, Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, Fellow of the Southern Psychiatric Association, and an international speaker. He served as president of the Southern and Tennessee Psychiatric Associations and is president and founder of Come and Reason Ministries. Dr. Jennings has authored many books, including The God-Shaped Brain, The God-Shaped Heart, and The Aging Brain. In 2022, Dr. Jennings became Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Lynchburg, Virginia.