By Joanna Delelande

Cancer survivor finds purpose in suffering

Author shares his battle with terminal illness

David McDonald
“I explored what the Bible said seriously”, says David McDonald, pictured with wife Fiona

Many people ask: if God is all-powerful and loving, then how can there be suffering in the world?

It is the question that confronted pastor and author David McDonald in 2011 when he was unexpectedly diagnosed with stage four incurable lung cancer.

Given 13 months to live, perhaps enough time for him to see the following Christmas, David's plans to leave a Canberra church he had been working in for 20 years and start a new one in Darwin were abruptly changed.

But David did live to see the following Christmas, the one after that and no doubt many more to come, since last year his pathology results miraculously showed "No Evidence of Disease".

David's personal investigation into the reality of Jesus' death and resurrection began in his university years.

"I began to explore seriously what the Bible said about Jesus, look at evidence for the claims that He had died and risen from the dead," he says.

His thirst for confirmation of Jesus' love was quenched partly by the book More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell as well as Bible Scripture from Romans chapter 5 verses 8 and 9.

He learned that "the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has dealt wholly with everything I've ever done wrong, all my rebellion against God, all the things I've failed to do – even the things I don't know about."

“All of a sudden I was perceivably dying in hospital”

So why does a faithful, God-serving pastor get hit with such an awful disease? And more importantly, how does his faith not waver in such a trying time?

"I was confused about why it was happening," David recalls his reaction to the diagnosis. "All the evidence seemed to be pointing towards us heading off for a future life of ministry in the Northern Territory and all of a sudden I was perceivably dying in hospital."

Through this time of pain, suffering and confusion, David decided he would continue to trust God. "God has kept all His promises so faithfully in Jesus Christ. That gives me confidence He will also keep the promises He has made to me."

David explains that is the difference between suffering for a Christian and suffering for someone who does not believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.

"We all experience the same kind of suffering," he says. "But suffering to someone who doesn't believe in God seems random while the suffering of a Christian takes place in a world where we believe God is in control. We may or may not discover what His plan is, but we can have confidence that God is doing a good thing in the midst of the struggles we go through."

From David's own struggle came a book, Hope Beyond Cure, in which the cancer survivor tells the story of how he dealt with suffering and what he learned as a Christian in that situation.

Although David says many struggle to understand suffering and may blame God for not something about it, the reality is God is the only hope in times of misery.

He is also aware that while some, like himself, survive illness and injury to fight another day, there are many who do not. Either way, death is inevitable.

To this David says: "We are all born with a terminal illness called life.

"And God offers us a hope in the most desperate of circumstances. When we come face to face with our own mortality, when death seems to be the end of everything, God says: 'No, there is a hope beyond that'.

"God's promise is still that [we] will be healed. Not necessarily in this life but certainly and confidently in the life to come," David says.

This alludes to Revelations chapter 21 verse 4 in which the Bible says: "[God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

That is God's promise to those who trust in Him. And if David has learned anything, it is that God always keeps His promises.

More from David at

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