Darrell Carman was a member of my church who died of cancer six months ago. His wife, Ann, had died six months earlier with COVID (I wrote about her in another article, “Real Churches Commune with Dead Saints.”)
As I thought about Darrell during the days after he died, and of what he must’ve been experiencing in heaven, I began thinking about what it means to “beat cancer.” We’ve all seen T-shirts and bumper stickers that say, “I beat cancer.” And of course by beat they mean survived. That’s how you “beat” it. To live is victory; to die is loss. (To be clear, I rejoice for anyone who survives cancer.)
But by that definition, Darrell didn’t beat cancer—cancer beat him. At one level that’s obviously true, but it’s not the whole truth. Because as followers of Jesus, we walk by faith, not by sight. That doesn’t mean we close our eyes to the painful realities in front of us, but it does mean we open our eyes to the bigger picture God paints for us in his Word. That’s what it means to walk by faith. Faith is the conviction of things that we don’t yet see but which are promised by God in his Word (Heb. 11:1).
If we walk by sight, we’ll conclude that cancer beat Darrell Carman. But if we walk by faith, we’ll see a gloriously bigger picture. To help us do that, I’d like to share three biblical and practical reasons why Darrell Carman did, in fact, beat cancer.
1. Cancer Didn’t Kill Darrell’s Faith in Jesus
You might be tempted to think the worst thing cancer can do is destroy your body. But it’s not. The worst thing cancer can do is destroy your faith—make you think God isn’t really good or doesn’t really love you or that you mustn’t really know him, because why else would he allow this to happen to you? That’s the worst thing cancer can do.
It didn’t do that to Darrell. Whether it was six months earlier when he lost his wife or six weeks before his death when he got the diagnosis, Darrell always gave the same response: “God is good. He’s been good to me—and I’m ready to go meet him.” Though God slew him, yet Darrell trusted in him.
The worst thing cancer can do is destroy your faith.
And the reason Darrell had that confidence was not that he was a perfect man. He had plenty of sins to haunt him, as we all do. Remember this, reader, because someday you’re going to die. And if, like Darrell, you have time to see death coming, Satan will haunt you with your long track record of transgressions: all the people you’ve hurt, all the times you’ve failed, all the reasons you don’t deserve heaven. And the more you focus on that, the more afraid you’ll be of dying.
But Darrell wasn’t afraid, because he wasn’t looking backward; he was looking forward (Phil. 3:13). And when he did look back it wasn’t at his sins but at the cross where Jesus paid for them. As the Scripture says, “This is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4). If that’s true, then Darrell Carman overcame. He beat cancer, because cancer didn’t kill his faith in Jesus. It only refined it.
2. Cancer Didn’t Separate Darrell from Jesus
If Satan’s goal was to cut Darrell off from Jesus, he failed miserably. Not only did the cancer not separate Darrell from Christ, it only drew him closer to Christ (Phil. 1:23). There was never anything that cancer could do to separate Darrell from the love of God. Jesus was never going to lose him, because Jesus loved him and purchased him and prayed that Darrell would be with him where he was (John 17:24). And now Jesus’s prayer has been answered.
Just consider the contrast between what Darrell experienced during his last six weeks on earth and what he’s experiencing now. Not only is he totally free of pain and sin, and totally filled with righteousness, but he’s been reunited with his wife of 50 years. And best of all, he’s finally gotten to see Jesus’s face and say, “Thank you for the cross! Thank you for loving me! Thank you for bringing me here!”
Can we believe all that and still think cancer somehow beat Darrell? If this is “loss,” then the sooner we all lose the better. But the Bible doesn’t call it “loss;” the Bible calls it “gain” (Phil. 1:21). Far from beating Darrell, cancer delivered him straight into the presence of Jesus.
3. Cancer Can’t Even Keep What It Has Taken from Darrell
The single best argument that cancer beat Darrell is that his body was taken up on a hill in his hometown of Hartsville, Tennessee, and buried in the ground. Cancer did take his body, and that’s worth weeping over. Yet I would point out that Germany and Japan won a lot of battles during World War II—real victories—but in the end, they lost.
The same is true with cancer. The most that can be said for cancer is that it has won a battle. But the outcome of the war has been decided. D-Day has already been waged and won. As the old saying has it, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs granting life.”
The most that can be said for cancer is that it has won a battle. But the outcome of the war has been decided. D-Day has already been waged and won.
All cancer could take from Darrell was his body, but it can’t even keep that. Because when Jesus died on the cross and sent the Holy Spirit into Darrell’s heart, he was making a down payment on Darrell’s body, and someday he’s coming to collect (Eph. 1:14; Rom. 8:11). And when that happens, the body now sown in weakness will be raised in power. This mortal will put on immortality, and this lowly body will be transformed to be like Jesus’s glorious body.
When I was sitting by Darrell’s bedside a few days before he died, seeing what cancer had reduced him to, I looked over at his nightstand and noticed a picture of him as a young man. It was a version of him I’d never seen. Darrell in the vigor of youth, with the joyful smile of a man newly married. And I couldn’t help but think that the next time I see him, he’s probably going to look something like that.
O death, where is your victory? O cancer, where is your sting?
We weep over Darrell, but as those who believe in a risen Christ, we do not sorrow as those who have no hope. Faith sees the big picture. And even now, as we wait for the final victory, we can say by faith that Darrell Carman beat cancer.