When Health Reformers Get Sick

by Shakeela Bennett

Do those who are trying to live right get sick? What about God's promises?


Early in June, 2000, I received the news. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you have cancer,” the doctor said as he tried to soften the blow. He proceeded to inform me of my choices. I saw his lips moving but I did not hear anything else he said. I wondered if I had heard him right. This could not be happening. I turned and looked at my husband who was sitting beside me. He clutched the arms of the chair, ashen-faced. His expression was of someone who had just been kicked in the stomach. I knew that I had heard correctly!

Exodus 15:26 came to my mind: “If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee. . . .”

I questioned the Lord: “I run two miles a day, do light weight training, eat a vegan diet, spend time in the Word and in prayer. What else could I have done, Lord?” I could easily have become discouraged and questioned my faith in Jesus, but I found hope in His Word, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him” (Jas 1:12).

After the initial shock wore off, I also found comfort in Mrs. White’s writings. “We are too quickly discouraged, and earnestly cry for the trial to be removed from us, when we should plead for patience to endure and grace to overcome. Those who turn to God with heart and soul and mind will find in Him peaceful security. . . . He knows just what we need, just what we can bear, and He will give us grace to endure every trial and test that He brings upon us” (God’s Amazing Grace, p. 114).

Jesus reminded me that He had been preparing me for this time since 1991 even though I was not a Christian then. He introduced me to a wonderful cancer surgeon through a friend at work. I liked his honesty and ethics. His staff and patients respected him highly. I could tell that he was a Christian man. I kept his name tucked in the recesses of my mind should I ever need him, but I took it for granted that I would not. After all, cancer is nowhere to be found in my family lineage.

His Teaching. In the summer of 1995, I was taking a walk in nature and communing with my Lord. I clearly heard His voice, so gentle and soothing, teaching me through His “second book.” He used the shadows that were being cast by the sun to explain how sin blocks the light of the Son from penetrating the heart and mind. As we continued our journey, He clearly pleaded with me to “take care of your body.” When I returned home, I related my experience to my family and informed them that I would be taking some time for myself to exercise daily. I joined a lady’s health club and was quite diligent with my workouts.

Now, as I reflected on how the Lord had protected me through His instructions, I praised Him for His mercy and grace. Wanting a second opinion, my husband and I traveled several hours to see the cancer surgeon that Jesus had led me to nine years earlier. He was now the Director of the Cancer Institute and did not take new patients, but he made an exception for me.

Later, after the surgery, he asked me how I had detected the tumor. I explained to him that I had felt it, the size of a large marble, and that it had been painful. “Impossible!” he insisted. “The tumor that was removed was the size of a small pea, and it was located so deep in your body that you could not have felt it. Also, cancer tumors are usually not painful.” He then informed us that had I accepted the treatment offered by my primary physician, I would be at death’s door within two years, and that the evidence showed the cancer had started in 1995!

Another Look. When I took yet another look at God’s promise in Exodus 15:26, I realized that I was reading that verse as, “if thou wilt eat right and exercise, I will put none of these diseases upon thee.” But that is not what the Lord said. He expects me to listen diligently (be constant in application or attention), learn, and apply to my life what He has taught me through His Word and the writings of Ellen White. “Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil” (The Great Controversy, p. 425, emphasis mine).

I was obviously not being “temperate in all things” as I should have been. I did not get enough sleep and was quite stressed in 1995. I take full responsibility for the consequences of my actions. Nevertheless, the Lord was merciful to me in my ignorance. Because I heeded the instructions the Lord gave me in the summer of 1995 to take care of my body temple, I do not need chemotherapy, radiation, or medication. He has seen fit to spare the life that He purchased at Calvary.

Disciplined Lifestyle. Those of us who are waiting patiently for the Lord’s return must live a disciplined lifestyle, taking care of the body that our Creator blessed us with. Some of us take better care of our cars, changing the oil, filling the gas tank, making sure the tires have enough air. But surely we must treat our bodies with greater care, for we are to offer them to the Lord (Rom 12:1).

In places where other foods are available in abundance, we must abstain from flesh foods, for “Many who are now only half converted on the question of meat eating will go from God’s people to walk no more with them” (Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 382, emphasis mine). We must also give our bodies rest, fresh air, exercise, and clean water. Daily we must feed our minds spiritually. If we cannot be disciplined here on earth, how can we assure our Lord that we will be disciplined in heaven?

Why Disasters? But what about those who by no fault of their own meet with health disasters? A dear gentleman I know, recently baptized into the church, fell and broke his back. He is now paralyzed from the chest down. For many years he has taken care of his wife, an Alzheimer’s patient. When he became hospitalized, his wife had to be placed in a nursing home. This dear Christian man lies in his bed worrying about his beloved’s care. His loyalty and his faith in Jesus remain solid, but he too wonders, Why?

We are still living in a sinful world and are still a part of the Great Controversy. We must remember the Lord’s words to Satan, “Hast thou considered my servant Job?” (Job 1:8). How we react to trials will be a witness of our faith in Jesus and His promises to those around us.

Refining. Trials indicate that we are being placed in the Refiner’s fire. “The refining furnace is to remove the dross. When the Refiner sees His image reflected in you perfectly, he will remove you from the furnace. You will not be left to be consumed or to endure the fiery ordeal any longer than is necessary for your purification. But it is necessary for you, in order to reflect the divine image, to submit to the process the Refiner chooses for you, that you may be cleansed, purified, and every spot and blemish removed—not even a wrinkle left in your Christian character” (Our High Calling, p. 312, emphasis mine). Our words and actions in times of trial must always be to glorify Him.

When Mrs. White’s sixteen-year-old son became ill, he called his mother and father to his bedside and said, “Father, Mother, . . . If the Lord sees fit to spare my life, for your sake I will be pleased. If it is for my good and His name’s glory for my life to close now, I will say, It is well with my soul” (Selected Messages, 2:258). He died, putting his full trust in Jesus his Savior. Sister White felt the pain of losing a child to death, but she continued in her work for the Lord with the same fervency as prior to her child’s death. She knew in whom she believed.

Ellen White wrote, “Look up! Jesus lives. Jesus loves. Jesus pities, and He will receive you with all your burden of care and trouble if you will come to Him and lay your burden upon Him. He has promised He will never leave or forsake those who put their trust in Him” (Our High Calling, p. 312).

We cannot recognize it when we are going through the trials and afflictions, but they are our greatest blessings. It is through these tumultuous times that we draw very, very close to our Creator. And He draws very, very close to us. His promise is sure: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20, NKJV).