Monday, March 12, 2018

Thoughts on Cancer, Sin and Leprosy

ribs (2)Forgive me here as I think out loud a little. Yesterday I heard a sermon on Romans 8 in which the preacher talked about cancer as a manifestation of the “groaning of creation” that awaits its renewing at the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ and the final phase of the kingdom of God. I think cancer, much like leprosy did in the 1st century, provides a graphic picture of sin’s pervasiveness and insidiousness in the modern world. It affects everyone, as there is hardly a family anywhere that has not been touched by the devastation a cancer diagnosis brings. It separates us from one other, whether by intention or circumstance. I have spent more time alone in the last 16 months than ever before in my life. It, for me at least, draws attention to our own mortality – death is coming for us all, and maybe sooner than we think. But, (my experience again) it also brings about the best in God’s people. The outpouring of help, prayer and encouragement from the church all over the world has been overwhelming. We have truly experienced the “touch of Jesus” through my lymphoma experience.

In biblical times leprosy was a graphic picture of sin and its effects. (I saw a post once in which a prominent preacher tried to make the point that “sin is not a sickness.” It made me wonder if he had ever read the Bible carefully. Sickness and sin are intimately linked throughout scripture. Jesus likens himself to a “doctor” who heals the sickness of sin and its effects.) Skin diseases and rashes were prominent in the ancient world and were often dangerously infectious.  The suffering from them were often separated from society to mitigate spreading of the disease. Its effects were visible and debilitating. Old Testament law pronounced unclean anyone who had contact with lepers and excluded them from temple fellowship. Jesus overturned that as his touch, rather than rendering him unclean, healed lepers and made them clean. Jesus would, at times, also announce that with the healing sin was forgiven.

Cancer, although not quite so contagious, is pervasive and often sentences its sufferers to separation from society in hospitals and homes. At least, it separates one from “normal” human daily life. It changes one’s plans and it certainly has curtailed my own ideas about “my own ministry.” Like sin, it does bring a little bit of death into one’s daily life. I have been thinking about this as I wait for another PET scan in about 6 weeks to see if my cancer has been eradicated from my body. I know God has directed me to trust that the doctors are part of his work of healing in my life. Whether that is a “complete” healing that will give me 5, 10 or 20 more years I don’t know. I do know that I, like all you reading this, await real complete healing in resurrection. I pray that the kingdom will break out a little here and defeat this lymphoma, but I know that in the resurrection at least I will stand whole. Not only will disease be removed, but the real cancer, the disease of sin, will be removed and I will be as God intended. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, if there is no resurrection we Christians are the most pathetic deluded people on earth. But, as we will soon celebrate, Christ is risen and has defeated sin, death, cancer and leprosy. We need to live each moment in this age of “groaning” living in the light of that soon to come resurrection. My cancer is telling me that anything else is an illusion. 

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