Saturday, October 27, 2007

October 27, 2007 - Carrying Death in the Body

This morning, in the nowhere-land between sleeping and waking, a scripture verse comes to me. I've learned to pay attention to the thoughts that slide across the surface of my mind during such a time, which is often a riot of creative ideas.

The verse is, "always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our bodies." I feel a clear conviction, during that sleepy time, that the verse has something to do with my cancer.

After I awaken, I look up the citation. It's 2 Corinthians 4:10. The full context is as follows:

"But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you." (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)

Were I ever called upon to preach a sermon about cancer, this passage would be a pretty good place to start. Having cancer is like carrying death around in our bodies. But – looking at it in a spiritual, rather than in a merely medical way – it's not just any death. It's the death of Jesus.

It's a cross. That's what cancer is: a cross we have to bear. Elsewhere in the Bible, Jesus himself exhorts his followers to be cross-bearers: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). A cross is a weighty burden, to be sure. Yet, Jesus promises us, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me... for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:29-30).

I remember reading, somewhere or other, a caution connected with the verse about cross-bearing. "Don't apply it to just any variety of suffering," some biblical scholar or other was warning (I'm paraphrasing, here). "The cross was an instrument of unjust oppression, so that verse shouldn't be used as an all-purpose answer to any suffering, especially not illness. The cross-bearing language ought to be reserved for political oppression – and, not just any oppression, but suffering accepted voluntarily by the victims as an act of public witness."

OK, if we're splitting theological hairs, I can buy that, but it still opens up worlds of meaning for me to view physical illness as a sort of cross. I suppose even Paul's thinking along similar lines as he speaks of "carrying in the body the death of Jesus." No, cancer wasn't inflicted on me by some persecutor. And no, I didn't choose to accept it. Whether or not I would have said, "OK, bring it on," would have made not one bit of difference as to whether or not I got sick. Yet, when it comes to long-term, chronic illness, we patients all reach the point when we discover we do have a choice. We can either choose to be victims, letting the illness drag us along passively, or we can reach out and actively shoulder our burden.

It's a sort of judo move. Practitioners of this martial art learn, early on, that a tried-and-true way to victory is to move in the direction your opponent is moving. Is your adversary throwing a punch? Don't meet the blow head-on. Rather, grab hold of his wrist and pull it towards you, but slightly away from your body. Your enemy will be suddenly unbalanced, and you will triumph.

Taking up a cross is kind of like that. When Jesus, in Gethsemane, prayed, "if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet not what I want but what you want," he was practicing a sort of judo move against the forces of death (Matthew 26:39). When he stood before Pilate, baffling the hard-bitten Roman governor by his resolute and impassive acceptance, he was practicing a similar move (Matthew 27:14). When he died with such dignity that his head executioner declared, in wonder, "Truly this man was God's son," the forces of evil were thrown to the mat (Matthew 27:54).

Yet all this is just about dying well. There's more, in the Christian gospel. Much more. The ultimate miracle, of course, is that God declared final victory over death by raising Jesus from the grave.

It's comforting, on a simple human level, to realize that Jesus knew suffering. If Jesus is the son of God, then that means God is no stranger to human life, its agonies as well as its joys.

A stanza from a contemporary hymn comes to mind:

"Not throned above, remotely high,
untouched, unmoved by human pain,
but daily in the midst of life,
our Savior with the Father reigns."

("Christ Is Alive!" by Brian Wren)

"Daily, in the midst of life," Jesus Christ dwells in our midst. We carry within our bodies his death: whether it's rapidly-mutating cancer cells, or the slow death from old age that comes eventually to even the healthiest among us.

One of the great secrets to living is how we choose to respond to that realization.


Anonymous said...


I am still here reading your blog and doing great on LDN.

Wish you would look into it as helped many now with NHL.

and look at the testimonial section on the links area:

You can turn this around and still continue your current treatment as LDN will work with your choosen treatment only not with narcotics.

I know you dismissed me earlier as did Tom clarke and a few others... but I am not in their situation now and still stage 4B but just fine.

Please look into LDN.. it is worth it. Also have two new published 'peer reviewed" papers now if that is what it takes for you to look into it.

Cancer doesn't respect stubborness.


Carlos ("Carl") said...


I would like to ask you to please try to avoid using words like "dismiss" and "stubbornness" with respect to my personal decision not to seek out a treatment that has not been mentioned by any of my physicians. I do not consider myself scientifically competent to assess the efficacy of alternative medications, so I choose not to do so. If you feel that you, yourself, have the knowledge to make that kind of scientific judgment, I would be the last person to suggest that you refrain from doing so. But, please respect my decision with regard to my health care treatment, as I do yours.

Thank you.