Somebody I think a lot of is sick. Somebody I look up to. And not just a good somebody. One of the best somebodies. In my life, they most always are. Women, men and children living to the fullest. Strong testimonies of faith. Kids in the prime of their lives. Teachers sacrificing for their students. Good, honest people. And I’m angry about it.
Cancer is a scourge. If it had flesh and bone, I could utterly destroy it without conscience. It cuts to the quick and is a modern day monster in the closet. It takes people’s breath away. Punches in the gut. Strikes in the darkness. It is evil personified. A zombie stalking its prey.
And any one of us could be next. It does not discriminate.
I don’t like the sway it holds over our lives, and the panic, disruption and heartbreak it brings to those who are tapped to face it. Soldiers of all ages marching into battle, forced at some point in the journey to ask which is worse. The disease or the treatment. Unnecessary pain in a life already fraught with hardships. Insult to injury.
So, what are we to do with the reality of cancer and the pain that it stirs within? We who are groveling here on earth, somewhere between heaven and hell? John Milton, a renowned British poet, most famous for his epic Paradise Lost, went completely blind by the age of 43. In response to a critic who essentially said his blindness was a punishment for an immoral life, he wrote:
“It is not so wretched to be blind as it is not to be capable of enduring blindness. But why should I endure a misfortune which it behooves everyone to be prepared to endure if it should happen, and which has been known to happen to the most distinguished and virtuous persons in history.”
His response to his affliction? Why NOT me? Milton’s attitude humbles me, but it doesn’t quench my anger. Maybe most notably, it doesn’t quell my fear. Fear that bubbles up in the darkness. Fear that cultivates falsehood. Fear that the grand master of this universe doesn’t exist, doesn’t know, or worse still, doesn’t care. Cancer can make the idea of a loving, benevolent God an illusion, and in our most vulnerable moments, a vicious lie.
Cancer whispers a refrain as familiar as the memory of a distant Eden. “Didn’t God say,” the serpent’s sibilant voice speaks, penetrating Eve’s eternal hope with the possibility of an unfamiliar feeling . . . doubt. “Didn’t he say” . . . you were to be completely safe? Consistently prosperous? Persistently happy? Lavishly loved? Promises perverted. “Has God indeed said?” evil asks.
Cancer roars, “Your God is a liar. A fraud. A fake. I am more powerful. The brightest of your intellects cannot unlock my mysteries. I will not be undone.” And as we watch the best of our kind march bravely into harm’s way, heaven’s silence becomes deafening. Why, God? Why? And still no answers.
So, I can take that silence, grow my bitterness like a weed, and walk the road to destruction that cancer paves for us. I can march with all the dumb sheep to nihilism. Wrap up in my existential blanket and never find warmth. I could. And some do.
Or, I can slash cancer’s power at the root with the name of the One who has already conquered it. I can shut its mouth with belief. I can break its jaws with hope. I can stand with squared shoulders and fight its corrosive energy with faith. I can drop to my knees in solemn reverence for those I have already lost and pray for those who still endure. I can prepare for the possibility of a similar fate. I can shout into the void, “You might eviscerate our bodies, but you cannot have our souls.”
Cancer is a coward. A malevolent villain stalking our peace. Raiding our security. But it is not a victor. It is not the champion. It can’t be. And even if I close my eyes in finality one day and find out this whole thing indeed has been a myth, I will have chosen victory. And I will have vanquished my enemy, my skilled but mortal adversary. And I will have known what it is to live triumphantly.