This past week Elizabeth Edwards and Tony Snow have put cancer into the headline consciousness of America

This past week Elizabeth Edwards and Tony Snow have put cancer into the headline consciousness of America. The wife of presidential candidate, John Edwards, and the president’s chief Whitehouse spokesman, in separate dramatic announcements of recurring cancer, bravely exposed their private battles for health and life to the public. And as a consequence they both have raised the level of our national conversation regarding this shared and dreaded enemy. Talking heads on television and medical experts alike have weighed in on the conversation, assuring the rest of us that diagnoses such as these are no longer the irrevocable death sentence we once feared. At the same time, medical authorities seized the moment to remind the public of the vital necessity of physical examinations and screening, awareness of personal health warning signs, along with careful attention to moderating the excesses of the American lifestyle. And through it all, there has been the appropriate call to prayer for these two well known political figures and their families.

Within our own community of faith cancer is no stranger either. And because of that reality, it is well for us on occasion to brood over the meaning of so mortal an enemy. Naturally, cancer is neither a scourge from God nor an instrument of divine judgment. It is, as the apostle once ruminated, the consequence of “the creation subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20). And while some cancers have been linked to the western lifestyle, the fact remains that even the most health-conscious of individuals can contract the disease. For we live in a creation suffering under the scourge of sin. Which is why Paul was quick to humanize the suffering of nature itself with the words, “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now,” until that day creation itself will be “delivered from the bondage of corruption” (vv 22, 21). Could it be that our very bodies themselves, from the minutest corpuscle to the largest of our organs, “groan” with the pangs of living out their days in this fallen system? For is not cancer the “futility” of a creation system gone awry in unchecked invading growth?

What hope is there for those who suffer, for all of us who live out our days on this fallen planet? “Even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. . . . But if we hope for what we do not see [and we have yet to see this mortal foe eradicated from the human experience], we eagerly wait for it with perseverance” (vv 23, 25).

Perseverance. And prayer. Because persevering in battling this mortal enemy of health with all our God-given powers is the right human response. And so is prayer—the crying out and groaning pangs of a heart and soul desperate for divine intervention. Persevering prayer. Because even nature’s “inevitable” course can be turned. Which is why for Elizabeth and Tony and all we know who suffer cancer’s battle our intercedings are made potent through Calvary’s power. After all, did not our Lord bear all our “sicknesses” (Isaiah 53:4 margin) to the cross? And is it not true that “by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5)? Then with persevering prayer let us press on together. And may it truly be “together.” For when one member of the body suffers, we all suffer. . . and shall continue to suffer until He comes, and Christ shall forever restore our creation to its primeval ideal once again. Amen.

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