This week, I heard a radio interview with Siddhartha Mukherjee about his book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. One thing that really struck me was how theories of the origins of cancer have changed radically over time. In years past, many medical professionals believed that cancer was an outside influence like a virus or bacteria that came into the body and grew. Now we know that cancer is actually something that grows from within us. The cells in our bodies already contain the potential for cancer–it’s just waiting to be activated by the correct combination of conditions. And it made me think of this passage in Romans that tells us how creation is being reigned back, not able to experience wholeness, decayed and decaying . . . but simultaneously getting closer and closer to its time of restoration:
18-21That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.
22-25All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within . . . These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.
Roman 8:18-24 (from THE MESSAGE)
It’s Thanksgiving week–A time to reflect on the blessings of the year, to spend time with friends and family. How interesting to think that even within the festivities of the Holiday season, within an atmosphere of celebration, there is an unseen brokenness within your body–the same brokenness that causes your body to attack itself with cancer or simply to decline in health over the years no matter how well you treat it, how balanced your diet, how disciplined your exercise regimen. It’s the brokenness that allows physical illness to come upon the “best” among us in a seemingly capricious blow of fate, the brokenness that makes it possible for you to feel lonely even within a group of your closest friends and loved ones. The brokenness that keeps us from ever “arriving” at full spiritual satisfaction, sometimes feeling like we hit a glass ceiling in our prayer, study or contemplation — or mourning our seeming inability to live as faithfully in practice as we speak with our words.
Hope–the expectation that the difficulties and incompleteness of our lives on earth will one day be overshadowed by the blazing glory of God–like reading a book that builds in suspense and eager expectation of a satisfying ending. It can be difficult to believe and hope that something greater is ahead, something that fundamentally shatters our whole perception of beauty and joy–it’s something we have to grow more and more hungry for over the years of our life on earth–It’s something that we can see an impression of now on earth but cannot fully grasp until the Mighty God reveals it all in the end.
Sometimes I’m not the best at dealing with delayed gratification, but when I contemplate the possibility of God as my Righteous Father tearing away the brokenness of our world and allowing the full glory of His presence to shine through . . . when I think of every cell in my body being restored to Edenic perfection, without the possibility of cancer, without the strain of chronic pain, without the possibility of injury or embarrassment . . . when I think of relationships that are truly honest, without a shade of confusion or misunderstanding or apprehension or social awkwardness or exploitation . . . I wait more patiently, and I am not diminished by the waiting.