What using bad words about cancer gets right

Considering our outrage at cancer


It’s a word you never want to hear. But most of us have been affected by it in some way.

A few weeks ago, a well-respected comic book writer/artist and animator, Darwyn Cooke, died shortly after revealing he had cancer. Around the same time, Canadian music fans learned Gord Downie, lead singer of The Tragically Hip, had terminal brain cancer. About two years ago, I learned a family member I dearly loved had cancer. He fought hard, but died in 2015.

Almost all of us know some one who has lost the fight. And we’ve all probably seen at least one status update or tweet hashtagged with the f-word. When I see that word come out… Yeah, I know—many of us don’t like to use this kind of language.[1. I try to avoid it, but it occasionally happens.] However, there is a sense in which it seems to be the only thing that captures the outrage we feel about cancer.

And I think that’s right—at least to some degree.

What’s right about our outrage?

I have yet to see someone approach cancer with a blasé reaction. It inspires outrage. The disease itself is cruel. It is unrelenting. It is merciless and no respecter of persons. It confronts us with our own mortality in a way few other things do.

And I think that’s the biggest issue: when cancer strikes, we can’t escape the fact that we’re all going to die. And deep down, every one of us knows death is unnatural. Death is an interloper. It doesn’t belong in this world. Yet it is here. And we can’t eliminate it, try as we might.

This is what we’re reminded of every single time news of this illness comes. And that’s why it’s write (at least in one sense) to feel outraged over it. But, even so, there is not only bad news. There is something good—something we need to remember: death doesn’t get the last word.

Jesus stole that right away from death when he defeated it. When Jesus left his grave clothes behind, he sent a message: the death of death has begun. And there is a day coming when death will finally have no place, and where diseases like cancer will be no more. A day when everything that grieves us will be gone. When illness will never again afflict us. When our cells will never again turn against us. When there will be no need for chemotherapy, radiation treatment, or experimental surgeries. When the last hospice will close because no one needs it anymore.

This is the day when Jesus returns; the day he fulfills his promise to make all things new.

Looking forward to the death of death

And that’s what prevents me not just from using hashtags with curse words when I hear about cancer, but from feeling despair, even as I grieve. Cancer is cruel and merciless. It is a powerful tool of death. It is a blight. I want it to be gone.

And the good news is, I know it will. I know the death of death is coming.

Friends, do not lose hope. Grieve, yes. Hate death, yes. Weep and mourn with those who mourn, yes. But do not lose hope: Jesus is coming. He is making all things new. And someday, cancer will be no more.

Photo via Visual hunt

Book Review: Unplanned by Abby Johnson

Before October, 2009, no one had ever heard of Abby Johnson. She was a happily married mom who happened to work as the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic. In September of that year, when she was asked to help in the exam room, life as she knew it came to an end. That day, she assisted in an ultrasound-guided abortion and was horrified by what she saw on the screen. Expecting to see non-reactive fetal tissue, as the cannulae came toward it, she instead saw the baby begin to kick “as if trying to move away from the probing invader.” (p. 5)

Witnessing this—and being a part of it—was too much for Johnson and was the end of her career at Planned Parenthood.

When the news broke a few weeks later, it wasn’t because she had left the organization—it was because she had crossed the line and joined the Coalition for Life, the pro-life group that prayed daily behind the fence at Johnson’s clinic.

Since then, Johnson has been at the center of a major court case, having been sued by her former employers, and become a sought-after speaker on the realities of abortion throughout America. In Unplanned, she shares her story of how she moved from advocate to opponent of Planned Parenthood, and in the process was confronted by the reality of God.

Recently my wife and I sat down to chat about her impressions of the book. Here’s our chat in all its YouTube-y glory:

(Feed readers, sorry, you’ll have to click-through to watch—and please forgive the awful screen cap!)

One of the things you might not expect in reading a book like this is just how even-handed Johnson is when describing the realities of life at Planned Parenthood. She tries hard to avoid sensationalism and is very careful not to demonize any of the people working there, as if they wake up in the morning, stretch and say, “Gosh, I can’t wait to abort some babies!” Because the truth is, they don’t. Many, like Johnson herself, became involved because they believed what they were told about the organization’s desire to protect and care for women’s reproductive health. But it’s interesting how even the most noble desires—including Johnson’s, which was to reduce the number of abortions being performed—can be lost or twisted into something else. Read More about Book Review: Unplanned by Abby Johnson

Meditations on the Cross

“…Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…” 1 Cor 15:3b

I just watched a stunningly powerful Good Friday service, which included a reenactment of the brutal execution of Jesus. Emily and I watched, horrified and captivated. It was not gratuitously graphic, but it was hard to watch, simply because it brings home the reality of the cross that we sorely need.

Listening to the powerful audio rendition of the story of Jesus’ false trial and murder shook me (in a really good way, I think). It pressed upon me.

Sometimes I wonder how seriously we take the cross. We say “Christ died for our sins,” but I don’t know if we fully appreciate the weight of the statement. Some state it as little more than a throw-away line to the declaration of a victorious life. Some rush past it as quickly as possible, remaining unaffected by it. But we dare not do so.

Christ died for our sins.

Christ died for our sins.

Christ died for our sins.

Let these words sink in today, if you happen to be reading this.

Tomorrow, Christians will be celebrating the Resurrection; celebrating the defeat of Satan, sin and death. Celebrating that those who have faith in Jesus have been made new creations, with hearts desiring to worship Him.

But for today, remember that Christ died for our sins—yours and mine. That His death was only necessary because of our rebellion: Our lying, stealing, gossiping, adultery, sexual immorality, hatred, cowardice and pride.

Remember that Christ died, not because you and I are worthy, but because God is.

Remember the cost. The godly for the ungodly.

The righteous for the unrighteous. 

Remember the cost, and praise God for His mercy.