O Cancer, Where is Thy Sting?

I trust the heading isn’t misleading … I hate cancer. I hate the disease, what it does to so many people and families, even the word itself. It’s the word you never want to hear from the lips of your doctor. Yet unfortunately cancer is something that nearly every single one of us has had to deal with in some manner – either we’ve had it ourselves or a loved one or close friend has wrestled with it, some of whom have even died from it. Some of CPC’s best and most beloved members have been or are battling with cancer. I heard just yesterday that a 5-year-old boy in our community has been diagnosed with cancer. My two sisters have had to deal with it. My mom died of it. Again, all of us can likely identify someone close to us who is fighting it. So, I most definitely don’t take cancer lightly … it’s ugly, painful, devastating, and deadly. Even the treatment for it is typically horrific and traumatic. `

Many of you recognize that I stole the heading for this article from 1 Corinthians 15:55. Paul is writing about what happens to believers after death. He says that in the twinkling of an eye and as the last trumpet sounds, the dead will be raised, and our mortal bodies will put on immortality; we shall be changed when Jesus returns and we, with new and glorified bodies, will live victoriously with Him for eternity. This is why he could say, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” It’s important to note that the greater context of this teaching is is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because He has been raised from and has conquered death, all who trust in Him and are in union with Him, also are and will be raised with Him. Thus, death is ultimately defeated and its sting is removed.

It’s no accident that cancer and Easter go together in my mind. My mom died of cancer on Easter Sunday 1984. The actual date was April 22, but more importantly it was the day we most identify with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Her battle with cancer lasted 7 years, long enough to see me graduate from college and get married but not long enough to see any of my children. She spent her final days in a room at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital while we as a family gathered around her, taking turns sitting with her while everyone else would go eat or just take a break. I believe it was the Friday night prior to her death when it was my turn to stay with her. She wasn’t really responsive at all and probably not in pain due to medication. We knew she wasn’t going to get better and, as many of you have experienced, just felt so helpless. Mom was a believer and was prepared to die and probably needed to just pass on. But as I stood by her bed praying that night, just me and her and God in the room, I prayed a rather selfish prayer … I asked the Lord to keep her alive until Sunday, which was Easter. This was just for my benefit so that I would always be able to associate my mom’s death with her and my Savior’s victory over death, securing for us and all who believe in Him eternal life. So that Easter morning 1984 when my dad, Anita, and I got to the room and heard she died only minutes before, though I was horribly hurt and my hatred of cancer only intensified, inwardly I was smiling and thanking God for answering my prayer in such a gracious way. My mom was actually more alive at that moment than she’d ever been … enjoying the presence of her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I love Easter … for the confidence it gives us of eternal life, for the victory it secures for us over the grave, for the mockery it makes of our cancer and other such diseases. “So cancer, where is your sting? Looks like you’ve been defeated.”  Jesus gets the last word regarding life and death, and for those who trust in Him that word is “life.”  This is why Paul could also say in 1 Cor 15, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”