Slaying the Beast

November 18, 2013

Four weeks ago today my doctor told me there was a mass in my upper left lung. Two weeks ago it was identified as a cancerous tumor. In the effort to get my head around this new reality, I have occasionally referred to this tumor as “the beast” and written in terms of slaying it. This is mythical battle language, a genre I am not accustomed to using. Nevertheless, the image sticks in my mind, because there is a foundation of truth underneath it.

Unlike Don Quixote, whose imagination led him to believe he was being attacked by giants, I am not tilting at windmills. I am indeed “fighting” something that does not belong in my body. This intruder gained entrance by some silent mechanism, and I have resigned myself to the mystery of its origin. But its dynamic aligns with a reality all Christians face, whether or not they are aware of it: the spiritual battle in which we are each engaged.

We see evidence early in the gospels that Jesus contended with evil spirits that were having a deleterious effect on citizens of his part of the world. Demons caused various maladies: seizures, mental illness, crippling, and blindness to name a few. When Jesus cast out the demons, the illnesses disappeared. This illustrates to me a link between physical and spiritual problems. I hasten to add that observing a link does not give a full explanation of the suffering we face. I do not intend to assert that whatever we endure is only a spiritual problem. But I believe the New Testament teaches that we are integrated human beings, whose spiritual life affects our physical condition, whose psychology affects our spiritual life, and whose physical condition can distress both our minds and our spirits. There is no such thing as a problem that is only physical or psychological or spiritual! To eliminate the possibility that we may be seeing manifestations of all three is to deny the full arsenal of tools and weapons God has given us to deal with them. When it comes time to address a health issue, we are called at the very least to attend to the spiritual aspect of it, while seeking relief through medicine or psychotherapy as needed.

It has helped me to engage some imagery to describe my current enemy, the beast that prowls about in my chest seeking cells to devour. It is, in fact, this description of the Evil One Peter used in 1 Peter 5:8 that is so apt. He refers to a roaring lion, which was a considerable foe in his time and place, as it would be in ours. [However, C. S. Lewis has forever redeemed the image of “lion” by using that particular beast to depict Aslan, the Christ figure in his Narnia stories!]

Just like cancer cells, which go into hyper-drive to reproduce and take over healthy structures, Satan tries to satisfy its insatiable appetite for “food” by attacking vulnerable human beings and destroying them. It is a perversion of God’s good creation to use cell reproduction for evil purposes and cause previously healthy tissues to turn upon their host in order to wreak destruction. For a person whose theology starts “in the Garden [of Eden]” I find this perversion outrageous. It is why I consider cancer an enemy, a beast that must be slain. [Thank you, Ron and friend, for this helpful concept.]

Compared to the glorious might of our Lord and Savior, this enemy is small, impotent, and deluded. Ultimately, it cannot stand and survive an encounter with the living God. It boasts way more power than it actually has, but it knows that “a single word may fell it.” From a spiritual standpoint, this beast is doomed.

The physical battle must be fought, however. I am approaching it as a test of mettle and a sharing in Christ’s sufferings. If I may more dearly appreciate the suffering Christ endured as a human being who died on the Cross for you and me, even physical pain and discomfort can have a healing effect. This does not stop me from asking God to slay this beast and save me from the side of effects of chemo and radiation, and I pray that petition daily! I’m not really keen on radiation and chemo in and of themselves, but if by their use I am healed of this cancer, then I gladly walk the road so many of my readers have already trekked. I will do so with the full assurance that Jesus is bearing the load and carrying me through it and that, at the end of the day, Jesus will reign victorious over all Creation!




6 Responses to “Slaying the Beast”

  1. Griffith, Danny Says:

    Mary, I can relate to what you are going through right now. I just recently had a cancerous tumor removed from the right side of my neck. I had radiation and chemotherapy treatments before the surgery and am taking additional chemo treatments now as a precaution to make sure the cancer cells have not spread to other parts of my body. The night before my surgery my wife and I were at the church for our usual Wednesday night supper and devotional. Someone said to me “good luck with your surgery tomorrow.” I replied that luck did not have anything to do with my upcoming surgery. I had a church full of people praying for me, I had people I did not even know praying for me (the Sunday school classes of some of my wife’s friends), I had a Christian surgeon ready to operate on me and most importantly, I had God on my side to place his healing hand on me. So I did not need luck. Just continue to trust in the Lord as I am sure you are doing and he will take care of you. God Bless You for your witness in these posts.

  2. Bill Young Says:

    Mary, you may know that Ralph Winter wrestled with this same kind of issue with Roberta’s and, later, his own cancer. The best summary of what he was up to is in the last chapter of the recent biography Harold Fickett did of Ralph. You might also look at the list of his writings on the US Center for World Mission web site.

  3. Debi Murphy Says:

    Mary, many prayers and gentle hugs go with you today. We put our ultimate trust in the healing power of God and are thankful for doctors, nurses and the drugs that can help slay the beast. You are an amazing example of faith in action and of grace under pressure. Praying for peace, few side effects and total and complete healing. Blessings.

  4. Craig Pynn Says:

    Mary, while I have hiked the radiation trail, I am (so far) a stranger to the traditional chemo path. My prayers echo yours: comfort and minimal (‘none’ would be good, too) side effects going forward over these next several weeks.

    And yes, cancer is a devouring beast–our very own cells gone genetically mad–and a physical battle must be fought inside your body. But as I read your post, it’s clear that your mind and your heart–and your body- are in exactly the right place: the bosom of Jesus.

    Before cancer, I always thought of Oswald Chamber’s incessant theme of “abandoning ourselves to Christ” as an interesting theological concept. But now I have an infinitely greater awareness that this abandonment is far, far more than mere intellectual acquiescence to the words of Jesus. It is abandonment of body, mind and heart into the full knowledge–and full feeling–of sharing Christ’s suffering. And with that, the complete assurance that as his suffering–and death–led to glory, that your own suffering will indeed lead to healing.

    Stage III cancers are treated with “curative intent,” an acknowledgement that we will never be completely cured. But then we must never forget that being healed is a completely different thing.

  5. Julie Tausend Says:

    Mary, as I was reading this morning in Psalm 18, I came across this verse, “For you girded me with strength for the battle” (verse 39a) and I immediately thought of you and prayed those words for you. I had not yet read your blog posting today but the Lord knew. May He fully equip you in this battle you are waging. May He surround you with His protection and mercy and afterwards may you say with David, “The Lord was my support. He brought me out into a broad place, He delivered me, because He delighted in me.” (Psalm 18:18b-19 NRSV)

  6. Randy McGrady-Beach Says:

    Very inspiring Mary. Thanks so much! Blessings from North Carolina where I am on “assignment” with other pastors as we explore the Holy Spirit, academically and hopefully experientially. Blessings !

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