April 14, 2015

Angelina Jolie’s Cancer and Jesus Christ’s Calvary

Breast cancer’s most prominent voice today is probably Angelina Jolie.

The Hollywood actress stunned millions of people two years ago when she disclosed that she had undergone a double mastectomy in an attempt to cut her risk of breast cancer.

Jolie said her mother had died of cancer after a nearly decade-long struggle, and her six young children had worried that she might succumb to the same disease, which kills an estimated 458,000 people every year.

“I have always told them not to worry, but the truth is I carry a ‘faulty’ gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases my risk,” Jolie wrote in a commentary published in The New York Times on May 14, 2013. “I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much as I could.”

The double mastectomy took three months to complete. As a result, Jolie said, her chances of developing breast cancer plummeted from 87 percent to less than 5 percent.

Two weeks ago, Jolie returned to The New York Times to announce that she had undergone another preventive operation, this time to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes.

“My doctors indicated I should have preventive surgery about a decade before the earliest onset of cancer in my female relatives,” she wrote on March 24. “My mother’s ovarian cancer was diagnosed when she was 49. I’m 39. Last week, I had the procedure: a laparoscopic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. There was a small benign tumor on one ovary, but no signs of cancer in any of the tissues.”

Comparisons can be odious, but I have a comparative question for you and me as Seventh-day Adventists. Which is worse: breast cancer or sin? Which should absorb more of our attention and consume more of our energy: laparoscopic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomies or getting rid of sin?

These questions lead to another. Which is easier: Going under the knife after gene testing, medications, and consultations with insurers and loved ones, or claiming the power of the Lamb’s blood?

The Bible does provide a straightforward answer: Just believe. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Just believe. That’s easy. But Hebrews 12:4 puts the notion of “just believe” in an altogether different light. “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin,” the author said in an admonishment to the early Christian church.

Someone somewhere may denounce Angelina Jolie as obsessed with works because she has not settled for “just believing” in what will prove to be a life-long war against her flesh in all of its possible perverse manifestations. Instead, she — and we — have been challenged to embrace eternal vigilance, determined hunting, and resolute, unyielding hostility toward a menace ingrained in us.

Jolie said she decided to share her experience in hope that other women might benefit.

“Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people’s hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness,” Jolie said. “But today it is possible to find out through a blood test whether you are highly susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer, and then take action.”

Today it is possible for you and me to be saved through a blood test.

My deepest desire comes from Hebrews 12:4. Teach me, Lord, to resist unto blood.

Isn’t that what Jesus did? Remember His struggle in the garden just hours before His crucifixion. “And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground” (Luke 22:44).

It’s a story of cancer and Calvary. What sin is it that so easily besets me? Am I going to let it get me, or am I going to let Jesus get it? Do I need victory over selfish interests, unhealthy desires, got-to-have-it cravings and passions, and the Laodicean tranquility of mediocre Christianity? Or is this all perfectionistic, fanatical talk?

Jesus offers the prescription for sin: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. . . . For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:34-37).

Jesus’ words reveal that victory over sin is crucial.

Teach me, Lord, to resist unto blood.

Jesus tells me that victory is possible.

Teach me, Lord, to resist unto blood.

Victory also is expensive.

Teach me, Lord, to resist unto blood.

But the victory is worthwhile. In fact, it’s worth everything.

Teach me Lord, to resist unto blood.