Tuesday, February 17, 2004

This week Grandmother Stokes was diagnosed with bone cancer. The Stokes community (all the kith and kin!) is not unfamiliar with cancer, as more than a few of the extended family and friends have dealt with it in their own bodies.

I can't think about cancer without thinking about the very nature of Evil in the world.

Cancer doesn't live or grow without a host, it doesn't just appear ex nihilo. In fact, it's not made of something different from the host, but takes cells that would otherwise be fine in a different spot in the body, accumulating them in a place where it is not fine for them to be.

And it's not content to mess up a particular place in the body, but once it gets a certain size it's like it aggressively spreads itself across the rest of the host. Cancer is even inherently self-destructive. It will eventually end up killing itself as it takes over its host.

Fighting against cancer seems to me to always be a rear-guard action, as well. That is, once it's entered the body, you must always watch for it, always be on your guard, even if it's been gone for years. And even though I realize I'm anthropomorphizing here, cancer does seem to have it's own mind and bent will, responding as an alive thing to chemotherapy and radiation treatment, sometimes retreating, sometimes advancing, but always a menacing presence within its person.

It seems to me, this is what Evil itself is. Evil is not creative, it can only twist, misplace, deform, and defile. Evil does not, cannot, create ex nihilo. That is, Evil is dependent upon the Good, since it's very nature is to spoil the Good.

This, as some of you will recognize, leads easily to one of my pet peeves: the silly idea that one must have a taste of the "bad" in order to really appreciate and know the "good." It's in fact completely the opposite: Good is inherently self-contained. It needs no referent. Evil, on the other hand, needs Good as not only a referent, but something which to befoul.

Tolkien had a grasp of this, I think, when he was writing the Lord of the Rings. His evil creatures: orcs, trolls, uruk-hai, wild-men, were all variants and defilements of previously created "good" creatures (elves, dwarves, men, or some combination thereof). Peter Jackson captured it marvelously when he showed the orcs as maimed, slimy, cobbled together pieces of flesh, the antithesis of the healthy, clean & smooth elves.

Evil also isn't content with defiling the corner it's currently in. It spreads, continuing to pervert and corrupt as far as it can go. And it's a rear-guard, containing action that we fight against it: always watching, waiting for it to pop up again, knowing that if we don't see it, that just means that it's "gone to ground" and will return.

Like cancer, it seems that Evil is only truly defeated at the destruction of the host. There is something about the way Evil binds itself to our current reality that there is no parseing it from the rest of reality. The eventual redemption of the cosmos comes only at the cost of its destruction followed by its recreation.

Which brings me back to cancer. It may be that it brings death, but that is it's own destruction. It seems to me that the only room for hope in talking about cancer is the hope in the Resurrection. This hope that cancer will eventually be stopped, that it can't leap the fire-break which is death, and that at our resurrection it will be left behind. Finally only the true and the good will be. Thanks be to the Triune God of Grace.

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