He had never experienced such impenetrable darkness, but he was never more certain that light would prevail. He could feel the warm breath of danger brushing by him, but he was never more aware that the battle was not his. He had been a man of action and intellect, but he was now incapable of purposeful movement. He lost all sense of time as he waited, but as he waited he trusted. Inexplicable peace and joy enveloped him. Anticipation stirred his soul as love sustained him. Suddenly a distant voice broke through his silent celebration of God’s grace. “Daniel, are you okay in there? Has your God kept you safe?”
Those who experience the lions’ den of cancer may be able to identify with Daniel. The familiar story found in the sixth chapter of Daniel provides encouragement and context for the cancer experience, as it reveals the reality of a sovereign God who cares.
Those who are diagnosed with cancer may wonder “Why me?” The testimonies of those who share that they prayed “really hard” and were given negative test results may reinforce their fears of God’s displeasure or rejection. Although self-examination, confession, and repentance are important functions for all of us, it is important to note that Daniel was put in the lions’ den because of his faithfulness and obedience to God. As with the blind man in John 9:3, God’s purpose is not always immediately understood. Cancer provides an invaluable opportunity to focus totally on our Creator as our only source of meaning. We can trust His love when we cannot understand our circumstances. The lions of doubt threaten, but the Lamb of God calms our fears and gives perspective to our situation. (II Timothy 1:7)
Cancer often results in an interruption of activity. As self-worth is often attached to accomplishment, being taken “out of service” may cause feelings of uselessness and weakness. It may appear that Daniel accomplished little while he was in with the lions, but in actuality his was the best possible service. He remained faithful to his God. He continued to be what God wanted him to be even when his activity was limited. Cancer often forces us to choose “that good part” of spending time at the Savior’s feet. (Luke 10:42) The lions limit our movement, but the Lamb of God provides fellowship for our spirits. (Ephesians 3:19)
Conversations with others may bring the cancer patient or survivor potential wounds. Never having experienced the treatment or its aftermath may lead others to comment on her inability to return to work as quickly as others, the lack of desirability of their first no-wig hairstyle, or the “lopsided” results of reconstructive surgery. Sometimes those experiencing cancer become magnets for those who know someone who is suffering from cancer and “not doing well”. One cancer patient recovering from radical surgery and facing both chemotherapy and radiation treatments, received calls on two successive nights reminding her that, if the treatments were ineffective, then at least she knew where she was going and “we all have to go sometime”. Although God shut the mouths of the lions, they could still have been quite noisy in making their presence known. The roar of the lions of ignorance or insensitivity can be frighteningly loud, but the Lamb of God sustains us with His words of love and shields us from offense. (Psalm 119:165, Isaiah 50:4)
Being diagnosed with cancer provides a unique opportunity to comfort and encourage others. It provides a permanent label for one’s identity which may open doors to sharing our experience with others. Just as Jonah’s time in the whale’s belly may have physically altered his appearance to draw attention to his experience, the cancer diagnosis may signal others to hear the resulting message of God’s love and power. We are also reminded that King Darius approached the den with eagerness early the next morning to see it Daniel’s God had sustained him through the night. People are encouraged to know that God can provide grace to sustain His children throughout the cancer experience. Time in the lions’ den of cancer is a great avenue of testifying to the Lamb of God’s sufficiency. (II Corinthians 3:5)
After diagnosis treatment generally follows. Through submission to the prescribed course one hopes for cure and recovery. After doing everything possible to promote survival one can only trust. If we trust in ourselves, our doctors, or our treatment, then we may be disappointed. Trust in God will never disappoint. Daniel was quick to say that it was God who was responsible for his safety through the night. He recognized that the battle against the lions was too much for him. The lions have the power to kill the body, but the Lamb of God determines the outcome and brings us out into life. (Proverbs 21:31; Matthew 10:28-32; I John 5:11)
Daniel’s experience supplies encouragement and example for those diagnosed with cancer. The lions’ den of cancer has great potential for despair and destruction, but the power of the Lamb of God is demonstrated in the life of anyone submitting to His purpose and trusting in His love. (Psalm 23:6)