When a Brazilian friend asked for my thoughts on Angelina Jolie’s announcement, I had no clue what she was talking about. She sent me the New York Times link, and that afternoon I went to the grocery store and saw it blaring from the magazines. Apparently people are talking about it. The friend asked if I would write something for her to translate into Portuguese. Below is the post in English.
“Life comes with many challenges. The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of.” That’s how Angelina Jolie summed up her New York Times piece explaining why she underwent a preventative double mastectomy. At high risk for breast cancer because of a “faulty” gene, the procedure reduced her chances of having breast cancer from over 80% to 5%. That’s a big shift.
“Now”, she writes, “I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.”
But that’s not true. She cannot eliminate her chances of breast cancer, but merely reduce them. And that statement reveals the real issue in this situation: fear. More specifically, fear of death.
Preventative medicine is a blessing. It can be used biblically when we are stewards of the resources God has given us: time, money, bodies. We have a responsibility to care for our bodies as best we can, since they are a gift from our Maker.
But somewhere, we cross a line between stewardship and idolatry. I would argue that we have crossed that line when our prevention is driven not by a love for God and His creation, but by a desire for control and fear of death. The reasons that Jolie gives for her procedure (high fear because of high risk) and the goal she states (beating death from breast cancer) are not ones that reveal a heart concerned with stewardship. They are simply evidence of someone, who through the fear of death, is subject to lifelong slavery (Heb. 2:15). While Jolie speaks out against human trafficking, she herself is in a bondage to sin that neither she nor the admiring world recognizes. She has the illusion of control because she has the time and money to undergo advanced procedures. But her death, like all of ours, is inevitable because we live in a Genesis 3 world.
So while it might be ethical to go through a preventative double mastectomy (Christian ethicists need to be more clear and public about thinking biblically through gene testing, etc.), that is not the real issue here. Jolie thinks her biggest enemy is cancer. But it is actually the one who has power over death, that is the devil (Heb. 2:14), who holds men and women in bondage to sin and rebellion against a holy God. Jolie’s own blindness has kept her from seeing that she cannot control her destiny. This blindness keeps her from understanding that she can not only be free of this fear, but even have the sting, which is sin, taken even from her inevitable death.
A double mastectomy might be wise in the short run, but what Jolie needs is a Saviour who will walk with her even through the valley of the shadow of death (Ps. 23). Avoiding breast cancer is legitimate; her choice in this regard may be proactive wisdom. But fleeing the wrath to come is crucial; there is only one cure.