On Cancer and Community: The "Almost" Solo Battle of Casting Crowns' Mark Hall - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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Faith
March 4, 2019

On Cancer and Community: The "Almost" Solo Battle of Casting Crowns' Mark Hall

See Casting Crowns perform their music live and in concert on their Only Jesus Tour in Pittsburgh, on Saturday, March 9, 2019. Geneva community priced tickets are still available:
https://www.geneva.edu/castingcrowns

“The first service one owes to others in a community involves listening to them . . . the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them . . . So often Christians . . . think that their only service is always to have to ‘offer’ something when they are together with other people. They forget that listening can be a greater service.” These words come from theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together, in which he express the inability of members of the body of Christ to listen to one another in love.

Yet, Mark Hall, lead singer for Casting Crowns, feared the opposite when he was first diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2015. When he first found out, Hall did not want anyone to know that he would be battling cancer. He did not want to give others the chance to listen; he did not want to open up. In an article he wrote for Guidepost, Hall expressed, “I definitely didn’t want everyone feeling sorry for me or making a fuss. I didn’t want people sharing inspirational pick-me-ups they saw on Twitter. Telling me everything happens for a reason. All the stuff I’d seen happen to other people who were hurting.”

In part Hall feared what Bonhoeffer expressed, he feared that people would try to “fix it” or make him feel better, rather than walking with him in the pain and hardship. And yet, by the same token, Hall refused to give anyone the chance to walk with him. So often as Christians this is our response to the trials of this life. We think that no one else can understand what we are experiencing. No one will be able to offer the kind of comfort we need, or perhaps, we believe, the kind of comfort we need doesn’t exist at all. While we preach that God uses times of trial to draw us closer to Him, it never occurs to us that he also uses them to draw us closer to our brothers and sisters in Him. 

Being in relationship with God is not a solely individualized experience. Part of the call to Christian-living is being in community with other believers. Community is an easy thing to practice in times of joy. We want members of the church at our weddings, to witness the vow being made before God, and to rejoice in that with us. But, when we are going through trials in our marriages, we do not want counsel or comfort from those in the church community. Rather, we suffer alone because we are hurt or ashamed. We want members of the church to witness the baptism of our children and, we ask them for help in raising them in the way of the Lord. But, when a child falls away, we draw a curtain over the sadness. We do not seek the community of those who have or who are experiencing trials that are similar to our own.

Everyone suffers on this earth in their own way, and no one person’s trial is greater than another’s. God gives us all our own trials to grow us in unique and special ways, so that we might be empowered to do marvelous work for His Kingdom. And while everyone suffers in a way that is unique to them, as Christians, we all share in one common experience: we do suffer. And in that suffering, and even in the joys of this life, we know that this earth is not our home; we long for the coming of glory. Paul shares with us his views on suffering when he says,

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us . . . For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8: 18, 22-25, ESV). 

Mark Hall had walked with many people through many things, but when God sent trial his way, he tried to reject God’s greatest gift: community. He hid because he was afraid. He was afraid that his faith might falter, and that someone might notice. Sharing in suffering requires vulnerability, and that is a frightening thing. Yet Hall realized that his suffering, and the vulnerability it required of Him, was nothing compared to that of Christ. He explains, “I’d have to put my cancer, my fears, my hurt, myself, out there. I would have to be vulnerable. Then I remembered the ultimate vulnerability of Jesus when he was nailed to the cross for all mankind to behold. It gave me the strength I needed.” Though it is hard to think about when we are hurting, no Christian has ever or will ever suffer alone. There is no pain that you know, that Christ has not known.

God gives us ears to hear and eyes to see. Yes, to hear and see Him, but hearing and seeing the joy of community is one beautiful way to hear and see the goodness of God, even in the hard times. Hall’s battle with cancer taught him something beautiful. He says, “You don’t have to have the answers to all of life’s questions. I’ve always tried to give that advice to my own students but the other half of that that I learned is when you’re hurting, you need to let the church be the church. They’re not always going to say it right but the root of it is love. You have [to] realize you can’t walk through it by yourself, you need people walking through it with you.”

-Katharyne Reitsma ‘20

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Get Casting Crowns tickets for Pittsburgh on March 9, 2019 at discounted prices for Geneva community members: https://www.geneva.edu/castingcrowns

For more information about Christ-centered education at Geneva College, please contact the Admissions Office – 800-847-8255 or admissions@geneva.edu