The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks

Fifty-eight pages in and I think I’ve found my ‘big preaching idea’ for this modern day parable. If you’re unfamiliar with the HeLa story, here’s a great primer from the Globe and Mail from 2010.

The idea started to come to me last night after dinner, when this bible verse came to mind; “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:20, ESV

And then this one;  “That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” Romans 8:28, MSG

And then I read this;  “The reason Henrietta’s cells were so precious was because they allowed scientists to perform experiments that would have been impossible with a living human. The cut HeLa cells apart and exposed them to endless toxins, radiation and infections. The bombarded them with drugs, hoping to find one that would kill malignant cells without destroying normal ones. They studied immune suppression and cancer growth…  If the cells died in the process, it didn’t matter – scientists could just go back to their eternally growing HeLa stock and start over again.” (page 58, TILOHL)

And then I wrote this; “God mysteriously transforms catastrophes – life events that we can only understand and experience as broken, hopeless and evil – into restored, hopeful and good things. Often these good things play out in other, larger, later, perhaps invisible to us, and sometimes never made known to us, contexts.  To the Lacks family, their wife, mother, sister, and daughter died a tragic death due to cervical cancer. But to the millions of cancer sufferers whose lives have benefited from HeLa cells over the past six decades, an inestimable good resulted. To Joseph (the protagonist in the Genesis 50 story cited above), his life was over. He’d fallen from favored son status to slave. Yet from a much larger, longer, and international perspective, God was looking to save tens of thousands, or more, from starving to death.”

So now my exegetical questions become, “How does the story of Henrietta Lacks co-illumine the story of Joseph (and vice versa)?  How does how God transforms evil into good in each of these stories inform the other?  And what does all this co-illumining questioning reveal about who you are God?