As a person of faith, there are two core truths I’ve strained to hold onto even in the most difficult, painful, discouraging moments of my life:
God is good.
These declarations have undergirded my spiritual journey and been the secure anchor points during the most disorienting tumult. They have held and sustained me, filling in the gaps when my faith has wavered and when evidence around me seemed to point to a far colder reality than the God-story I told myself.
These two truths have been a figurative (and many times quite literal) lifeline during my time here on the planet.
As a pastor for almost half of my life, part of my job has often been to encourage people in spiritual crisis; to convince those, who because of the traumas they’ve endured are fighting to still believe, that they should continue trusting in God and God’s goodness. I confess that these days, this is a task I find more and more challenging.
I am a person of faith, struggling to make peace with a God of Cancer.
Over the past week, seeing legendary pop stars, world renown actors, and some of my best and most inspiring friends prematurely stolen in the most excruciating of fashions, the questions that I can often push into the background now refuse to be relegated to the shadows any longer and demand to be dealt with:
Why does a God who loves, allow our heroes and dear ones to be brutalized?
How can I reconcile my faith and this terrible reality?
Why does an all-powerful, caring Creator tolerate Cancer?
The tried and true Sunday School party line many Christians respond with, is that because of our Sin we now live in a fallen world, and something like Cancer is simply a mysterious byproduct of this residual moral sickness that Creation has been infected with.
That doesn’t wash for me anymore.
It’s too easy to dismiss the unspeakable horrors millions of beautiful people are ravaged by every day, by blaming them all on two people, a snake, and a piece of fruit. Even if I could reconcile that such illness is somehow our doing, either through some initial sinful act or (as many others contend) by the chemical impurity of our modern existence which causes such internal mutations, I’d be left with the same conclusions:
God could shut it all down.
God could make it right.
God could send relief now.
God could heal everything once and for all.
If God is as loving and compassionate and powerful as we contend (and as I’ve argued for two decades) He could end all of this suffering without even flinching but refuses to—and that flat-out pisses me off in the depths of my spirit.
If those core truths that I’ve rested in all my life are indeed true, I can’t fathom why sickness is given permission to do such damage, why such sustained suffering is allowed, why so many people have to wait until life is over to be relieved.
If God is, I can’t comprehend why Cancer also is.
I know that when it comes to many of the deepest questions of this life, our minds simply can’t fully grasp what we seek to; that there are mysteries which will on this side of the grave, remain beyond our capacity to understand. I know that God’s ways are not our ways, and that for God to be God He remains unfigureouttable.
But none of this provides adequate consolation right now. None of it gives total peace. None of it seems sufficient in the face of the so very terrible right in front of us.
God is the God of the vast Cosmos, but the God of every single cell in our bodies too, and when they are given consent to betray us and this feels like a profound glitch in the system.
In the Bible Jesus tells his disciples that if they come to him in earnest prayer, he will give them whatever they need. I’ve never interpreted this as some magic, supernatural vending machine God who spits out goodies and favor upon our request, but I have understood it to be confirmation that God is ultimately for us, and that we can approach God in our pain and distress, knowing that we will receive relief and healing.
I’m just not sure what to do with this any longer, how to pray in a way that seems worthwhile, how to understand something as insidious as Cancer alongside a belief that God is and that God is good—but I will keep going.
I will continue to seek and wrestle and ask and hope.
I will celebrate the lives of David Bowie and Alan Rickman and my dear friend Karen and my childhood idol Uncle Sal.
I will stand with and cheer on those who fight battles within their bodies, and pray strength for their souls as they do.
I will strain again to hold on to those core truths of God and God’s goodness, even if my grip right now is tenuous.
And I will continue to walk in faith, even if I do so with a limp.