I’ve never really liked the question “why do bad things happen to good people?”, especially in the context of the suffering I’ve endured. At the time of my cancer diagnosis 11 years ago, a few well-meaning friends and family expressed this sentiment, but it always left me feeling uncomfortable. One thing that never crossed my mind at the time of my cancer diagnosis was the question of “why me…why is this evil happening to me?” When news of my cancer hit, I didn’t have any angry feelings toward God or even question his existence. My initial instinct rather was why not me? It seemed clear in my mind that evil or tragic events like mine were not related in any way to God’s involvement or existence or a perceived lack thereof. As C.S Lewis so brilliantly puts it:
God’s Goodness...like pulling teeth?
Imagine that a young child has an untreated cavity resulting in a tooth infection which now requires extensive treatment. Now, imagine that the child has always feared dental visits, and that his parents stopped bringing him to the dentist because they didn’t want to go against his will and submit him to the discomfort of dental cleanings. The parents felt this was done in an act of love, believing that honoring their son’s wishes was the ‘good’ thing to do. However, the infection and perhaps even the cavity itself, could have been prevented in part, by those uncomfortable routine dental visits. The child is now suffering serious pain due to the infection but still does not want to go through the pain and discomfort of a dental procedure. The parents are left with a dilemma, do they continue to honor the child’s wish to not be taken to the dentist or do they allow the dentist to intervene and do the necessary, albeit, painful dental work to prevent further damage?
The Problem of Evil, Pain & Suffering
How does one go about making the case for the existence of God in spite of the pain, evil & suffering that is ever-present in our world? I wrestle to write a response to this question– not because there is a lack of good philosophical and theological reasons that reconcile God’s existence in spite of the existence of evil - but because of the emotional wounds each of us carry from our own struggles with pain, evil and suffering. These wounds can take the form of intentional moral harm inflicted by others, in the harm brought about by anthropogenic disasters (human caused by accident, negligence or incompetence) or by the deadly events brought about by natural disasters.
Living in a Post-Truth World
In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries declared “post-truth” as the word of the year to reflect the global social and political climate in which objective facts were less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals. Fast-forward to today and this word still feels highly relevant, extending beyond politics into many other social spheres including religion. In this blog post from 2011, Pastor McLennan writes that in the sphere of religion, the only productive way forward in our society is to accept religious pluralism as the Truth. To make his argument he appeals to feelings rather than to objective facts to make his case. I first want to affirm his desire for unity, love and respect amongst all people from different religious groups. I believe if we were to treat one another with sincere love, dignity and respect when discussing our beliefs, a deeply important part of our personal and social fabric, we would be a more compassionate and civil society. However, I believe this well-meaning desire for harmony has led Pastor McLennan to wrongfully conclude that the only path to unity in society is to disregard religious truth claims altogether and instead approach all religions as being equally valid.
From a How-to Religion to Christianity
I was asked to interview someone of a different religion or religious movement and share my personal reflections on that person’s understanding of God, their thoughts on whether God can be reached and what can be learned from insights of another perspective. Given my previous personal history within the New Age movement, I thought I would interview Gina, circa 2010-2014, on her perspective on these questions. I embarked on a Facebook deep dive to get a glimpse at the particulars of my beliefs by searching old posts to supplement what I remembered from my faith journey. This was a time where I was in the thick of my chemotherapy treatments, lasting from roughly 2009-2012. It was a period where I was intensely focused on my ability to heal from cancer through lifestyle changes, specifically through nutrition. I fell in love with many inspirational speakers in the health and wellness movement that also happened to be involved in the New Age movement.