Here’s something that’s been bothering me so much that I just have to write about it. But I can’t put it on my own blog; the subject might read it there.
Sound petty? Hypocritical? Might be. I could certainly avoid hurting this person’s feelings by not writing about it at all, but I need to get this said and hear what you think about it. You be the judge; I won’t use any real names.
An old family friend – someone our age – has an adult daughter with bone cancer, which has spread to her lungs. She’s been sending out emails updating all her friends on the progress of the cancer and the treatment, as she takes her daughter to the clinics and nurses put her through punishing radiation and chemotherapy.
Every message is laced with; “Yay God!!!” and “God is so good to us”. Nausea wasn’t too bad this time? “Yea God!” Have to take your beloved cat to the no-kill shelter because her daughter’s white count is down? A major sacrifice, but nary a word about that. Doctor is really on the ball? Sure was great of God to take them to him. The messages all end with Romans 8:28; “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
Please don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not offended by the narrative; it just make me sad. We only have a little time on Earth, we’re pursued by death the whole way, and I get the impression her daughter is not even allowed to feel bad about having cancer. You’d think the threat of death1 would give us a little vacation from pretense; at least a short while to own our feelings and just be human about it. But no, she has to pretend God is being “good to us”.
I suppose I could send her back a message saying; “There’s no god, and you’re wasting the chance to be human in the short time you have together.” Nope, can’t see myself doing that. In one scenario, she’d just get mad at me and there’s no point giving her any negative emotions at all right now. In the other scenario, supposing – it’s unlikely but just suppose – her faith finally crumbled and she had to deal with her daughter’s cancer and the loss of her faith2, both at once? No matter how you slice it, a bad situation is made worse.
If there’s a point to writing this post, it is that religion isn’t coming to terms with death: it’s denying death. And often, even denying suffering too. Stop being human! If you cry out, you are saying God is not merciful. God, after all, restored Job after promising that he would “come to death at a full age”. This empty promise – contradicted every day by the world around us – is somehow supposed to give comfort to us as we face the dark abyss.
I have faced death twice in the last 7 years, and didn’t turn to a phantom either time. My attitude is; “All right, this is bad, and I’ll do everything I can within reason not to die. And whatever the outcome, that will have to be enough.”
Fine, but why should I care if anyone else takes that approach? Just this: by denying death, we devalue it, and life, and give license to war and every destruction of the environment for human gain. We throw down moral responsibility, making death and oppression something that God will balance in the end.
That, and not just some comforting platitude, is what surrounds the hospital room, when we just can’t face the reality of death. But not having the stomach for afflicting the already afflicted, I’m damned if I know how to respond.
1: Of course, we’re all, always under the threat of death but sometimes it’s more obvious and immediate.
2: When you have a lot invested in faith, the loss of faith can be as real and traumatic as the loss of a loved one or a partner. You get over it eventually, but it’s a rough ride. /VoiceOfExperience