Cancer and Faith

Cancer makes faith and religion harder for me. I’ve always questioned and still believed. I haven’t wavered on what I consider the big things and feel each of these main points is clear enough to stand on their own. I am firm on these aspects of my faith:

• There is a God (or universal being, higher source, energy).

• God is love and God loves all of us.

• Religion is not God.

• Faith and religion are not the same thing.

• I am a spiritual being having a human experience in a body.

• Our purpose is to be happy and to help one another.

• Heaven is real.

How does cancer muddle faith and religion?

  • Many of these reasons overlap one another. Many people live by believing God has a plan, a plan for them, and that cancer must be part of His plan. Buying into suffering and cancer as God’s plan contradicts my belief that God is love. God doesn’t want me or anyone to suffer. He doesn’t want misery and unhappiness. Cancer isn’t good. It isn’t a blessing. It isn’t part of a plan or grand design. It steals, destroys, and kills. Cancer isn’t God or part of a plan.
  • People beat cancer because God is on their side. Ooooh, this boils my blood. This implies those who die from metastatic cancer are somehow Godless. They didn’t pray hard enough. Their faith or belief wasn’t strong enough. No, no, and no. I pray. I have faith. Would this waver when cancer recurs or returns as metastatic disease? What did they do wrong? Nothing.
  • People can pray away cancer. Nope. Here’s one that overlaps with God being on someone’s side. Prayer is powerful. Miracles happen. People pray and still pass. God didn’t need one more angel. When people say they pray for me, I have to wonder what specifically is in their prayer. Is it that I don’t suffer? Is it I have more time? Is it that effective treatments are matched to me so I have a complete response? Is it for a miracle? Some of these prayers can contradict one another. I don’t want anyone’s prayers unless they align with my prayers and goals for health and life. Maybe it’s just something some people say and they don’t follow through with the prayer part.
  • People with cancer must have done something wrong and have gravely sinned. Honestly, I don’t hear this one too often because of the company I keep, yet I know there are groups of people out there who believe such nonsense. They aren’t my people and I believe there is something fundamentally wrong with their belief system if this is something they believe.

How can God exist and cause such suffering and pain?

I wish I knew.

A good friend and I have an ongoing discussion on the existence of God and why bad things happen to people and in the world. She questions a lot more than I do and has become agnostic over the years through watching her father pass from a long slow decline after a stroke and other health issues, and seeing her mother hidden inside a body ravaged from Alzheimer’s disease. She knows what I’ve gone through losing my parents. She’s been there for me as I live with metastatic cancer. Events in the world eat at her belief like a parasite. There is too much suffering for her to believe God exists. She looks to me and I confess I have a tough time refuting her arguments. I don’t think I’ve helped her, and I struggle not to have my own beliefs erode.

What can I say? How can I reconcile God’s existence and why bad things happen?

The internet hasn’t helped me at all. Lots of Bible verses surface. If someone already questions belief in God, these are hardly helpful. I keep a journal of quotes from many sources that support my beliefs. Bible verses are included in these. I tend to use broader examples from everyday life and the world. Furthermore, not everyone is Christian, and there are many other good fits for someone looking for the right home for their beliefs. Attaching a label to your beliefs doesn’t do much for me anyway. I’m more of an action-based gal.

My belief is not up for debate. I know where I stand with God. I believe. My prayer life is good.

Cancer doesn’t even need to be the problem, the plague, or the evil applied to my reasoning. Replace cancer with COVID. Use the January 6th riots on the Capitol, the violence, and the attempted coup on the US government as your lens. Take terrorism, racism, poverty, homelessness, domestic abuse, destruction of the environment, lack of mental health resources, drug abuse, natural disasters, or something else when thinking about why bad things happen. Does saying God has a plan work here? How about God being on someone’s side (the wrong side) when these bad things happen? Did people get what they deserved due to some grave sin? Of course not. It doesn’t hold up.

Somehow saying God has a plan when someone is diagnosed with cancer or dies from cancer is supposed to comfort people. It’s the exception to the above scenarios. It’s unsettling, uncomforting, and not an exception.

I’m going to keep something incredibly complex as simple I can.

Bad things happen because

• of others’ actions (free will).

• of our own actions (free will).

• of natural disasters (nature).

• of imperfect science (imperfect bodies / science).

• of unknowns (unexplained).

The unexplained is where GOD comes in. Some things are not for us to know. Why do we think we must understand everything? We are only humans and God is divine. This is where it gets a little sticky because it’s the central question. GOD is an unexplainable entity. We use words like crimes, tragedies, disasters, and accidents to explain horrible events.

Good things happen because

• of others’ actions (free will).

• of our own actions (free will).

• of nature (nature).

• of science (research / science).

• of unknowns (unexplained).

The unexplained is where GOD comes in. Some things are not for us to know. Why do we think we must understand everything? We are only humans and God is divine. We use words like miracles, blessings, gifts, and destiny to explain wonderful events.

The reasons are the same. Our language and perceptions change. Our language is the construct. Faith isn’t based on facts or language. Belief is the real deal.

How do you explain love? How do you explain a soul? Why did we develop brains that allow us to feel compassion, sadness, and joy? How do you explain consistencies across time and cultures throughout history and present day that all have similarities in worship and a higher being? Yes, I have lots of questions and I believe.

We are here having a human experience – we are more than our bodies. That’s what it means to BELIEVE.

God comes down to belief.

Thank you for reading.

Author: Kristie Konsoer

I've been living well with metastatic breast cancer since 2012. This blog is a place where I can share thoughts and ideas on cancer, how I feel perceptions of cancer must change, and how I am finding a way to live with strength, hope, meaning, resiliency, humor, and hopefully a little wisdom.

16 thoughts on “Cancer and Faith”

  1. Thank you for another candid post, Kristie. You’ve certainly looked at faith and belief from many angles. I found your comment about people praying for you to be particularly interesting, in that you said you want their prayers to align with your own wishes. If people say they’re going to pray for you, do you guide them as to what your wishes are so that can happen? (Eg: “Please pray for my strength today” ) I’ve never before thought of asking people to pray for specific things when they’ll offer to pray for me. Your comment made me think this might be a good idea. Happy Easter, Kristie and thank you again for a very thought provoking post!

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    1. Good question. I’ve usually let it pass because I didn’t want to appear unappreciative. Guiding them is an interesting idea. Last week was one of the few times I’ve sent out requests for prayers, good vibes, positive energy, etc. Replacing my port had thrown various issues my way and I had my third surgery to replace it. I let my support community know about it. Hopefully, it will work when used in a week or so.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with everything you have written here – and especially the section “How does cancer muddle faith and religion?” To me, there are no easy answers and it really doesn’t help to pin the blame on a person’s lack of faith, or to accuse them of being an inferior person of faith, or to say that some people get healed because of their special faith, or because of lack of sin in their lives. I just can’t accept that reasoning.
    As you point out, “some things are not for us to know. We are only humans and God is divine and, ultimately, we are more than our bodies.” These are things we need to hear.
    Thank you for sharing this very honest post. Happy Easter!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am glad I still search even though I know all is not for me to know. I still remember a priest’s wise words so many years ago when he said sometimes the reason is just beyond our reach. His words have stuck with me. I imagine a person’s faith can be challenged when dealing with trauma. Thankfully, faith can also support all of us when going through something difficult.

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  3. I believe that you are in the embrace of God, as am I and the stranger. I am so glad that we have cross paths in this day and time. We are Easter people and we believe and live out God’s Love and Inclusivity.
    Hallelujah! So grateful for you.
    Margit

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  4. Yes, faith and religion and cancer are difficult. I also have struggled with the concepts I’ve grown up with and with the rather extreme religiousity of so many in the breast cancer space. It’s a lot to reconcile and to live with. I also find that my faith, very different now than when I was growing up, has sustained me in some dark times. It is true that God is close to the broken-hearted. Thank you for your explanation and musings. ❤️

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    1. Your comment is a good example of those who believe you can beat cancer with God on your side or pray away cancer. God is on my side. I am getting the best treatment possible. Reread my post. You missed a lot.

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  5. Hi Kristie,

    Gosh, what an insightful piece. Cancer has definitely made faith and religion harder for me. Many say it’s strengthened their faith. For me, not so. I’m still trying to figure out my stance on all of it. It drives me crazy when I hear things like, God never gives you more than you can handle. Or everything happens for a reason according to God’s plan. Or just trust in God and all will be fine. I think people who say these things think that because such platitudes jive with their beliefs, they assume and accept they should and will have the same meaning for everyone else. When you think about it, that notion is rather condescending and arrogant.

    Thank you for sharing some of your thoughts about faith. It’s a difficult topic to discuss for a lot of reasons. And cancer, or any trauma, makes it that much harder.

    Keep writing. x

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    1. My faith is with me throughout my day, mostly in subtle and private ways. I am not one to push my beliefs onto others but enjoy the deep discussions I have with friends (all with different beliefs) on religion, faith, and God. I feel let down from where I go to church (now livestream) but I have never consciously put cancer into that space because of the platitudes you named. It is so complex. I know it’s going to stay on my mind. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  6. What a thought provoking post. I too have had the intersection of cancer and faith in my life. I found that I was able to reconcile the diagnosis by accepting where I was and that it somehow fit into God’s idea for my fall 2019. I still don’t know why, and I don’t know that I ever will. Trying to focus on the why leaves me frustrated and angry. So, I try to move through the days, grateful for the continued care and comfort that is available to me when I reach out, and even when I don’t. Sometimes I’ll be having a rough day and someone will send me a message encouraging me. The timing fits and I’m grateful for the ways I’ve been loved through this time. I appreciate your thoughts. Thank you!

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    1. I have always liked to know WHY but know I don’t always get to know the reason. I agree that there are many moments where I get a card, phone call, text, or even see something online at exactly the time I need it. There are so many ways we get messages. I’m glad you commented and shared your wise insight.

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