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.
A silhouette of trees outlines my yard. A wet glare reflects off the street from last night’s rain. Houses sleep. Even the birds are still silent. I am up before the sun today and that never happens.
It’s dark in other ways, too.
I am wide awake and talking to you. Asking questions. Listening. Waiting for your answers.
I considered grabbing my blue colored legal pad and writing my letter on paper. The sensation of a gel pen and the flow of cursive writing has a calmness and beauty to it. I would fold the paper into thirds, address an envelope with only your name on the front, stick a few stamps on it, and mail it. Internet research suggests letters addressed to God are routed to Jerusalem, Israel. I don’t really know where it would go. I still may do it.
It’s quiet. I like it being just the two of us.
As you know, morning Mass has been suspended for a few weeks now and will continue indefinitely. It’s too large of a gathering. Social distancing must be followed. I am grateful for the protection. I am more than okay not being there because I know you are with me when I’m not in a brick and mortar church. We walk together. It’s odd though with Easter approaching. It’s a big day for Christians. Strange move on your end.
I don’t get it.
I understood long ago that I don’t get to know the answers to many of my questions. A ginormous WHY persists. Why has any of this, all of this, happened?
As a human race, have too many of us lost focus on what’s important? Are we not listening? Why are some people ignoring social distancing, continuing to travel for pleasure, and perpetuating the false notion that the coronavirus is just like the flu or that they’ll be okay because they are young and healthy? What is wrong with these people?
I feel like there’s a me versus them mentality and we need to all be working together to slow the spread and flatten the curve. We are only as strong as our weakest link. There are some remarkably weak links out there. It’s a blessing I can’t be near them to let them know my feelings about their choices.
Or is there no reason for these events?
Is the reason just because?
My heart hurts. Life needs to sing again.
Ah, I’m hearing a few birds greeting the morning. I love that sound. Thank you for bringing me back to a simple joy. It’s getting lighter by the minute.
I question why the COVID-19 pandemic has happened the same way I question deaths from natural disasters, genocides, terrorism, and wars. Are these all just because?
I question why we couldn’t have acted sooner. Young people are dying, health professionals, the elderly, and people with underlying health conditions – like cancer. People across the country are learning the hard way the definition of asymptomatic. The young, the privileged, and the entitled are learning this pandemic isn’t only targeting groups that have been labeled as expendable. We all are seeing how the resources we have are overwhelmed and that we were ill prepared.
I question the hoarding. I question political responses.
I don’t get it. It’s a repeating refrain.
Maybe I’m not supposed to understand. I know there are many answers that are there just beyond my reach.
I do not question the goodness of our medical workers. You have created a group of heroes including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and first responders that are dedicated to the point of exhaustion to support us. There are factory workers, grocery store workers, truckers, and farmers who are keeping us fed.
I do not question there will be an end to what is happening now. It just won’t be soon. There are still hard days ahead. Help us get through them.
Give us the science that will save lives. Give us needed equipment and gear to keep us safe. Give us leaders capable of understanding that people’s lives matter more than money. Give us hope. Give us wisdom. Give us love.
Hope comes in small doses these days. Signs of spring are appearing. My rhubarb sprouted up in my garden last week. Friends and family support me. I miss my people. New groceries each week or so keep me hopeful and nourished. I love getting outdoors to breathe in the fresh air and feel the sunshine. Music is a source of hope. Moving and sticking to my training schedule gives me hope for the future. Staying home and feeling safe is immensely hopeful as it is a solid action that can make a positive difference. Hope comes in the form of prayer. In the form of letters.
Help us give one another more hope.
Give us the warm sunshine that fills us inside.
Well, God, it’s time to wrap up my letter and move on to breakfast. I’m not sure what kind of closing is appropriate because I’ve never written to you before. More traditional prayers get an Amen. You pop in and out more informally throughout my day. My letter is somewhere in between.
Time will show what miracles we see and the lessons we learn.
I’ll keep looking for signs and answers as I always do. I’ll keep questioning and listening for answers. I’ll keep hoping and being thankful. I’ll keep doing my best to find a way.