Using only the Biblical text, are we able to make affirmative statements about God’s identity? I believe so. If we can make definitive, Biblically supported statements about who God is, are we also able to see who God is not? For instance, if God is love can God exist as anything but love? Here’s a sample of who God is, drawn mostly from John’s gospel.
God is. Genesis 1:1
God is a means of communicating divine truths and eternal realities. John 1:2
God is unseen and indescribable. Yet the results of his presence are seen in the basics of giving and receiving. God can be seen in the charitable living we are called to model. God is much a way of life as disembodied person with whom we claim to be in relationship. John 1:16-18
God loves in expansive orders of magnitude. How much did God so love the world? John 3:16
God’s brand is crisis. Personal, political, or family, God is a God of crisis. John 3:19
God is not a solo actor. John 5:20
God is a listener. John 5:20
God is not here to get our vote. John 5:34
God is also a good shepherd. God is love. So says John. Each makes sense in one way or another. They ring true to our well-worn Christian sensibilities. God is everything I’ve shared and more. As God is, so are other things.
Cancer is. Let’s put all of these together in a series of scripturally sound statements. God is. God is love. God is the good shepherd. God is the Word. Cancer is. Which one stands out as different? Why is cancer included among all the goodness that “God is”? Some people will say it’s because of “free will”. What does that mean? It’s more like a party line we’re taught to recite at moments of inexplicable tragedy and illness. Because we are sinful (as the human race in general-the person with cancer has usually lived a life of such exemplary goodness), cancer is an unexplainable aspect of being hateful, fallen, sinful people.
I’m sorry. No, I’m not. I’ll come right out and say it. I don’t buy that reasoning any longer. I will no longer attempt to comfort the dying because of the story of a fruit tree, a reptile, and two people in a mythical garden. Adam and Eve’s poor decisions are not giving good people cancer today. It’s a lie.
Our bodies wear out and die. Illness is part and parcel of life. If I believed we were spiritual automatons or puppets on pieces of divine string, perhaps God would just cut the illness chords and makes us all better. It doesn’t work that way. God isn’t pressing life, health, and death buttons from on high. Adam and Eve’s actions aren’t making us healthier or sicker. Their actions, whether mythical or not, don’t change or who God is or isn’t. God is, we are, and it would be wonderful if we didn’t die in such painful ways. God is compassion. God is love. There should be a path for us to die without acknowledging that “Cancer is”. We are loved so much, after all. If we are so loved, why not free us from the pain of radiation today? If we are so loved, why not hold promises of physical restoration beyond the Jordan in locked silence?
These are the questions I ask when I’m forced to explain a seemingly absent God’s compassion to someone who has heard the words “Cancer is”. I ask these questions in prayer. I pray for the living and the dying. I pray for the journey. I pray as plainly as I can for words, silence, and the ability to be present. Pray with me. Pray for those who are ill. And let us pray for each other.