In light of everything that has been going on out there in the world lately, I might leave you with more questions than answers today. And like the average slightly above-average intelligent person, I am always curious to know more and understand better, or at least try. And if you tell me to stop asking questions, there is no guarantee that I will.
A question, big one. Did God make cancer, or Alzheimer’s or Lou Gehrig’s disease? I know I don’t want to think that, but the question popped up, and you may have asked it as well–to yourself or out loud. Now the book of Wisdom declares plainly that “God did not make death, nor does God rejoice in the destruction of the living.” Cancer is definitely a path to death, although medicine sincerely believes that there is a cure and we will find it. I’m not so sure about the other two. So for as long as we don’t have a cure, it is a path to death. Now I believe that everything that comes from God is good. So it makes sense that everything God made is good. And if God is the source of all that is good, it makes sense as well that what is contrary to good cannot also come from or be found in God. The reading goes on, “For God fashioned all things that they might have being; and the creatures of the world are wholesome, and there is not a destructive drug among them nor any domain of the netherworld on earth, for justice is undying.” It makes sense to me that that which is good and that which is contrary to good cannot both come from the same source. Good can only come from good. And if cancer is evil, it cannot be from God. Still with me? Just keep in mind that I am only asking the questions. Answers might take a while.
Now the thing with cancer, and Alzheimer’s, and Lou Gehrig’s, is that we have given evil a name. When it comes to illness, a name is often quite helpful. If we are able to define an illness, we know what it does, and we can figure out eventually how to deal with it. It’s like darkness, which is the name we have given to the absence of light. When we can see that light is missing, then we can bring it in to dispel the darkness, and darkness will be no more. So illness is really not something. It is the absence of health. And the absence of health, although we can give it a name, is still the absence of something, which makes it nothing. And darkness is the absence of light, which makes it nothing. And evil is the absence of God, which makes it nothing. So if that which is good is something, and that which is evil is nothing, and God is the source of good, then God cannot also be the source of evil, because evil is the absence of good, and also therefore the absence of God. Now you know why I don’t get enough sleep at night.
Most of us are born healthy. And by healthy I mean that we can be expected to live relatively happy lives and function productively within the average life-expectancy of people with similar faculties and abilities. My definition, you know what I mean. Now because those who are healthy know what it’s like to be active and functional and pain-free, we imagine people are less than healthy who don’t have all the faculties and abilities that we enjoy. Not being mean, but anything less than the best health-wise we can tell is missing something good. It’s not necessarily wrong because wrong implies a person has a choice in the matter. And it’s not necessarily evil either, but it could be better.
So when a child is born without sight or hearing or having Down’s syndrome, some people will find their condition distressing. That’s because in the back of our minds, the absence of sight or hearing or the characteristics of Down’s syndrome—low muscle tone, small stature, an upward slant to the eyes, and a single deep crease across the center of the palm (a description I found on the webpage of the National Down’s Syndrome Society)—means a child is missing something good, and will be without the best. So if we possibly can, with the best of intentions, we will try to find ways to make them better. Again, not intending to be mean, but it says something about us that we still refer to these as disabilities. But if all life is from God, and these children come to us from God, would they not essentially be good? Would not all human life, regardless of physical condition or ability, be good? If there is something that needs changing about a person, then it is because we are convinced something about them could be better. But what if they think they’re fine the way they are, that they don’t need fixing? Aren’t we imposing on them our distress and our discomfort about something that isn’t really even up to them? Again, just asking the questions.
A few years ago, I came across an article about deafness and deaf culture. Many who are deaf, especially those born deaf, do not consider their deafness a disability, and don’t see a need to fix anything. It’s a different story for those who may have lost their hearing at some point. But it doesn’t seem necessary for deaf people to change if they don’t think there’s anything about them that needs changing. And if we who are not deaf are not happy with that about deaf people, then it is we who need to change, not them. I am very encouraged everyday by families who deal with illness and disability and have taught me more than any book or workshop that the best and most appropriate response to people we love who have disabilities is always an abundance of kindness and compassion. We don’t try to fix people we love. We just love them because they are good the way they are, and what is good must be from God.
When Jesus healed the woman with the hemorrhage in today’s gospel, it was because she came to him seeking healing. He didn’t seek her out. She came to him. When Jesus raised to life the daughter of the temple official, it was because her father came to him and asked. Now Jesus could have easily healed everyone who had any kind of illness or raised to life everyone who died too early when he walked among us, whether they wanted it or not. But he did not. He only healed those who came to him and asked. When we ask God for healing, it is because we recognize that something about us could be better, and that Jesus is able to make us better. And whether or not our prayer is granted can be a struggle because God is not obligated to tell us why he does what he does. Perhaps God wants a different kind of healing for us than we ask, like that we learn to love our neighbor beyond wanting them to change or be fixed. Maybe it isn’t them who need fixing, maybe it’s us, because we can only ask for healing for ourselves. When we pray for healing for others, we cannot always be certain they want the healing we are praying for. So it might help if we asked. A woman stopped me after mass yesterday and told me about that time when her mother was dying. Everyone was praying intensely for her to get better. But the woman called her daughter closer and said, “Tell them to stop.”
I asked a question earlier: Did God make cancer, or Alzheimer’s or Lou Gehrig’s disease? Sacred scripture tells us today that evil is not from God. And from the way Jesus responded to those who asked for healing, we can be certain God desires healing for our brokenness as well. But God isn’t telling us to fix our neighbor. So if God doesn’t think something about our neighbor needs fixing, why do we?
Rolo B Castillo © 2015