Cancer Is Not Evil

The most significant source of strength I draw from as I deal with cancer is not some coping mechanism that comes naturally to me. I don’t have three keys for stress-free living to offer my readers. Instead, the most important, most helpful sources of inspiration and strength for me have been my beliefs about God and the way God’s world works.

My first observation is that cancer is not evil.

This statement may seem shocking, especially coming from someone who has been profoundly affected by the disease, but I find it to be true. I want to begin by discussing evil—what it is and what it isn’t. To do that, I need to address one of the most widely asked and poorly answered questions in human history: “Why does evil exist?”

This question can be framed in a myriad of ways. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” and “How could an all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful God allow evil?” are two of the most common ways to phrase this query. I want to dissect this common question, which has two parts.

When people ask why evil exists, they typically wonder why human beings are allowed to commit evil acts. Why do murder and warfare happen? Why is there so much hatred in the world? As I see it, a world in which people have the ability to choose to love or hate is better than one in which people are not free to choose anything and are bound by the only possible course of action available to them. God could have made a world where people are programmed never to do evil, but in such a world we would not be free to choose love over hate. In such a world there would be no point to any of our actions, no reason to think or try to do what is right. We would be like marionettes. God would pull all the strings, and there would be no reason or even possibility for us to share God’s love. That, in my opinion, is why people are allowed to do bad things.

That doesn’t particularly pertain to cancer, though. Cancer brings up the second part of the question: Why do bad things just happen? For example, why do children get cancer for no real reason? Why do hurricanes, avalanches, and falling tree branches kill people? Why are these kinds of “evil” allowed? Well, because they aren’t actually evil. We simply don’t like them.

I don’t think cancer is any more evil than weather, or mountains, or trees, or any other part of this world that can and does kill people. Cancer is simply part of life on this good earth. Sure, it causes suffering and death. So do storms, avalanches, and falling tree limbs. As far as I am aware, nobody claims that clouds, snowy peaks, or aged trees are inherently evil, no matter the fury of the hurricane, the power of the snow that roars down a slope, or the heft of the trunk that crashes down on a home. It would be bizarre to say that a natural process or event has moral value of any kind. Calling cancer evil, then, seems strange. Cancer does not have a conscience. It cannot decide to be good or evil. It merely is.

Some people may say that there’s a difference. Weather, mountains, trees—these can all be beautiful or useful, or even both. These can be good! Well, no. Not in a moral sense of the word “good.” They may be to our liking at times, but that does not make them good. Rather, they simply are. On the other side of that coin, people may hate cancer, but that alone does not make it evil. Cancer may bring only suffering and death, yes. But cell division keeps us all alive. It allows us to grow and heal. And what is cancer if not a hurricane of cell division? Cancer, then, is no more evil—or good—than any other part of this incredible and dynamic world in which we live. When natural events like the weather or cell division suit us, we like them. When they cause strife, we hate them. But they are not good when they make us comfortable or evil when they kill us. They just are.

Jesus expressed much the same idea. Tucked away in the Sermon on the Mount is a clear, concise explanation of how the world works, an explanation that too often remains overlooked. Jesus, when imploring his followers to love even their own enemies, says that God “makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matt 5:45). In context, Jesus is talking about the need to love everyone, just as God blesses everyone with sunrises and nurturing rains. But there’s more here for us to unpack. This isn’t merely an imperative that we love even those who do not love us so that we can be more like God. It also reveals an important truth about God and the way God made the world. This world, Jesus says, rains and shines on the righteous and the unrighteous—on the people who love God and on those who despise God.

Interestingly, righteous and unrighteous as well as sunshine and rain are pairs of opposites that, as I recall from my “Encountering the Old Testament” Bible 203 class in college, imply the existence of “everything in between.” To paraphrase, people ranging from good to bad all get weather ranging from good to bad more or less equally. It’s important to remember that rain and shine aren’t inherently good or bad. Too much or too little of either causes flooding or droughts.

The lesson here is profound. Jesus essentially states that God does not discriminate regarding who receives what from the natural systems of this world. Righteous or not, you will experience both rain and shine and everything in between. Events that seem good or bad happen to people who appear good or bad almost randomly, and making sense of what or who is good or bad and why such occurrences happen is a guessing game not worth playing. The natural processes of this world simply function as God created them to function, and whether or not we always like them is irrelevant. Sometimes their effects will be unpleasant. While we might even call them evil, attaching such a moral attribute to them is useless. They just are. They simply occur.

This post is an excerpt from Cancer Just Is by Morgan J. Bolt, who died of Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumors on December 18, 2018.

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