Q & A: Sick Kids and Evangelical Thinking

Why do [Evangelicals] thank God for healing a child with (insert non-preventable childhood disease, like leukemia), but don't scold Him for the child getting it in the first place? If God was able to heal an ill child, why allow the child to get ill in the first place?

    This question accurately articulates what Evangelicals usually assume: that God is all-powerful, and thus has the ability both to heal a sick person and to prevent injustices, like non-preventable diseases, from happening in the first place. But why not exercise said power in the latter way first, instead of going through the pain and grief of the former scenario? It’s a great question--especially if a person believes that God is all-loving in addition to being all-powerful--and one that actually played a big part in my own departure from the Christian faith.

    In theological circles, the issue at hand is known as “theodicy”, which is a fancy word that essentially means (and please forgive the redundancy here) ‘Why is there evil or injustice in a world created and ruled by a supposedly all-loving and all-powerful God?’ Answers to the theodicy issue vary from person to person, from congregation to congregation, and from denomination to denomination. Evangelicals are in a particularly tight spot when it comes to explaining pain and suffering, though, because they, almost by definition, are wholeheartedly committed to the infamous “Omni’s”: God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omni-benevolent. After all, no deity worth worshipping would be less than perfect in any way, right? But this also implies that in the case of, say, childhood leukemia, God somehow has perfect love for the child and the ability to cure the child of her cancer at the same time. If He has perfect love for her and has control of diseases, why did He let her get sick in the first place? It seems that He is, in fact, either not all powerful or not all loving.

    Well, let’s talk about what the good Christian proselytizer would say. There’s always the “God works in mysterious ways” answer, which is very widely used, though the exact wording might change. This matches well with the general Evangelical sentiment that human minds are weak and frail as a result of both being sinful and also simply being mortal. When one is indoctrinated in that way, one begins to lose faith in one’s inherent logic/gut and begins to lean on the teachings of the church even when those teachings don’t make sense. After all, the preacher seems so confident--so full of the Spirit--doesn’t he? So, if he says that we can trust God knows what God is doing even when children get very very sick, I guess that’s what we’ll have to do. It’s intended to be a comfort, of a sort (granted, a very thin and perilous sort).

    However, for times when the basic “Just Trust Us” response falls flat and a congregant (or stubborn heretic) needs more, the next-step answer from the Evangelical pulpit tends to be--in my experience--that somehow more good comes out of the injustice at hand than would if it had never happened at all. In other words, in the grand scheme of things--grander than we peons can ever hope to comprehend on this side of paradise--it was actually more loving for God to allow the cancer than for Him to prevent it. If that sounds reprehensibly unacceptable to you, you’re a faster study than I was. Then again, I had heard about nothing but God’s perfect love for so long--since I could understand English, really--that it was completely inconceivable for me to question God’s motives, no matter how dire the situation seemed from our Earthly perspective. It wasn’t until recently--like, in the last couple of years--that I realized that any being, human or divine, that withholds aide when someone is helpless or inflicts unnecessary pain on an innocent in order to demonstrate “love” is not loving at all. In fact, that is straight up abuse. In which case, God is not all-loving. Or, maybe God is not all-powerful and therefore isn’t malicious but can’t help but not help. In either case, there is no way He is both. There just isn’t.

    But now I’m getting into my personal conclusion. The answer to the actual question at hand is basically what I’ve already said: that they (Evangelicals) have so submitted themselves--logic, conscience, and all--to their concept of God that there is no true questioning; there is only, ultimately, acceptance of the doctrine, and a shaping of “reasoning” to fit those tenets. Occasionally a believer might bring Satan into the mix, blame all the bad stuff on the Dark Lord. Except, this doesn't really answer the question in any new way, because shouldn't God be more powerful than Satan? If the answer to that question is "yes", we're back at square one.

    Before I wrap this up, I should say that I’m sure plenty of people in Evangelical denominations do get mad at God for these horrible things. But a person has to do something with that anger, and in this context they are asked to trust, to have faith, to believe that all, in the end, is good. The appropriate response to tragedy in this version of Christianity is always leaning in and letting go; it is never to ultimately conclude that God has done something wrong. The deeper "why" of it is, of course, different for every person. There is a lot of existential rest in supernatural explanations--it's why religion and spirituality have been anthropological givens thus far, I think. I also wish, though, that those who might feel more peace by getting rid of the God belief altogether--and thus making the theodicy issue moot--would feel the confidence and freedom to walk away whenever the time is right.