Today is World AIDS Day. In some ways, we've made enormous progress. Not too long ago, I saw a documentary, and it took me back to the early days of the disease, when healthy men turned into skeletons and died within 6 months.
And now, it seems to be manageable. I say "seems" because we assume that protease inhibitors tame the disease and can be taken for a whole lifetime. That may be true. We also forget that diseases mutate and develop resistance to the drugs that we create. Protease inhibitors that work today may not work in 10 years.
This is a disease that should be easy to avoid, and yet we're not making much progress in dropping the rate of new cases. AIDS is a bloodborne disease, not airborne. It's easy to avoid the disease vector that transmits AIDS, and even if we're exposed, it's not as easily transmissible as the news media would have us believe. And yet, we continue to see risky behavior, and thus, new cases. I don't know what we could do to make people more aware.
We've had other diseases on the brain in this year of Ebola. For me, I will remember 2014 as the year of many cancers. None of them have been mine, but it's been agony watching friends and acquaintances struggle with this disease. I don't usually spend much time thinking of cancer, but this past year, a colleague has died of pancreatic cancer, a friend died because of a cancerous brain tumor that returned, a colleague has battled colon cancer that travelled to his liver, and my friend from high school has battled cancer of the esophagus. The thought of cancer is never far from my consciousness.
These are cancers that are statistically unlikely in the people they've afflicted, and yet, here they are. As with the early days of the AIDS scourge, when so many came down with Kaposi's Sarcoma that didn't usually afflict that population group, I wonder if these strange cancers in younger bodies are harbingers of some new doom.
I will confess to theological thoughts that seem almost heretical in this past year of many cancers. I have found myself wondering about where cancer fits into God's plan. I don't believe that our lives are set on a predetermined path, but I do believe that God has created everything with meticulous attention to detail. How do I square that belief with a cancer cell? The cancer cell undoes such a beautiful creation, the human body. It looks like a design flaw to me.
But here's the heretical thought: maybe it looks like a design flaw, but it's not. Maybe I think of it as a design flaw because I am human-centered. Do we believe in a God who loves every element of creation equally? I say that I do, but my belief falters in the face of cancer cells.
I think of those Bible verses that has God caring for a sparrow and knowing every hair on the human head. Does God care equally for the cancer cell? Does God love the AIDS virus, the Ebola virus?
If I was a good theologian, I'd have an answer. I don't. I don't even have a Bible reference that helps me make sense of my quandary.
My creative practices help me with my theological quandary about God and cancer cells. My creative processes have helped me to be comfortable with long periods of not knowing a clear direction. I begin to write a novel, for example, in a place of uncertainty. Do I have characters who are worthy of a book? What will happen to them? What's the purpose of this novel? I don't have to know for sure, but I have to keep going.
I don't know for sure how cancer fits into the plan for creation. Is it evidence of a fallen aspect of creation? Or perhaps the cancer cell fits a larger purpose that I can't even conceive of--because, after all, I'm not God.
But I have trust in the Easter message that death does not have the final answer. I have trust in a Creator and a creation that commits to resurrection on a daily basis. I, too, am a creator, and that practice also helps me have faith. With that faith, I can continue.
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