My friend, we’ll call her Rebecca, died this past weekend at the age of 25. She was diagnosed 3 years ago with a brain tumor, and had every type of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy possible, but it was not enough to save her. She was sweet, caring, beautiful, and strong; she had recently gotten married and had a lifetime worth of goals and dreams ahead of her. Rebecca had planned on becoming a teacher, and eventually becoming a mother. She volunteered in her community and was kind to everyone she met, regardless of whether she personally liked them. She was active in her church, singing and sharing her many musical talents with anyone who asked.
Let me now add a disclaimer that I don’t believe in a God – there are a lot of things we don’t understand about the universe, and I don’t pretend to have any answers. But when my friend died, I couldn’t help but wonder how someone who believes in a God can justify what happened to her. It’s the classic question – “why do bad things happen to good people?” See, I understand that religious people generally believe in free will, so sometimes when bad things happen to us it’s a result of some action we took. For instance, if I drove my car to the grocery store while it was snowing and got into an accident injuring myself, it’s reasonable to assume that my choice to go for a drive while the roads were slippery played a role in my injuries. It was my choice, and I paid the consequences, despite how inherently good or bad I might be. I also understand that the definition of “good” or “bad” is going to vary between people.
However, I’m not sure of anyone that would consider an early death, like what Rebecca had to endure, a good thing. And I don’t think her brain tumor had anything to do with a choice she made (in contrast to some cancers, like lung, which are often caused by an action like smoking). There was nothing she could have done or put into her body that caused that brain tumor – it was some sort of perverse accident, a deadly combination of genetics and environmental factors beyond her control. So then I ask, if you believe in God, what is your justification for this occurrence? Why did God give Rebecca a brain tumor (or allow her to die of a brain tumor) while letting serial rapists live? Why did God allow a tsunami to kill over 200,000 people in 2004, while doing nothing to stop a repeat child-molester? Is it because “God works in mysterious ways”? That response always seemed like a bit of a cop-out – if you don’t know the answer, say so. Did my friend sin, and this was her punishment? I don’t buy that – she wasn’t perfect (no one is), but there are many people in this world far worse. Did God smite her just for his own amusement? Or it is possible, just maybe, that God had nothing to do with any of this – that sometimes life sucks and good people pay the consequence? If God is loving and all-powerful, then he would have saved my friend. He wouldn’t have let her die before her parents, leaving behind a husband who is now contemplating what goals he has left that didn’t involve a lifetime with her. The world is a worse place today, because Rebecca is no longer here to share her love and talents with the rest of us.