Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Elizabeth Edwards, cancer, and God

Today on National Public Radio, a reporter described an interview he had had with the late Elizabeth Edwards, who died yesterday of breast cancer. Edwards was the wife of John Edwards, former Democratic Vice Presidential candidate.

The reporter himself had survived cancer, he said, and he and Edwards quickly formed a bond because of their illness. He said he was surprised by her honesty, especially about religion. She told the reporter that she couldn't pray to a God who allowed her 16 year-old son to die in a car crash. She said that if God wouldn't save her son, He certainly wouldn't save her from cancer.

The problem of evil, suffering, and death causes many people to stop believing in God, especially in a beneficent God. For millennia, humans who believe in God have wrestled with what theologians call theodicy, the existence of evil, suffering, and death within a context of belief in a God of love, and we have tried to make sense of the pain of life, while still believing in a God who cares and acts for our welfare.

There is no satisfactory human resolution of the problem, but there is the cross of Jesus Christ, in my view.

As a pastor, I am constantly dealing with tragedy of one kind or another: a sudden and unexplained death; the loss of mental functioning by someone who was once bright and creative; the unceasing suffering of people in Haiti.

And yet I believe. Sunday after Sunday, I confess my faith in God in the words of the Nicene Creed. I say I believe in a God who makes Himself known in love for humankind as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe in a God who does not hold Himself apart from humankind and our struggles, but who engages in them with us and aids us in our distress. I see this active, involved God most fully at work in the life, passion and death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. On the cross, God suffers and dies, and on the third day, God, in Jesus, conquers all the evil, suffering, dying, death, tragedy--every enemy of humankind--in the resurrection.

We're Easter Christians, someone once observed, living in a Good Friday world. We face the harsh realities of life in this brutal, but also wonderful world, believing that God is with us and cares for us, that God identifies with us in our humanity in Jesus, that God is victorious over the Evil One, and that one day God's new creation will come to earth as it already exists in heaven, and then suffering and sighing, as Isaiah says, will be no more.

Now, I believe Elizabeth Edwards, who suffered mightily in many ways, knows life eternally in the Communion of Saints. Rest eternal grant to her, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon her. May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercies of God rest in peace.