You Will Call, I Will Answer: An Interview with William Stuntz
With the cancer, because of my experience with my back, I've never been able to bring myself to pray to be healed. I can deal with hurting all the time. I can deal with terminal cancer. What I cannot deal with is having the prospect that it will all be taken away dangling right before me. That, I think, is beyond my capacity.
There is a tendency that's especially strong in Calvinist circles to read Romans 8:28, "All things work together for the good," as though it says that "All things are good." I heard some of that, and that hurt me too. I am not blaming anyone else; I am sure this is more my fault than anyone else's. These are honest opinions, if (I think) probably misguided, and they were delivered by completely well-meaning people. But hearing repeatedly that suffering is discipline from a loving Father, and that my circumstances are all gift -- no curses, they are all blessings -- made me feel sometimes as though God were coming after me with a baseball bat.
It's impossible for me to hear and absorb those messages and then also think that the God of the universe actually loves me. I got close at some points to losing my faith, to seeing God as having declared Himself my enemy. It's hard to worship your enemy.
The pain and the cancer in themselves are not good, then, and yet we as Christians believe that God can bring good out of evil. Not to paper over the negatives, but what good has God brought out of it? What lessons has God taught you, or how has He shaped you?
My experience of cancer especially is that God is just so eager to bless. I find blessing all over the place, not in the cancer itself but all around it. It would almost be easier to answer what blessings I have not found.
Since my cancer diagnosis, I have experienced more friendship from more people than at any other time in my life. I've experienced not just a quality of medical care but a kind of medical care, humane medical care delivered by humane and decent people, that seems Christ-like to me. I don't know the religious convictions of all the people who have treated me, but I certainly believe that they are used by God in ways that are really quite extraordinary to bring blessing to people who are in circumstances that lead them to hunger for blessing. I do hunger for blessing in the midst of these medical conditions, but I regularly find that hunger satisfied.
Are there ways in which your suffering has changed you for the better?
For a time, I think, the chronic pain changed me for the worse. I had a period when I grew more bitter and isolated.
But ultimately the answer is yes. Over the past few years I have become less arrogant, less confident of my own judgments and insights, and better at listening to others.
As a result, I've become a better husband and father than I was. I love better than I did before. I am certain that's true in my family, and maybe even generally beyond my family. I think I am actually better at my job. One of the things I've learned over the years is that believers have a large advantage in many academic fields, but definitely in mine. We understand that the world is not what it should be, and that our own capacities to understand it are severely limited. These are things that many of our colleagues do not understand. They are simple realities. They are facts. And if you understand those realities, then you cannot help but see things that others are not seeing.
Dr. Timothy Dalrymple is the Associate Director of Content at Patheos, and writes weekly on faith, politics, and culture for Patheos' Evangelical Portal. Follow him at his blog, Philosophical Fragments, on Facebook or on Twitter.