"God is Stronger Than the Worst Disease" – Remembering Bill Stuntz

"God is Stronger Than the Worst Disease" – Remembering Bill Stuntz March 16, 2011

I learned yesterday evening that the great soul, Bill Stuntz, a professor at Harvard Law School and an extraordinary example of faith, humility and integrity in the face of great suffering, succumbed at last to cancer and passed away.  I feel for his family, and I feel for my friends, some of whom have lost two friends in recent weeks in Bill and Peter Gomes.

Bill with an audience member at the symposium in his honor, March 2010.

I wrote an article late last night, and published it this morning, called “Home to the Longing God.”  The name is a play on the verse Bill referenced in our interview (and elsewhere) as one that gave him particular comfort in the face of death: “You will call, and I will answer. You will long for the creature your hands have made.” Bill found the notion that God longed for him unspeakably beautiful.

That interview moved a lot of people. Unfortunately, we lost the comments (and Shares and Retweets) when we moved to a new article template, but the response that interview received was pretty extraordinary, and it was all because of Bill. I even heard from one reader from Ankara, Turkey, who offered to give Bill a liver and a kidney. When I informed him of the offer, he wrote wryly, “I don’t think I’ll be in the market for any spare body parts.”

In fact, when he saw the overwhelming response to the interview, and to the piece he wrote at Christianity Today, Bill worried that it was too much.  He wrote to me, “I hope all this is a good thing. I worry a little. There is an optimal amount of transparency with respect to these matters, and I may be over the line. And I always fear sounding self-pitying, a bad state of mind that I very much strive to avoid.” I told him that he sounded nothing of the sort, but that I could draw back the interview if he wished. He said that I should not. “I’m glad that, in some modest way, this brings some good from my disease.”

The interview was conducted in January and published in February. I wrote him that June, to see how he was doing, and he reported that he was doing remarkably well. But when I checked in again in January, he said things had taken a turn for the worse. I asked whether he had any other thoughts he wanted to share with readers. He said he wasn’t sure he had any new insights, and he feared it would seem “self-aggrandizing…like I’m calling attention to myself.” But he did not have much longer, in any case. “My cancer no longer responds to chemo, so the doctors are letting the disease take its course…Already I’ve lasted longer than the doctors or I expected, so I certainly have no complaints on that score.”

Bill was, indeed, always en garde against the slightest whiff of self-pity or self-aggrandizing. Isn’t that always the way? The worst people are eager for attention, and the best people flee from it. The people who suffer the least are consumed with self-pity, and people who suffer the most – at least, many of them – refuse to indulge in it.

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