Those of you who know Gerv but don't follow his blog might want to read his latest post. It's called Thank God For Cancer. And with a title like that, people who don't know Gerv might want to read it too.
Gerv follows the kind of Christianity that most 21st century liberals, which would be most of my flist, to a greater or lesser degree, despise or even hate. His theology is about everybody going to Hell except him and a handful of people who very precisely share his beliefs (which are not exactly liberal fluffy doctrine, as you might guess). Gerv is also a wonderful person, kind, thoughtful, generous... intelligent too, but lots of my friends are bright; it's in moral qualities that he's exceptional. And he's very sick; he may be completely serene about it, but I'm not!
I'm not saying that post is a fantastic piece of theology; it's really not. But it's a fairly impressive statement of personal faith.
Comments on this are restricted, but not completely disabled. I hope I don't need to mention that I do not expect anyone to insult my friend.
Thank you for linking to this. I don't know Gerv, but found the post poignant and thought-provoking.
I am doing a nine-month chaplaincy internship at a hospital this year, and as a result have encountered a wide range of theologies of illness. Gerv's perspective is foreign to me, but it's not entirely so; I imagine I would enjoy visiting his hospital room to offer prayer with him, despite the radical difference in our theologies.
Yeah, hospital chaplaincy must be incredibly educational from a theological as well as other perspectives. The thing is, I don't think Gerv would be prepared to pray with a Jewish person. He's posted before saying that he thinks non-Christian prayers are pointless, and defended that point of view against some quite fierce attacks from liberals, both Christian and otherwise. That's that kind of thing I mean when I point out that he's coming from a really different theological place from most of my social circle. That's a group that includes Jews, Muslims, Bahais, Buddhists, Quakers and others, all of various flavours, mind you, and I would still set Gerv on his own compared to what is generally a pretty diverse group.
Hospital chaplaincy is tremendously educational, yeah. :-) I'm loving it, but it's exhausting and overwhelming.
One of the questions my supervisor asked me in my interview, before I was admitted to the chaplaincy program, was, "how would you feel if you were called to the bedside of a religious fundamentalist, or someone who believed Jews were damned?" I told him I would be okay with it, and I really believe I would be. In moments of crisis, what matters is not whether and how we agree; what matters is our common humanity in the face of profoundly difficult embodied realities like sickness and suffering and death.
Of course, when the patient in question refuses my presence because I'm the wrong kind of chaplain...? *wry grin* That's hard for me. But in the end I have to honor it, for the same reason that I would be happy to pray by his bedside if he wanted me there; and it's good practice in letting rejection roll off my shoulders and recognizing that it's Not About Me.
Anyway. Thank you again for pointing me to his post; this is fascinating stuff.
You're so cool. Religious conviction that causes people to devote serious effort to comforting the sick and dying is the kind I most respect. A strong faith is one thing, but actually practically doing that emotionally and physically hard work for the people who most need it, that's really admirable. Thank you, you're an inspiration.
I'm also a big fan of real tolerance, and extending it to include people who might not think much of one's own religious path. I knew you were committed to that kind of value, but it's not any less impressive and heartening to hear it again.
I find my reaction hard to phrase. I've seen a lot of people who say that God has a reason for everything that happen, but this is not very reconciled to bad things happening. Gerv's beliefs seem more different to mine, but more consistent than everyone else's, for which I have much respect -- especially during such personal problems.
 I don't know you, but since I'm here, best wishes.
 Indeed, the more logical but more extreme views which here are held sensibly and sincerely (even if *I* don't agree at all) are often used as a reducto ad absurdum for people who wouldn't describe cancer as a gift from God, but have beliefs of which that seems like it should be the logical consequence.
I definitely see what you mean, and thank you for this thoughtful comment. I find this kind of theology absolutely unpalatable, but I do have real respect for someone like Gerv who remains strongly faithful even in the most difficult of circumstances, and who doesn't logic-chop to get out of the unpleasant or extreme consequences of his beliefs. And I think that's a pretty rare quality.
I find *most* beliefs inconceivable; I have lots of practice (and liberal guilt :)) helping me see the other person's side, so I often parse more "extreme" things with little more difficulty because I have to do it all the time :)
I do have real respect for someone like Gerv who remains strongly faithful even in the most difficult of circumstances
Though thinking about it, while I can respect his strength, I don't know if it is *sensible* of me to respect consistency as much as I do.
I think all beliefs (certainly mine) have extreme consequences that we mainly just hope don't come up, and we may have to accept this -- see previous posts on my lj considering the idea that moral systems are a best approximation to what you feel inside yourself, and are formed as the balance of a number of different beliefs, and where they balance about equally you get something that looks like a paradox which you have resolve on a case-by-case basis.
But some beliefs seem to have contradictions every day -- which annoy me as I think people are not being honest with themselves, and don't actually believe something they think they believe. Some rarely, and I accept it. Some technically rarely, but about important enough matters (eg. what if I get cancer? where do I go when I die?) I can't believe no-one's considered it.
It would certainly be extremely rude. I've seen Gerv in the past dealing with people who attack his beliefs, anything from "Haha Xtians scuk ur all so dum" to sophisticated atheistical arguments, and he seems to regard it as an opportunity for witness. Even the worst trolls are a bit impressed by his patience and politeness. But I think you'd find that kind of encounter frustrating and unproductive.
And yeah, even though I'm not a huge fan of Gerv's form of religion, I am definitely glad that he is so well able to deal with his illness. In a sense I would say that his Christianity is a net positive, because he's both kind and intelligent enough not to use his beliefs to hurt others (unlike many of his co-religionists from the Evangelical end of the spectrum), and it definitely has brought him real happiness.
It's rather refreshing to read someone who sees his own potentially-fatal disease as a deliberate act by his god. More often, I see and hear about people who try to tell others--often strangers--that the other person's illness or disability is either a challenge or a punishment.
Oh yes, that kind of Job's comforter approach is absolutely offensive and awful. I think Gerv is only applying this line of argument to people who already share his basic beliefs about God. It's obvious that people who are not "saved" in the first place are not going to feel grateful for terrible illnesses.
I'm inclined to agree with him, to be honest. About his cancer, that is. (Not about non-Christian prayers being pointless...). I just can't see any other way to reconcile believing in an Almighty God (which I do), and the amount of suffering there is in life. I'd be interested to hear what alternative theologies people have around this.
That's very interesting, that you do find his theology appealing as well as admirable. Myself, I don't want to devise any theology which tries to make suffering into a good thing; that's a pretty important principle for me. I don't have a good answer, but in some ways I prefer to admit that I don't know the answer to how God can let people suffer, rather than coming up with some sophistry which doesn't answer real people's experiences. Though it is as redbird pointed out in another comment, that there's a very big difference between believing that one's own suffering is part of God's plan and believing that about suffering in general or even worse, other people's troubles specifically.
When pressed, I'll fall back on ideas about the brokenness of creation. As a religious person I want to focus on doing something about the evil in the world, rather than arguing about the reason why such evil exists. Myths which empahsize that God made the world imperfect and gave people the ability and responsibility to fix it thus work better for me than myths that emphasize that God is perfect and therefore anything that bad that happens must actually be a good thing in some ineffable way.
Philosophically, it's somewhat of a copout in that it doesn't answer why God broke the vessels / diminished God's self to make space for creation and so on. But emotionally, it works better for me than the position Gerv is taking.
I admire him for his courage, and thank God each day that He has not (so far) permitted me to suffer something like cancer. Every now and then I read about people who face terrifying diseases with grace and love and acceptance, and can only shiver - and not in a good way either - at how different my attitude would probably be if I were in that situation.
Wasn't it Mother Teresa who said something like "I know God only gives me as much to deal with as I can handle; I sometimes wish He didn't trust me so much."?
Thank God for people like your friend: when I'm laid up for a day because of a (comparatively piffling) back ailment, it's people like him that remind me that even though it might not make sense to my pithy idea of a complete logic system, God will permit things for a reason, to make them an opportunity to show God to the world and to increase an individual's sanctity.
It's interesting, you're the other person of my acquaintance who explicitly and publicly places religious values above general liberal values. I would like to introduce you to Gerv except he comes from a religious tradition that has a huge problem with Catholicism!
Hehe, Whore of Babylon, perhaps? Yes, perhaps a personal introduction wouldn't be wise: I'm a sensitive soul, especially when not shielded by the internet, and I wouldn't want to become upset! Although I do wonder if I qualify to Gerv as a Christian, and thus whether he considers my prayers for him as having any kind of worth at all. Ah well - prayer is the only and best way that I can help him through his illness, and I'll stick to it.
By the by, you made a comment up there about seeing suffering as a good thing. Might I point you to a post that a friend of mine, dunmoose, wrote earlier in Lent? It's about suffering too. dunmoose came to Catholicism from many years in another Christian tradition (I don't mention its name because I've forgotten it, rather than that I might find it unworthy of mention) and that post talks a little about the difference between the Catholic and non-Catholic Christian views of suffering. I am lucky (perhaps blessed is a better word) to have been Catholic since a very young age, so I haven't thought a huge deal about this - although I must say that I'm inspired to now.
Of course it may just repeat what you already know, and not give you any new insight, for which I apologise.
Like the other commenters, I admire the consistency in taking the doctrine of God's sovereignty to its logical conclusion without fear or favour. While it's odd to thank God for cancer, I can see how the idea that all this was planned rather than being an accident of genetics and environment could be a comfort. Whatever gets you through the night, as someone said.
It did make me wonder, thought, whether there was anything God could do which would make a person like Gerv wonder whether God was in fact real, good, and able to help him. I suppose that deciding that whatever happens is what God wants to happen and is by definition good is one way of looking at theodicy, but it's not a view that I could sustain for very long. It's all too Panglossian for me.
I think, very tentatively, that's the thing about faith. It's very self-reinforcing; if you have it, no amount of argument or conflicting experience will disturb it. I'm very undecided whether I actually see that as positive value. A religious person needs to have some element of that, I guess, but faith at a level that makes someone ignore reality too much could be a bad thing.