From Rosemary Lofty
Sir, - I find that I am distressed by the letter from the Revd
Professor Alasdair Coles (Letters, 23
I fully appreciate his reasoning that cancers "arise through
random genetic mutations, interacting with environmental insults",
and that "The same mechanism underlies evolution." Where I part
company with Professor Coles's reasoning is his statement that,
therefore, "God mandates disease."
It is surely an error to impute an evil to our Almighty God.
My reasoning tells me that disease is an evil; for, were it not
so, why did Jesus look with such compassion upon people who were
sick? And how could he have healed them if disease was indeed God's
will for us? If God - our Father in heaven! - truly "mandates
disease", could our Lord have gone against his holy will and healed
anyone at all?
Dame Julian of Norwich on the subject of the evils that afflict
this world says that God only tolerates evil, and that his
toleration is honourable, and that, when we see why evil is
tolerated, we shall rejoice. She, significantly, does not say that
he is the source of evil, or has provided a mandate for its
Surely, therefore, we are called upon to act against evils as
and when they arise. If, as Professor Coles indicates, disease - an
evil for all who suffer - is so acceptable to God, then surely all
those engaged in the work of healing the sick must be misguided and
seen as working against his holy will.
Can it be that those who are drawn to work in our hospitals,
clinics, and research centres are mistaken in their calling? And
where, indeed, does this urge to relieve suffering come from; for
even those who do not worship God would class the alleviation of
disease as a "good work"?
The life force that enables "random genetic mutations" is
essential to the physical betterment of all that lives. The ability
to adapt to changing environmental conditions has been, and is,
essential to all living organisms that inhabit this planet. In the
past, mutations that did not suit changing environmental patterns
were phased out, or perhaps modified over several generations.
Now we seem to have reached a point when we have the ability to
alter the environment seriously to suit our purposes, and these
purposes are all too often greedy and violent. Just to give only
one example: is it not significant that lung cancers and asthma are
more prevalent in our cities than in the countryside? Diesel fumes
are known carcinogenic agents, but we seem so unwilling to take any
I could give other examples; but, while deploring our
laissez-faire attitudes, I can also note that every one of
us is invited into partnership with God, so that we can help combat
those "environmental insults".
It is precisely those "insults" of greed, violence, and disease
which we are called to interact against with God's grace, at his
instigation and under his guidance. I am, therefore, convinced that
in the words of a former Rector of Haughton (in Lichfield diocese)
that "Our God is a healing God who longs to bring us all to
So, while disease, like other evils, may be tolerated by God, we
are called upon to fight against it. Dame Julian says that when we
see and understand why God tolerated evil we shall rejoice and be
glad in this knowledge for ever.
25 Castle View
Stafford ST18 9NF