Why is it that some cell inside your breast decided
to stop working and stop what it was doing and
then said, “Now I will simply divide and do nothing
more for the rest of my days.” Where did it get this
idea? Who told him it was okay to eat you up from
inside? Why does our body betray us this way?
Why is it that your mind is going as you sit alone and
aged in a nursing home, unable to take care of
yourself any longer and unable to understand that
the cousin whom you miss has not been around for
some time, and that you are loved, even if it is hard to
know you anymore, or hard indeed for you to know
yourself. Why does our mind betray us this way?
While I sit, trying to rest my hobbled knee over the
past couple of days, quite frequently I heard the
dulcet tunes of a ukulele played by someone who was
hobbling like me, with the same bum knee, even, and
when I joked with her that before my own knee had
suddenly gone bad in my sleep that I had symapthized
with her and now I empathized with her, she wisely
said that we should both sympathize with each other
in the future. And so we shall, God willing.
All three of these short poems reflect a related set of problems faced by people I happen to know. In the first case, I was chatting with my mother this morning as I was getting ready for work and she told me that my aunt* had breast cancer and that she had lost a lot of weight and that things were not going well. Given my family’s tendency to understatement when it comes to our health woes, lest we be seen as invalids of the type of Mr. Woodhouse in Jane Austen’s Emma, I knew the news was indeed grim and I promised I would pray about it, as indeed I have and indeed I shall continue to do so. I had heard a brief blip from a prayer request e-mail list I happen to be on, but I had not heard details on how it had gone. During the same conversation my mom let me know that her mother was continuing to cycle through good times and bad times as she deals with her dementia. My maternal grandmother is in her late 80’s at this point and has periods of occasional lucidity and other times where she goes back to her own childhood, something that makes conversing with her a very difficult task. The third example is one dealing with myself and with a young lady in my congregation, both of whom for whatever reason have right knee issues at present, for unknown reasons.
In all these cases, therefore, we are dealing with a question of the betrayal of the body and mind. What is it that causes a cell to go rogue and become cancerous? If the research of various scientific researchers  is true, cancer cells result from damage within the cell, a dysteleology that prompts the response of the cell to go into divide mode. How are these cells damaged,and how could they be repaired so that they do not do such damage? It is hard to say, but a question worth answering. Why does the brain suffer dementia? It appears in many cases that there is damage here too–how is this damage to be avoided or repaired? How is it caused? Here too are questions worth answering. Why does a healthy and vibrant young woman have recurring knee problems without having done anything worthy of them–it is certainly one thing for a somewhat portly and slightly middle aged person like myself to suffer these problems, but a young and healthy person should not. It is possible that a virus is responsible, betraying the body by attacking the knee.
In all of these cases, though, there is something that is perhaps not realized. As people we–and certainly this is true for me–have certain teleological assumptions. We assume that our bodies will do what we want them to do, which includes walking without a limp. We assume that our memories and thinking processes will be reliable. We assume that our body’s cells will behave in a sane fashion and not destroy themselves. Most of the time people live their lives and assume these things correctly, but sometimes our assumptions go wrong for reasons that we do not fully understand. There is a great deal that falls short of design, but our assumption is that things should work. When they do not work, we expect that reason to be understood and counteracted. There is, therefore, an assumption in favor of design inherent in our arguments about matters of health. If we were Rube Goldberg machines, we would be in amazement that we worked at all, and in awe at anything that managed to work in our jerry-rigged structure. But we feel ourselves to have been built better than that, and as a result we are frustrated when things do not work as well as they should, because we know that they should work.
* She is not technically my aunt, but this is the most straightforward way to put it. The woman in question happens to be the former sister-in-law of my mom’s elder sister, and though we are no longer related by marriage, my family did attend her wedding and we remain in touch.
 See, for example: