By Collin Hall ’21
On Oct. 2, 2017, Gordon Alumni, Dr. Ken Bishop, spoke on advancements in cancer research and on dealing with the reality of death in the first lecture for a series titled “Hope in Suffering.”
“We give cancer a lot of power that it does not necessarily deserve,” Bishop said. “We will find a cure for cancer. It is coming. It is one of the most challenging medical struggles that we face. But I believe it is because we are in the middle of the story and not the end.”
Dr. William Barker, the event’s host, noted the importance of Bishop’s talk given the recent tragic massacre in Las Vegas. Dr. Bishop is the 2017/2018 visiting scholar for the natural sciences and is presenting two more lectures this October. He is currently working at Brown University, the university where A.J. Gordon once studied. Bishop is “following in our founder’s footsteps,” says Dr. Barker.
Dr. Bishop began his lecture with a brief history of cancer itself and with recent cutting-edge developments in cancer research. He explained that humans have been aware of cancer for thousands of years; some of the first references to cancer come from Ancient Egypt.
The term cancer derives from Hypocrites, who named it after the Greek word for “crab.” “Tumors have the appearance of a crab reaching out into the surrounding tissue with a claw,” Bishop says.
Dr. Bishop compared our understanding of cancer to the way the Black Death was once understood. The Black Death was once seen as monumental and incurable. Black Death is now curable with a simple oral medication. The Black Death holds little power these days, and Bishop believes the same will one day be true for cancer.
Cancer is indeed a concept that “looms extremely large” in our culture, Bishop explained. “It’s a word everyone dreads to hear,” says Bishop, who continued to say that there is an “enormous amount of mythology about the disease.”
He certainly does not see cancer as a punishment, although that is a prevailing notion in many parts of the world. “The patients with the strongest faith simply don’t take it personally.”
Bishop says that “everyone wants to find meaning in their diagnoses… It’s incredibly risky for us to speculate or claim to know God’s circumstances for our life.”
He made it clear not to tell a patient that their cancer is in “God’s plan” or that “He means it for good.” In Bishop’s view, this is often damaging to those suffering. For Bishop, it is always better to sit in the midst of pain and to suffer with them. Do not offer empty platitudes, he urged.
“I just sit in the confusion.”
Dr. Bishop was asked several weighty questions, both during his lecture and during a visit earlier that day to the Global Honors Institute’s A.J. Gordon Scholars program.
One man asked about intercessory prayer and what role it plays in the healing process. Bishop responded, “There is no body of evidence to support intercessory prayer.”
For Bishop, the power of the Gospel should never rely on physical healing or intercession. Hope should only rely on spiritual healing; he noted that it is can be very damaging to families who expect miraculous healing when none comes. “I have never had a patent cured of cancer that was a surprise,” he says.
An AJ Scholar asked how the orthodox view of Hell shapes his interactions with non-believing patients. Bishop admitted, “I don’t know what happens when we die.” He continued to say that he can never judge what is in another’s heart, and he cannot make judgements on what people believe. He has found “peace in not knowing.”
One of the final questions asked concerned the nature of suffering and pain. Why would God allow such things? He responded, “I don’t know. I simply don’t. The problem of pain is something we all deal with. The risk of speculating God’s intentions in our circumstances is very dangerous. We cannot read God’s mind. I’m not even close to a place where I can understand how that works.”
Before closing his time, Dr. Bishop emphasized the importance of faith and the importance of Christ’s redemption. “I also feel like the Lord is faithful with constant reminders about how important it is to have a spiritual anchor.”