April 16, 2007 and the Problem of Pain

Deep Creek near Thomas Amis House and Inn near Rogersville TN. Click image to enlarge

This is a far more weighty subject than anyone should jump into casually. So forgive me for doing just that, in a way, with a brief morning post.

For so many families, the sting of this day remains sharp and deep. And many still feel the weight of the evil that befell so many innocents at Virginia Tech at the hand of an unbalanced shooter.

I happened across this essay/sermon by Philip Yancey, who shortly after the event, addressed the students and faculty on campus after having just suffered his own near-death pain and injury in an accident.

Where is God When it Hurts?

His understanding expressed in this text of how a universe exists in which God is both good and omnipotent AND evil and pain exist might be helpful to some who make the effort to read it through.

Christians ask the same question, but like Yancey, find sufficient understanding, though “through a glass, darkly” for this life. And with that understanding, they don’t shake their fist at God (like more than a few of our friends) for creating a world where free will leads to lies and deceit, anger and vengeance, suffering and injustice.

As C S Lewis describes such a world, a knife could be used to spread butter on bread, but should it be used to threaten injury, it would turn into a blade of grass.

We live in a consequential world. And in it, perhaps the most astounding fact is that love and beauty abounds. And life is precious. And something is most definitely broken here.

 

Saved by The MetaGenomics of Dirt

Below are some annotated bits from an article in Wired that describe the early successes in the battle to find weapons against the increasingly numerous and increasingly virulent microbes that are resistant to all known antibiotics.

We worry about the Russians or the Chinese or the North Koreans or Dr Strangeloves in power around the world, when all along, if the human population suffers the Malthusian reduction many fear, it will most likely come from invaders far too small to see.

HOW DIRT COULD SAVE HUMANITY FROM AN INFECTIOUS APOCALYPSE

The culprit, pan-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae, is not the only superbug overpowering humanity’s defenses; it is part of a family known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae. The carpabenems are drugs of last resort, and the CDC considers organisms that evade these antibiotics to be nightmare bacteria.

So it’s difficult to envision a future that resembles the pre-antibiotic past—an era of untreatable staph, strep, tuberculosis, leprosy, pneumonia, cholera, diphtheria, scarlet and puerperal fevers, dysentery, typhoid, meningitis, gas gangrene, and gonorrhea.

But that’s the future we are headed for.

This is not the coming plague. It’s already upon us, and it spells the end of medicine as we know it.

That’s why Brady and others turned to metagenomics—the study of all the genetic information extracted from a given environment.

Brady came to realize that he did not need to trek to some pristine or remote ecosystem to explore the world’s biodiversity. The requisite material for building new drugs could be found much closer to home.

The more we use antibiotics, the less effective they become; the more selective pressures we apply, the more likely resistant strains will emerge.

Think about this the next time you stand quietly in the park or in the forest or meadow near your house. Reach down and gather a teaspoon full of everyday soil in your palm, and realize there are likely to be some 3000 different microbes nestled in the hollow of your hand.

Here is enough genetic information to solve many of humanity’s problems–if only we ask the right questions. And move with sufficient speed to do the work in advance of the inevitable and urgent need.