Bottle of pills

I have been interested to read in recent days the questions which have been raised about statins as a 'wonder drug' – including those raised by Jonathan on this blog.

He wrote as someone who had had adverse reactions to the drug.  There is controversy about just how widespread such side-effects are (an issue of fact) and also how far they should influence the debate (an issue of value).  For him, however, the tendency to rely on such drugs to prolong people’s lifespans raises theological questions.  Should we really be so obsessed with prolonging lives at all costs, including the cost of unpleasant side-effects?  Might this not be described as a manifestation of lack of faith in a good Creator?

I have sympathy with his basic argument.  I have never taken statins, indeed have experienced scarcely any medical intervention, and I want to keep it that way.  Because (as Jonathan pointed out in his earlier blog posting on the Pilling Report) we largely believe what we want to believe and find justifications for it later, I am therefore particularly sympathetic to the suggestion that our medical histories and lifespans are largely written in our genes, and we are who we are and should be more accepting of our fate. 

On the other hand, this raises an interesting theological point.  It can be used to suggest that God plans our lives, or at least our individual genetic make-ups, in great detail and woe betide us if we interfere with that plan.  At the extreme, in some sects, this has prevented the take-up of entirely appropriate and desirable medical intervention, on the grounds that such intervention is “playing God”.  Given the prominence of healing, of all kinds, in Scripture, I find that position very odd indeed.  But it forces me back to the prior question.  Does God indeed have “a plan” for each of us?

I want to believe that “there’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we may”; but I have considerable suspicion of a faith based too exclusively on detailed planning of individual lives.  I am reminded of H A Williams dream (related in his autobiography Some Day I’ll Find You and also referred to in The True Wilderness) of the celestial puppet-master, manipulating everything from behind the scenes, and punishing his uppity puppets when they try to take control for themselves.   I could not worship that kind of God.  Much more attractive is the idea in W H Vanstone’s Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense of a more reactive Creator, an artist who painfully moulds the materials to hand into something which is beautiful and good. 

Pushed to its logical conclusion, of course, that would be heretical, because it implies a God who is less than the universal Creator.  But as a working hypothesis, when linked with the idea of human beings as co-creators, it at least permits a more generous approach to medical and other interventions.  Like Angela Tilby, writing recently in the Church Times on assisted dying, I agree that modern culture is skewed towards unhealthy and unrealistic expectations of engineering human lives towards a false secular paradise - and trust in the magical effect of statins may be a symptom of this.  But self-preservation is a natural human instinct, though not the noblest one.

There is no need to feel guilty about playing the hand that we have been dealt – even with what is experienced as divine guidance, if you will – in such a way that we maximize both the length and the quality of life.