Tuesday, October 26, 2010

This Messy World

It seems that a single week can't go by without my yet again encountering someone happily pointing at the world and proclaiming it the work of a perfect designer.

For as long as I can remember, I've looked at the same world and seen a terrible mess.

I was reminded of just how messy it can be when I accompanied my Significant Other to a special class in Diabetes Management last night.

I learned a lot during the 2+ hours we were there trying to understand a diagnosis that had come like a shot from the blue about 8 weeks ago.

Virtually everything I learned reminded me of just how fragile and imperfect that part of this world known as the human body really is....

Diabetes, as you probably know, is a disease that involves that body's inability to properly use and regulate the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood.

According to the nurse who taught the class - someone who herself has now been battling the disease for 36 years - there's a strong genetic component involved as well as a variety of often poorly understood environmental triggers. The general risk factors are the same as those for breast cancer - family history, obesity, poor diet, lack of exercise, etc. - but the two diseases tend to provoke very different reactions. If you get breast cancer, you get a casserole; if you get diabetes, you get blamed. According to the nurse (Beth), such blame is unwarranted. Not every obese person is condemned to get the disease, and not every thin person is going to be lucky enough to avoid it. One of the most common causes may in fact be a virus.

As I looked around the room at the 20 or so other people there, it was hard to find a common denominator. Both genders were represented, as were a variety of age groups and body types. I didn't do a count at the time, but I think there were three black people there - about the same percentage of people in the room as in this area of Ohio as a whole. Beth herself was white, thin, and seemingly too young to have been fighting diabetes for nearly 4 decades.

Nobody present looked as if they deserved to have this disease.

Who would deserve such a thing? Hitler? Stalin? Saddam Hussein? Osama bin Laden? As far as I know, they all seem to have managed to somehow avoid it.

It is a terribly complex disease, as I suppose most are once you take the time to learn about them in depth. It's not just a matter of the pancreas not being able to produce enough glucose-devouring insulin (although that's often a part of it). Turns out that the liver, among its many other functions, stores sugar. If you wake up with high blood glucose levels, it's probably because your liver is "leaking" sugar when it shouldn't be. One of the most commonly prescribed medicines for diabetes plugs that leak.

A few years ago they also discovered that there's a hormone in the gut that plays a critical role in regulating insulin production. If it doesn't send the right signals to the pancreas in response to what we eat, the pancreas won't produce the right amount of insulin even if it's perfectly healthy.

Then you have the way the cells of the body can become increasingly unable to use the insulin that is produced....

The bottom line is that you end up with too much glucose in your blood, for whatever reason. And too much glucose in the blood can lead to a wide variety of terrible complications. Blindness. Kidney failure. Heart disease. Amputations. You don't want too much sugar in your blood!

And it turns out that there's not a whole lot of difference between enough and too much. If I understood Beth correctly, if a lab technician draws your blood and sees 4 red blood cells per 100 with sticky glucose stuck to them, you're fine. If that techie sees more than 7 red blood cells with sticky glucose stuck to them, congratulations - you're diabetic.

That leaves a pretty small margin for error. We're not talking about the difference between black and white here - we're talking about the difference between fine shades of pink....

The older you get, the more likely you are to have diabetes. Like everything else in the body, it seems that the pancreas and its regulation gets more and more problematic as things slow down and wear out.

There is no cure.

Before 1921 - the year injectable insulin became available - there were no good treatments. Untold generations of human beings got and ultimately died from yet another disease in a long list of them that nobody understood until the last century.

It is very hard for me to square any of this with a perfect designer.

It is even harder for me to square it with the loving Jesus that so many Christians are wont to prattle on about as if they have never read a history book, opened a newspaper, or visited a hospital or cemetery....


As if that reminder of the extreme messiness of this world wasn't enough, I was presented with another one today.

For much of the afternoon my state of Ohio was plagued by severe storms that brought with them the very real possibility of tornadoes.

At last report, at least three tornadoes actually did form. Perhaps as many as five dropped down to play havoc with the lives of random people who no more deserved such destructive whirlwinds than the people in that classroom last night deserved their private inner storms. No one was killed or seriously injured, but no one needed to be in order for this world to once again be exposed as the dangerously unpredictable place that it is.

And dangerously unpredictable places cannot be called examples of perfect design.

And yet they are.

The vicious mental swirls that prompt people to say such absurd things are perhaps the most frightening of all. We're supposed to be the smart species, after all. If the rough edges of this world are ever going to be filed down, we're the ones who are going to have to do the filing. It doesn't help matters a bit to have people around who are blind to those rough edges. And it seems maddeningly counter-productive to have people around who are actually praising those rough edges for their "perfect" design.

In my estimation, it's like calling the fire department when your house is on fire, then watching in shock and disbelief as the firemen cheer on the flames as everything you hold dear goes up in smoke.

I think the human species can do better than that.

MUCH better.

Why does such a large part of it refuse to do so?


  1. Oh, that sucks. I had gestational diabetes and that was bad enough knowing it was temporary. I hope your SO's is easily controlled.

    I've been thinking about the whole "perfect design" thing and I just have one thing to say. Mosquitoes.

  2. Dear Minette -

    Thanks for your note. Hope your body is all back to normal now!

    Fortunately, my SO's glucose levels aren't terribly high right now and the liver-regulating medication seems to be working fine. :-)

  3. As for mosquitoes... maybe there's a believer in the Great Mosquito God who can explain to us how this is a perfectly designed world from the point of view of these blood-sucking fiends. (I suppose winter is just a bizarre test of faith for them....)

  4. I agree! We have a very imperfect perfection! And I like your fire analogy

    re diabetes, I must sheepishly confess that I was one who thought type two diabetes was brought on by bad diet and lack of exercise... at least, that's what the nutritional diet blogs that I read seemed to imply!

    I found this entry very informative. Thank you :)
    (it also tested my "is that 'im' or 'in?'" knowledge and I'm still not sure I got it right. LOL