These words are something no parent ever wants hear. Yet this was exactly what the doctor at Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas, told Tom and Kim Doolittle about their 3 month old little boy, Joey, in the summer of 1999.
Joey was diagnosed with a form of cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma. This cancer develops in the connective tissues of the body, such as muscles, fat, bones, the linings of joints, or blood vessels. Kim describes Joey’s story and the ordeal he went through:
The whole next year of his life was dedicated to treatment by chemotherapy and radiation. Six months after treatment he relapsed for the first time. After another full round of chemo and radiation he went back into remission. He spent the next three years as a normal, cancer free kid, and this would become his longest period of health. At age 5, he relapsed again.
By the spring of 2007, Joey had gone through numerous surgeries, treatments, and radiation. After losing hair and eventually teeth, his attitude had remained positive and care free. Along with this attitude came a real world insight that led such a little boy to think beyond his years.
Whenever Joey would go to the hospital for chemo or other procedures, he looked forward to having a little fun while undergoing those not so fun procedures. Getting his port accessed, blood drawn, and receiving chemotherapy were never fun to look forward to, but games, puzzles, coloring, watching movies, and picking the occasional toy out of the toy closet would always cheer him up.
After one particularly harsh day of treatment, Joey went to the toy closet and noticed that it had run low. He hesitantly picked up his toy and went home. That evening Joey approached his mom and asked, “Would people give a little kid money?”
“What do you mean?” asked his mom. Joey explained his concern about there not being enough toys for “kids like him” as he put it. Joey wanted to start immediately and even pledged his own Christmas and birthday money he had so proudly saved up. He knew all too well how important something as simple as a toy can be to a little kid during those painful treatments. It was through these concerns that Joey’s Toy Box was born.
Joey’s Toy Box is a charity founded by this young hero. His dream was to provide toys for kids like him going through cancer treatment. After his death in July 2008, his parents continued with his vision. Today, Joey’s Toy Box provides support for the Child Life programs at the Aflac Children’s Cancer Centers and the Children’s Healthcare Of Atlanta, and to children’s health programs at Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital Atlanta, Egleston Children’s Hospital Atlanta, and Hughes Spalding Children’s Hospital of Atlanta. Through the gift of toys for children and other support for families of children stricken with cancer and other childhood diseases, Joey Doolittle has impacted hundreds of people long after his own life ended.
One of the common objections to theism is the presence of natural evil. The atheist will often say that there is too much gratuitous evil and suffering in the world. If God were good, He would prevent evil; if He were all powerful, He could prevent evil; thus God is neither all good, nor all powerful (and probably doesn’t exist). God, they say, has no sufficient moral justification for allowing a 8 year old little boy to die from rhabdomyosarcoma. But is this true?
Please don’t mis-understand me here. I am not saying that Joey’s death was “good.” My family and I are very close to the Doolittle’s. My wife considers Kim to be one of her best friends. We share in the pain of their loss of their son. But can it be shown that some good has come from Joey’s death? If so, does that provide sufficient moral justification for God allowing this tragedy? The charity Joey started has directly impacted hundreds of families, and perhaps thousands of children. There are scores of others who have been touched by his story, including those who never knew Joey personally. Further, we cannot possibly know the future impact of that Joey had on this world. The events started today through Joey could impact tens of thousands of people decades from now. From the perspective of the Christian worldview, the greatest good is an individual coming to place their trust in Jesus of Nazareth and receiving salvation (spending eternity in heaven). I personally know of at least one example of this happening as part of an event put on by Joey’s Toy Box. So does these examples of good provide a morally sufficient justification for Joey’s death? I think they do.
By contrast, given atheism Joey’s death was just a brute fact of nature. What does the atheist say to Joey Doolittle? “Tough luck kid” or “Sucks to be you”? If atheism is true, then as Dawkins puts it, “In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”
“Pitiless indifference” is not the way I choose to approach children with cancer.