Author: Todd Billings

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We like to lump people into categories -- nationality, race, social class, etc. One sociological study after another classifies, analyzes, dissects. But one thing that all of us have in common is this: we are dying. How much do we reflect upon this reality? On a day-to-day level, do we live as if our days will have no end? The Psalmists suggest that many of us do: You have made my days a mere handbreadth;     the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath,     even those who seem secure. “Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;     in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth     without knowing whose it will finally be. But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.” (Ps. 39:5-7, NIV)  This last year, I've been honored to lead a group of pastors in congregational ministry through a series of colloquies focused upon this question: How can we cultivate genuine resurrection hope...

In our suffering, we find comfort in God's impassibility Note: This last week, First Things Magazine opened an article of mine for non-subscribers that was published in December of 2014. It includes material that was adapted from chapter nine of Rejoicing in Lament. I focus upon Christ's lament on the cross as the culmination of all biblical laments. In the end, I make that case that a commonly misunderstood doctrine -- divine impassibility -- can provide deep comfort to the suffering. This is a section from that article. When Christ on the cross laments with the Psalmist, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” his desolation means that when we pray this ourselves, we are not in a free fall, even when it feels that way. We can utter a cry of unspeakable anguish and yet maintain a profound hope, because, in Christ, God himself has taken on our human suffering, including our alienation...

As Christians, we often pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in the hospital. This is as it should be. But how do we pray? And how do we pray when we are in the hospital bed ourselves? I've reflected a lot on these questions since my cancer diagnosis 3.5 years ago. It has not been in the abstract, but has related to my own praying, and praying for others. In the fall, Leadership Journal asked for me to address the question of how to pray for those with incurable conditions, in particular. You can find my article in response here. This last week, I published a book review of a small book which takes on the question in a more general sense: how God meets us in the hospital, and how to pray in that context. The book is John Piper's newest, Lessons from a Hospital Bed. On the one hand,...

As we approach the season of Lent, are there ways that you and your congregation are going to journey with Christ to the cross and resurrection? I’m often asked about how congregations can incorporate lament into their worship and their life. There are a number of ways to do this: such as recovering the reading and memorizing of the Psalms, and providing space in worship not only for confession, but also songs and prayers of lament. “How long, O Lord?” This question echoes all of our cries over the injustice, loss and unbelief in the world and in our lives. I sometimes suggest taking a particular season to rediscover the Christian practice of lament as well. This last fall, I discovered that quite a few groups were using Rejoicing in Lament for small group or congregation-wide studies. I am deeply grateful that it can be a gift on the path of both rejoicing and lamenting in the Lord....

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” I’m not sure what to what to think of this Christmas jingle on the radio. But I do know that Advent and Christmas are double-sided – both joyous and humbling. It’s not about celebrating that all is well in the world and our lives right now. It is celebrating that “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Why do we celebrate a Savior, the Messiah, the Lord? Because we are sinners in a disordered world. We need a Savior. We need a Messiah anointed with God’s Spirit. We need a Lord in the midst of our lordless, disordered times. We await, we rejoice. We lament, we hope. “Come, Lord Jesus!” In the last three years since my own cancer diagnosis, the sharpness of these gospel themes – of both rejoicing and...

Is Medicine Our Master? I've been doing quite a bit of reflecting upon the meaning of our mortality as Christians in our contemporary cultural moment. Some of it has been preparing for the Carl Henry lecture that I will deliver at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School on October 21, entitled: "Hope for Mortals: The Church’s Witness in the Midst of Dying and Death." Click here for details. One book that I've found very helpful in giving a portrait of how dying in the contemporary West has been turned into a medical experience is Atul Gawande's Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. Gawande is a Harvard surgeon, and a keen observer of the way in which our society has increasing asked for medicine to "fix" an "unfixable" problem: our mortality. It is a profound meditation upon the gift, yet limits, of medicine. This has influenced my recent reflections upon the meaning of mortality...

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. –C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses In my theology classes, I often assign works from 4th- and 5th-century theologians debating about Christ and the trinity. These theologians stand in awe before the reality of the Triune God – they stutter with words of poetry and praise as they worship Christ the Lord. They meditate on the astonishing scriptural truth that we have been made adopted sons and daughters of the Almighty King, through the power of the...

Last night I joined a group of cancer patients to hear a professor give an update on research on the cancer we share. I’ve been to many lectures and conferences on the topic. But one point caught me off guard: a recent survey in which two-thirds of the cancer patients admitted that they had hidden information about their side-effects from their doctors. The professor struggled to find the words: had they lied to their doctors? No, they hid from their doctors. Why? As the professor explained it, he talked about the maintenance chemotherapy that I take – an expensive treatment which extends remission, but brings a host of side effects. The patients were afraid that if they shared how they really felt on the drugs, their doctors would take them off. And their cancer would come back sooner. This moment gives a glimpse into the strange world of cancer treatment. The...

Loss. A car accident -- with a "recovery" expected to last five years. Maybe ten. Maybe for the rest of this mortal life. Poverty -- not just for a year, but for generations. One generation after another. Obsession -- always needing another dozen Facebook likes, a new drug, a new "god" that leaves one hungry for more. Response to problems like these often comes in one form: advice. Do this, don't do that. Here are the steps to healing and success. Our own day has seen a revival of short, pithy proverbs -- with advice about "five steps to be happy" or "six ways to financial security" going viral through social media. Often, the way that Christians approach the Bible fits the same mold: we approach the Bible as a divine self-help manual, with a collection of Bible verses to give us advice to help us live healthier, happier lives. Indeed, good advice is a...