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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...

The Church’s Witness in the Midst of Dying and Death Often Christians inhabit a theological vision guided by instrumental outcomes – a growth in the evangelistic and social outreach of the church, a revitalization of community and discipleship. But what happens to the church’s witness when all of our grand plans and visions for change stop short against the brick wall of death? In this lecture, I reflect upon the way in which death, although the last enemy to be destroyed through Christ, also has the possibility of exposing the nature of a Christian hope which goes beyond trusting in our own efforts and plans. https://vimeo.com/156274041 I delivered the lecture at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the "Theology and Ministry" lecture series, dedicated to Carl Henry. It includes many of my recent reflections since the publication of Rejoicing of Lament. In particular, I revisit the significance of the Old Testament witness to human mortality in light of...

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,...

In the fall, I spoke in chapel at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, preaching on Colossians 3:1-4 -- a passage which seems particularly significant in this season of Lent, as we seek to remember that we were created from dust, and to dust we shall return, and yet our true hope which is now hidden will one day be made manifest when the resurrected Christ, who is our true life, will appear! "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. "                                            ...

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...

God's work sometimes leads to strange stories. Last night, I was privileged to hear the whole of Handel's Messiah in a local church. Parts of it are so familiar that the drama of the Messiah can take us off guard. What comes right after the "Hallelujah" Chorus, in a section devoted to the Christian life in light of the resurrection? Is it a song about one victor piled upon another? It is a song of expectation, of waiting, of hope -- like in this season of Advent. "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth." But after this line declaring hope in God, the next one is: "And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh I shall see God." These quotes from Job 19:25-26 remind us that though God's promise is great, and our bodies are very good; yet our bodies...

 When disaster hits, it does not feel or look like God the King is ordaining what is right. The words of Psalm 102 stung, but they were nevertheless my prayer. The Lord “has broken my strength in midcourse; he has shortened my days. ‘O my God,’ I say, ‘do not take me away at the midpoint of my life, you whose years endure throughout all generations.’” My wife and I had just celebrated our tenth anniversary and were the proud parents of lively 1- and 3-year-olds. But then I was diagnosed with cancer. A lethal cancer. An incurable cancer. The psalms of lament soon became a companion to myself and others traveling that journey with me—as all of our emotions of grief, anger, and alienation were brought before the Lord. “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Ps. 13:1). After discovering that the...

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...

Christian Wiman and I have an odd kinship: we were both diagnosed with incurable cancers at the age of 39. Our cancers are very similar, so we can talk shop about chemo, side effects and the bizarre experience of hearing that our lifespan has likely been chopped by decades. We're both parents of young children. And we've both written about our Christian faith in light of our cancer journey -- with Wiman, My Bright Abyss, and with me, Rejoicing in Lament. A few months ago we discussed incurable cancer together as part of an event at Western Theological Seminary. Christian is a poet (former editor of Poetry Magazine), and I am a theologian. In our books, we both turn to poetry in our season of suffering and theological reflection. Christian turned to George Herbert and a score of contemporary poets. I turned to the poetry of the Psalms and Job. Why did we turn to poetry?...