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March 5th, 2015
J. Todd Billings is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and research professor at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. But neither of those titles or roles could insulate him from the shock of learning that he’d contracted a life-altering and life-shortening bone cancer. A husband and father of two tiny children, Billings underwent chemotherapy soon after the diagnosis, a treatment that could only forestall the cancer’s advance rather than provide a cure.
As a trained theologian, Billings came to the sobering reality that his education had not (and perhaps never could have) prepared him for the anguish he would feel. Alienation and abandonment from God were what he sensed most.
In that ostensibly insoluble predicament, Billings came to discover a a pervasive but ironically untapped resource in the Scripture for those who faced the kind of intractable condition he was. Cries of lament (a topic we’ve taken up slightly before) became food for his soul. Not as a way to wallow self-indulgently in sorrow, but as a way of finding solidarity with others who knew both God and suffering. If God was not ashamed to include in His canon testimonies of felt absence, then Billings would not be afraid to practice the language of lament–both to express his real self and to implore the God who Himself is acquainted with grief. Explaining that paradoxical act of anguish and trust Billings writes,
Precisely because we trust that God is the sovereign Lord, we can wrestle with Him in lament. This good world is in the hands of God—but the world is also not the way it is supposed to be. Its wounds are too deep for Band-Aids and quick fixes.
You can read the whole of his brief article here.
You can listen to an interview he recently did with the folks at Mere Orthodoxy here.
You can also hear him introduce his new book, Rejoicing in Lament, here.
If you like to read, and would like to both crystallize your thinking and serve our Body by writing a summary, then email us. We’ll bring you the book this Sunday. We need, as all need, voices to teach us to walk in faith when faith proves so elusive.
And who knows, perhaps it could form the substance of a short study in the coming months, too?
And so that we don’t content ourselves with making this a sterile, academic subject, we will practice the prayers of lament at our time of monthly corporate prayer this Sunday night. (You can see a draft of the liturgy here.) We may stumble awkwardly in using language that expresses both outrage at the way things are and plaintive cries asking where and when God will act to bring shalom. But we are worse off for never learning to speak with anguish to God. In his book, Billings quotes Carl Trueman, saying
By excluding the cries of loneliness, dispossession, and desolation from its worship, the church has effectively silenced and excluded the voices of those who are themselves lonely, dispossessed, and desolate, both inside and outside the church. By so doing, it has implicitly endorsed the banal aspirations of consumerism, generated an insipid, trivial and unrealistically triumphalist Christianity, and confirmed its impeccable credentials as a club for the complacent. (“What Can Miserable Christians Sing?” in The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historical and Contemporary Evangelicalism)
So even if lament seems like an odd way to devote time in prayer, it’s in fact one way of being the kind of “good and angry” we spoke of a few weeks back. So join us Sunday night at the McAndrew’s.
Speaking of a few weeks back, we challenged you to pray during Lent for wisdom into how CtK might invest itself for the sake of the poor in our community. We also asked you to share with us what ministries you were already a part of, and which others in CtK might join in participation with you. We’ve gotten some data from some. We’re putting the word out again to round up more information. If you are involved in any work of mercy on behalf of the disadvantaged (food, clothing, education, justice, etc), email us so we can catalogue how our membership is already involved.
Community Quick Hits
- We welcome our new members on March 15th–including hosting a potluck lunch in their honor.
- We’ll finally hear from the Biblical Performance Troupe on March 22nd.
- Not a few of you have taken us up on our challenge to memorize Romans 8 during Lent. You can still let us know if you plan to make this passage meditative material. Here’s a couple more suggestions on the process of memorization: here and here, and perhaps especially here. And stay tuned–we may have another way to celebrate this collaborative process soon.
- And if you’ve just forgotten to reply, we would gladly take some more willing and able volunteers to devote one Sunday every couple months to help out in elementary Sunday School. Just click here for context and information on how to volunteer.
When you pray, remember to pray for
- the remaining Christians recently abducted in Syria
- Janet Headland in the loss of her father
- Fairmeadows Baptist Church’s pastor Dee Carlile who has recently begun treatment for colon cancer
- Sheri McMillan and Patrick Lafferty, both with parents in hospice care
- our near-term efforts to serve the poor in our community, as we challenged a couple weeks back
- our search for a new venue now underway with the help of a realtor
No philosophy is worth your attention if it can’t be professed on your deathbed. No philosophy is as important as a person. And there is only one person who has the answer to death. You know His name. May His name be your last word, as it shall be mine. (Peter Kreeft)