Reflection

My Final Post, Ever, on Karl Barth and Charlotte von Kirschbaum

Photo copyright of the Karl Barth-Archiv in Basel, Switzerland

Okay, this will be my last post in regard to Karl Barth’s and Charlotte von Kirschbaum’s relationship. I’ve heard enough from people I respect, don’t respect, and folks in between. In case you’re wondering what I’m referring to, it’s the content of this post (which weirdly went “viral”). I am going to approach this from a few different angles; I will talk about my approach to blogging; then about the reality of the lifelong affair between Barth and Kirschbaum; then I will discuss what I believe the Bible teaches about teachers, and how that applies to Barth, or not; and then I will offer a conclusion.

Transparency in Blogging

If you have followed me at all through my theo-blogging career (circa 2005) you will know that I use my blog, often, to simply think out loud; in very transparent ways. This means that when I put things on my blog they are usually ideas and thoughts that are on the way and in processing form; my post on Barth/CvK is no different. As I have already noted in my last short post, my first post was simply written from a raw and surprised perspective. So this fits my mode of blogging; I’m transparent to a fault I think. In other words, I think I open myself up to people who I shouldn’t,  much too often; people who don’t know me, and don’t care to really know me (and honestly that’s a vice versa situation in many cases). If you did know me, though, you’d understand how impacting Barth’s theology, at a material level, has been upon me; particularly over the last twelve years. So I wrote my first post from within, not without a relationship to Barth; a relationship that depended at some level on an element of me trusting him. This should help to explain the surprise component.

What transparency brings: it brings people into your life who you never would normally allow to speak with you in a serious way; and this is a flaw that I will remedy going forward (it’s one reason I’ve implemented moderate on blog comments). On this particular occasion I’ve received all kind of response (as you can imagine); mostly on Twitter and Facebook. The responses range from: you’re a legalist, you’re naïve, “if I followed his ‘logic’ I’d have to quit reading all theologians,” thank you for standing up on this issue, I agree with you, you need to take this slow, and then this gem in my comments here at the blog (it’s too good, I’ve got to share it):

“only thing this proves, is that you have been very foolish, 1. for wasting your precious time reading/studying/devoting yourself to the life/teachings of this false teacher, 2. for consigning to “rumour” what has been known about this apostate all along, and 3. for being “sick” about all this; so, go puke your guts out in disgust at your “hero”; perhaps this will be a “first step” for you, to get your head out from the sand, and start truly studying…” (signed lovingly) -James Roy

I realized, actually, when I posted my first post that I was indeed opening myself up to the variety of responses I received. The sense of anonymity built into online engagement (even if you use your real  name) works against its value; I realized that once again in this situation.

Barth and Kirschbaum

I already summarized the Christiane Tietz essay on Barth’s and Kirschbaum’s in my first post (what caused all of this). But some of the push back I have received wanted me to show where Tietz ever said that the nature of Barth’s and Kirschbaum’s affair was intimate and sexual in nature; she doesn’t explicitly say that. As Tietz recounts Barth’s mother calls it an “adulterous” relationship, and just the reality that they love each other and took trips to a cabin for months at a time together is very suggestive. Someone I know on Twitter recounts hearing this from one of his professors at Princeton about Barth and CvK:

“When I was at PTSEM, Migliore recalled that during KBs visit to the US with CvK he requested only 1 bedroom. So it was not really hidden”

Tietz never explicitly says that Barth and Kirschbaum had sex, but the intimation is there. I can’t explicitly say that their relationship was sexual either; all I can say is that by way of appearance it doesn’t look good.

The Biblical Conflict

For me, this is what caused the most conflict; i.e. the biblical standards. I take the bible as an authoritative and normative reality in my life, and read it in that way. When I read of the details of Barth’s and Kirschbaum’s relationship, as this was all substantiated for me (beyond rumor), I immediately tried to think about how this would work for anyone of us today; anyone of us who happens to be a pastor or teacher of theology for the church of Jesus Christ. Here’s one example, and the primary example of what the Bible considers the standard for an overseer (and I see this as applicable to any teacher in the church of Jesus Christ):

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full  respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. –I Timothy 3:1-7

So this represents a standard; it’s not something any one person will be perfect in achieving, but it provides a character and aim that the pastor/teacher is to meet. Barth’s lifestyle violated some key aspects of this (obviously the aspect of being “faithful to his wife”). I’ve been told that I am a legalist because I’m trying to see how Barth fits into this scriptural paradigm.

There are other passages we could refer to, but I’m sure most of you know what those are, and what the conflict is here. And here’s the reality: Barth didn’t meet a very important aspect of the qualifications for what it means to be a teacher/preacher in the church. His infidelity in marriage (whether it was sexual or not) should have disqualified him for a time; but apparently there was nobody to hold him to account in this way. So he continued in his teaching role, and produced the mammoth bulk of theological literature that we know him for today. This is the conflict for me.

Some have said that we’re all sinners. Yes we are. But that misses some of the point that the biblical conflict produces. This response, to me, makes it sound like these folks aren’t committed to the biblical standards set out for teachers/preachers in the church; it sounds like they are willing to soften or minimize what all of that entails from an orthodox perspective. The fact that we are all sinners doesn’t change the fact that there are still requirements to be met in order to hold a teaching office in the church; requirements that involve morality so on and so forth. They aren’t requirements that mean the person will be perfect; but they do ask, at the very least, that someone’s life is characterized by the characteristics that the Apostle Paul, et al. envisioned for what it meant to be a teacher/overseer in the church. And of course there is more to all of that than simply fidelity in marriage, or the entanglements that surround sexual or male/female relationships. But in this instance the issue revolves around fidelity in marriage.

But we have two separate things going on here, and this is how I’m trying to navigate the conflict. On the one hand we don’t want to simply soften or forfeit the biblical teaching of what it requires for a person to hold a teaching or pastoral office in the church; on the other hand we have Barth who wasn’t held accountable to that in his life, and so we ended up with a body of theological teaching anyway, that in itself can have an objective ex opere operato value to it insofar as it really does bear witness to Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

Barth is a sinner as we all are. Barth should have been held accountable for his actions and chosen lifestyle, and yet wasn’t. He did not actually meet the biblical standards for what it means to be a teacher/pastor in the church of Jesus Christ. Yet he produced a body of theological material that is rather revolutionary in regard to how it engages with the tradition of the church. I believe, as noted, that it can be critically interacted with at an ex opere operato level (meaning that the material reality of what he produced can potentially stand in an objective way insofar as what he communicated correlates and actually does bear witness to the Gospel reality of God in Jesus Christ; see Philippians 1[1]).

Going forward: I will still engage with Barth, to one degree or another; I will just be more realistic about the engagement and under no illusion that the way he chose to live his life met with the standards of what it meant or means to be a teacher/preacher in the body of Christ. I recognize we are all sinners, and then many of our theological heroes and teachers are deeply flawed individuals; as deeply as we all are. I think for me this was just the wakeup call that I needed in regard to keeping things in perspective; particularly with reference to one of my heroes, Karl Barth.

I think we need to try and think about all of this at multiple levels, even dialectically, and try not to lose sight that there still are standards for what it means to be a leader/teacher/pastor in the body of Christ. We all fail, and God’s graciousness is there to pick the repentant heart up. But I don’t think we want to too quickly gloss over things simply because all people are sinners. We should be realistic about the realities, and take things, as we learn of them, on a case by case basis. This is how I am approaching Barth going forward; I still think his teaching on election, natural theology, and his theological method in general are revolutionary in regard to the theological landscape. And I can’t imagine that I’d ever really give any of that up. The reality is, is that there is a whole After Barth tradition that has developed, and my favorite teacher in that tradition (and yet I will say he is his own man) is Thomas Torrance. Torrance is who ever really brought me to Barth, and Torrance remains my go to guy in so many ways (bearing in mind that TFT was not perfect either, but again this all needs to be thought of with care and important distinctions). Yet, within this new critical mode for me, in regard to Barth, I cannot deny that Barth’s teaching can be engaged with, as I’ve already noted ex opere operato).

What this whole situation does, is that it invites for further exploration in regard to how, as the church, we believe the teacher and the teaching relate. Is there a relationship between someone’s character and what they teach? Is there something to the idea proffered by the author to the Hebrews ‘that without holiness no one will see God’ (we know Augustine thought so)? These are questions worth exploring in and of themselves; and they are questions I will be pondering in the days to come.

P.S.

It might appear that I have come to some sort of resolution. I think if I have come to any resolution it is that the body of Christ is an absolute mess, including all of her teachers, leadership, laity, all across the board (which of course I’ve known my whole life, this is just a new reiteration of that); and through the centuries into the present. The only thing that makes any of this worthwhile is Jesus Christ; otherwise we might as well go eat, drink, and be merry.

And let me leave with this barb: I realize we all have opinions, reactions, and responses to all types of things; and that the online climate allows us to say things we normally wouldn’t in person; just bear that in mind (and I will too).

 

[1]15 Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: 16 The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; 17 but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel.18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.” Philippians 1:15-18 I.e. the one proclaiming the Gospel does not need to be perfect, God can still objectively use the proclamation of the Gospel, no matter who it comes from, in an edifying an positive way relative to the Kingdom. This is indeed, good news for all of us.

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A Comment in Regard to My Last Post on Barth and Kirschbaum

Photo copyright of the Karl Barth-Archiv in Basel, Switzerland

I affirm ex opere operato when it comes to theological speech. Let’s not rush to conclusions just because of some things I intimated or said in my last post. Here’s what I said in a comment in my last post. I plan on writing one more on the topic of Barth and Kirschbaum. But I’ll let the comment I made hopefully clarify somethings. With the speed of social media people have said things about me, and where what I’m saying leads that is unfounded. Anyway, here’s that comment of clarification and where I currently stand relative to my last post. And then I’ll write a fuller one in the days to come (and then I’ll let this die, at least for me).

Thank you for the comments. I will be writing one more post on this in the days to come; not sure when exactly, I’m going to process a bit more and allow the shock and surprise of the details to sink in and wear off a bit first. I can say, here, that I have always advocated for the idea of ex opere operatowhen it comes to theological speech; and that includes Barth. So my post here was me thinking out-loud, albeit about an emotive and evocative topic. I’m sure that Barth’s insights will still end up playing a profound role in my theological development, personally, but there are some things I still must work through in my relationship to him. If any of you have followed my blog, then you will know that I have been a very vocal proponent of Barth online for years and years. So to me this is not some sort of abstract thing; I see Barth as family, as weird as that might sound, and so what I’ve found out about him is only magnified that much more precisely because I love Barth and don’t hate him.

So, roll with me a bit, and realize that what’s going on here, for me, is a process of thinking this through; and doing so in a way where blogging is integral to that process. Don’t take anything I’m saying in my first post here as ultimate and absolute, take it with the realization that when I wrote that I was in total shock and surprise.

For some reason some people (on Twitter and FB) have jumped to the conclusion that if they follow the logic of what I’ve said in my post then nobody could read any theologian; because every theologian is a complex person. But I am sure I addressed that in my original post. What I am trying to do is sit with this realization about Barth, personally. This is not an abstract thing for me, as I’ve noted; he’s not just some theologian “out there” for me. If people can’t accept that about me then they aren’t honestly engaging with me; and I will have to reject that.

Anyway, thanks again for the comments, and just know where I’m at with all of this. And realize this is a personal blog of someone who has been a serious proponent and even defender of Karl Barth over many years. In the end I’m sure I’ll still be able to learn from him, it’s just that my approach to Barth will be that much more realistic.

Karl Barth and Charlotte von Kirschbaum: My Response

Photo copyright of the Karl Barth-Archiv in Basel, Switzerland

I just read a disturbing, I mean for me personally, earth-shatteringly disturbing essay by Christiane Tietz about Karl Barth entitled: Karl Barth and Charlotte von Kirschbaum. As most of us know, who have spent any amount of time with Barth’s theology, his “secretary”, Kirschbaum was rumored to be more than a secretary; that she was a mistress. But this, at least for me, was always in the rumor mill, and I’d never seen any substantial or decisive confirmation of this; until now.

Tietz’s essay works through some letters sent back and forth between Barth and Kirschbaum; they are letters that Barth’s own elderly children, not too long ago, felt compelled to share with the public. What they reveal is that Kirschbaum and Barth loved each other; more than that, they were lovers; more than that, Barth brought her to live in his own home with his wife and five kids. Barth was not willing to give Kirschbaum up, and it almost (it should’ve, in my opinion, and would’ve in any kind of normal situation) came to divorce between Barth and his wife Nelly; but for some reason (I’d guess for the kids), Nelly stayed with Barth in this intolerable situation. Tietz’s essay offers much more disturbing detail than I have only quipped at here, but even what I’ve noted should be enough to cause alarm.

What impact does this have on me personally? I mean we’ve moved from rumors to fact and reality. As I read Tietz’s essay I actually had a physical response; my head was literally spinning, and I felt sick to my stomach. I’ve been a very vocal proponent for Barth’s theology, online, for many years now, and this news leaves me feeling disillusioned (that’s really an understatement). As I process this news, this substantiation of rumor (about the love relationship between Barth and Kirschbaum), part of that processing includes the idea that indeed, we are all sinners. And this is true, of course; every theologian any of us will ever read are deeply flawed complex people who need the grace of God in their lives every moment of every day. But the situation with Barth is different. Initially he and Kirschbaum knew their relationship was wrong, but that didn’t ultimately matter to either of them. Instead they learned to rationalize their situation, and even used theological and biblical concepts to do that; to the point that Barth and Kirschbaum felt comfortable and motivated enough to move Kirschbaum into his house with his wife and five children. This is not right. Beyond that, Kirschbaum actually was Barth’s secretary/researcher/academic assistant,  and so as I read his Church Dogmatics, or many of his other writings, what is now in the back of my head is the idea that all of these writings were written in the context of his relationship with Kirschbaum; indeed it was fostered and given impetus by his relationship with her, as he bounced and worked his ideas off of Kirschbaum in his study and elsewhere.

What this means for me is that I am going to have to step back from Barth for the time being. I’m going to have to process all of this further, and maybe this will be the moment where I have to move clean away from Barth for good. I can’t help but think of the Apostle Paul’s warning of “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” When I look at Barth’s life there is no love here, there is rebellion towards God’s call to fidelity and the marriage bed. There is no love here towards his wife, Nelly, or his five children; there is only self-love where he put himself and Kirschbaum before his own wife and kids. His two kids’ response to this situation (the children who shared these letters) was that it was an “unreasonable situation” (so they understate). This means something to me. Like I noted, none of us are perfect, and we are in ongoing battles with ongoing personal struggles and sin. But what Barth did, how he chose to live his whole life, was to simply give into the battle; he didn’t ultimately fight it, he willingly and intentionally succumbed to it; and he went so far as to rationalize it all by appealing to a theology of suffering and other theological categories (that actually are warped in the context of his and Kirschbaum’s usage). Here are two small quotes (these aren’t the actual letters [to Kirschbaum], but Barth’s reflection on his situation [in letter form to some others; i.e. other than Kirschbaum]):

The way I am, I never could and still cannot deny either the reality of my marriage or the reality of my love. It is true that I am married, that I am a father and a grandfather. It is also true that I love. And it is true, that these two facts don’t match. This is why we after some hesitation at the beginning decided not to solve the problem with a separation on one or the other side.[1]

And something he wrote to a pastor he knew, back in 1947:

It is precisely the fact which is the greatest earthly blessing given to me in my life which at the same time is the strongest judgement against my earthly life. Thus I stand before the eyes of God, without being able to escape from him in one or the other way [. . .] It might be possible that it is from here that an element of experience can be found in my theology, or, to put it in a better way, an element of lived life. I have been forbidden in a very concrete manner to become the legalist that under different circumstances I might have become.[2]

So I am really sad, at the moment. I know some people will be mad at me for writing this, but I feel burdened by this right now. My response here is genuine (I’m not just trying to write some sort of provocative blog post for hits or something). I endearingly, in the past, would call, with others, Karl Barth: Uncle Karl. But this news, for me, has changed that perspective. As of right now I can no longer in good conscience promote Barth’s theology. As close as I can get will be mediated through Thomas Torrance. Sad.

See This: An Index to the Karl Barth and Charlotte von Kirschbaum Posts: And Some Closing Thoughts on the Whole Ordeal

[1] Karl Barth, ‘‘Vorwort,’’ xxii n. 3, letter of 1947 cited by Christiane Tietz, “Karl Barth and Charlotte von Kirschbaum,” Theology Today 2017 Vol. 74(2), 109.

[2] Karl Barth, BW. Kirschbaum I, ‘‘Vorwort,’’ xxf. n. 1 cited by Christiane Tietz, “Karl Barth and Charlotte von Kirschbaum,” Theology Today 2017 Vol. 74(2), 111.

Bad Theology

Bad theology is of the type that will lead its adherent down a path that looks prosperous and hopeful; it will look like a way that promises enlightenment, and a depth understanding of God. It leads its devotee further and further into a way where they think they are learning real things about God; where Jesus’s name is used over and over again; and where the Trinity is seemingly exalted. It will provide for connections with other like-minded individuals, people who have the same desire to know God. It will offer jargon, and altitudes that prior to it the student could have only dreamed of such grammatical and lexical heights. It will keep leading the person onward and forward, all the while making its adherent believe that they are becoming a knowledgeable one; like an elite relative to the rest of the people in the church. But what the adherent hasn’t recognized over years and seasons of time is that the name of Jesus has really just become an impersonal name used as a cipher for a style of theology—all the while keeping its adherent under the spell that they really are using the name of Jesus and thinking of Jesus personally. The child of bad theology hasn’t realized that for all its talk of doxological theology, and the Triunity of God, that these have simply become empty terms used to advance the pedigree of their own name among the other like-minded people they’ve come into contact with because of their shared desire to do Christian theology. Bad theology will never call itself this, of course; it will appear as the lighted way, the way for the genuine Christian thinker against all the darkness that surrounds. But in the end it only, like a serpent, reaches up and bites; and often at this point it’s too late. The adherent is too entrenched, has bought into the idea that the way they’ve been on is the more noble way; that there is nowhere to go back to. So they become trapped, and they become stumbling blocks for other wayfarers making their way from behind them. They have genuine hearts, but bad theology has steered them the wrong way, and yet garbed it in the very beginning in the name of Jesus. The person ensconced in this will believe that where they are at is the way out; that they found it many seasons ago in their own lives, and now they want to pass it onto others. Bad theology is a vicious circle. All hope is not lost though; there is nothing too difficult for the LORD (Jer. 32:17). He can pluck people stuck in this mode of theology, in bad theology, out of these troubled waters and set them on solid unsinking ground once again.

Moral

All Christians are susceptible to this; at a variety of levels. This is why TF Torrance often referred to the idea of repentant thinking. This approach meant that the theologian/Christian-disciple walked in a state of brokenness and submission before the living God. This posture, or attitude is an ongoing reality for the Christian learner, and one where the Christian realizes that they are at the mercy of the Lord (Kyrie eleison) at all times.

Martin Luther chided such theology, in his day, and called it a theology of Glory; the type of theology that lives for the praise of men rather than God. Luther’s alternative fits well with Torrance’s idea of repentant thinking; Luther called his approach a theology of the Cross. His idea was that we simply must walk by faith, and that knowledge of God is revealed as we are constantly being given over to the death of Christ that his life might be made manifest in our mortal bodies (II Cor. 4:10).

I just wanted to offer this up because over the years I have seen too many people I know fall by the way side, and get sucked into Luther’s theology of glory. Like I said, we are susceptible to this; it is way more subtle than even the most perceptive of us might think. So we do well, as Christian thinkers, Christian disciples, and theologians to constantly be on our knees as we seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of the living God in Jesus Christ.

Miscellanies on How I See Myself as a “Conservative” Traditional Christian Thinker

Let me try and nuance a delicate issue. I say ‘delicate’ because if I’m not careful this could come off sounding arrogant. I mean I’m nobody special, I’m just little Bobby Grow (well I’m actually 6’ 3’’), shooting off blog posts from my little corner of the world in the Pacific Northwest; but I still like to stop and think about where I’m at on the continuum of Christian theological identity. So that’s what this post will be about. I will talk, briefly, about where I see myself lining up relative to other Christian thinkers out there, and fortify that a bit with a quote from John Webster on how holiness and theology work together.

Many people, I’m sure, think I’m a liberal simply because I like some of Karl Barth’s theological motifs and themes. Of course, once some of these same people find out that I am even more enamored with Thomas Torrance their perspective on me softens a bit, I think. I grew up as a Conservative Baptist evangelical; attended evangelical institutions of lower and higher learning; and continue to largely inhabit the evangelical sub-culture in North America. So I see myself as a strange brew in some ways. When it comes right down to it though my traditional ways are still very much present. I mean politically my alignment has definitely moved; not towards Democrat from Republican. More like from conservative Republican to agnostic in regard to any political party or agenda; and actually I’m pretty antagonistic towards most political agendas these days, whether that be the “right” or “left.” But this again works against me in some ways; since so much of my sub-culture, i.e. evangelicalism, has conflated itself with the agenda of conservative Republicanism, many of these folks will probably still see me as a liberal. But of course my stance on what “conservatives” think makes them conservative and evangelical are probably right there with them; i.e. I’m against abortion, same-sex marriage (or homosexuality in general—and when I say against, I mean in the way the church and the traditional reading of Scripture has been against this—I’m not against these people, I see them as sinners just like the rest of us); but then I’m more pro-life and at this point, meaning anti-war, and interested in non-violence (as an ethos at least) than many of them.

But the above is just the political stuff. When it comes to theology I’m still quite trad, but conditioned from a more Torrancean and John Websterian direction. When it comes to Scripture I hold to the infallibility of Holy Scripture (meaning I don’t think inerrancy is a good way to frame a doctrine of Scripture — so I believe more about Scripture, and its aims, not less than what inerrancy will allow for). I believe the tradition of the church is something that is very important in regard to developing a biblical hermeneutic (meaning I think we should be all about retrieving the voices of the past in the history of the church in order to resource them for the present to help us approach Scripture in sober and humble ways). I believe in all the basic doctrines covered in the Apostle’s Creed (and other important ecumenical creeds such as Nicaea, Constantinople, Chalcedon, et al.). I’m no theological liberal; I just want to clear that up right now. I read Karl Barth as an evangelical Christian (thinking of evangelical in its historic understanding), and not as a social or theological liberal. And I think Thomas Torrance and John Webster offer some of the best ways into the theology of Karl Barth in order to engage with his theology constructively. I’m a reader of and learner from John Calvin, Martin Luther, the Patristic theologians, and a host of other important and orthodox teachers from the past.

Most importantly I believe that the task of theology is one where it should be done from a posture of doxology (worship) and the realization that theology is really a matter of sanctification; i.e. of pressing further and further into the holiness of God’s Triune life. To help me explicate this point, let me refer us to John Webster:

Once again, therefore, we find ourselves running up against the contradictory character of theology as an exercise of holy reason. One of the grand myths of modernity has been that the operations of reason are a sphere from which God’s presence can be banished, where the mind is, as it were, safe from divine intrusion. To that myth, Christian theology is a standing rebuke. As holy reason at work, Christian theology can never escape from the sober realization that we talk in the terrifying presence of God from whom we cannot flee (Ps. 139.7). In Christian theology, the matter of our discourse is not someone absent, someone whom we have managed to exclude from our own intellectual self-presence. When we begin to talk theologically about the holiness of God, we soon enough discover that the tables have been reversed; it is no longer we who summon God before our minds to make him a matter for clever discourse, but the opposite: the holy God shows himself and summons us before him to give account of our thinking. That summons – and not any constellation of cultural, intellectual or political conditions – is the determinative context of holy reason. There are other contexts, of course, other determinations and constraints in the intellectual work of theology: theology is human work in human history. But those determinations and constraints are all subordinate to, and relativized by, the governing claim of the holy God, a claim which is of all things most fearful but also of all things most full of promise.[1]

As usual, Webster articulates what I’m really after here in the cogent and prescient way that he is known for. The reason I still see myself as a traditional, even conservative Christian thinker (and dare I say, theologian) is because I, along with Webster, think that what it means to do theology properly is from the realization that that only happens as the holy God, and his life works on me, as I participate in and from his life through Jesus Christ. At the end of the day I think this is what makes a Christian theologian conservative and even traditional; I think the best of the theologians in the history of the church had this reverent posture before God. It doesn’t mean they were always right, but it does mean that they always deferred to God; that they approached his written Word in ministerial rather than magisterial ways; and they always saw their life under God rather than over God. This is the approach I still strive for, and I think it’s the approach that many liberals and non-traditionalists mock. So be it.

Well, in this rather off the cuff post hopefully I have communicated something that is intelligible. I rambled quite a bit (what else are blog posts good for?), but hopefully you’re catching the drift of my heart. And if you’re not what I would consider a “conservative” or traditional thinker, at least in the ways I think of that, why not give it a try? I think the trad way, when properly understood, meaning Christologically radicalized (there’s the Torrance influence!), is the richest of ways to do and think theology; it’s theology not just for self-edification, but for the edification of the church of Jesus Christ. These are the theologians the church needs; it doesn’t need theologians who point people away from Jesus, but radically to him—and to the Father and Holy Spirit.

[1] John Webster, Holiness (Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), Loc. 157, 162, 167 Kindle.

The Cancer I Had: What is Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumor (DSRCT); What is its Prognosis and Treatment? And God’s Providence

This post is going to be totally off topic from my usual posts; in this post I will be talking about the type of cancer I was diagnosed with back in late 2009 (DSRCT). What I want to do is simply talk about the nature of the cancer itself; its prognosis; its treatment; and the side-effects someone can expect as a result of said treatment (based upon my own experience). I am motivated to write this post, for one thing, because a young guy (34) I’ve been praying for, alongside multitudes of others, Nabeel Qureshi, died today; succumbing to his yearlong battle with stage 4 stomach cancer. Also, I’m motivated to write this because of some correspondence I had with another friend (and former roommate) of mine who is currently battling a terminal brain tumor. And lastly I am motivated to write this post because in the past I was part of a support group on Facebook for people who had the type of cancer I was diagnosed with—Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumor (DSRCT) sarcoma—or who had a family member with the diagnosis. In that group a rather outspoken person questioned whether or not I actually had DSRCT because I actually survived it (as you will see from the prognosis I share below, DSRCT is typically a terminal and incurable cancer with no known treatment). In conclusion of this post I will attempt to bring it all into perspective with a discussion about God’s providential care and purposes in the midst of human suffering.

What is Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumor (DSRCT)?

Desmoplastic small round cell tumor (DSRCT) is a rare and highly aggressive mesenchymal tumor that develops in the abdominal cavity of young men adults. Patients typically present with symptoms of abdominal sarcomatosis. Diagnosis is based on histological analysis of biopsies which typically show small round blue cells in nests separated by an abundant desmoplastic stroma. DSRCT is associated with a unique chromosomal translocation t(11:22) (p 13; q 12) that involves the EWSR1 and WT1 genes. The prognosis is particularly poor; median survival ranges from 17 to 25 months, largely due to the presentation of the majority of patients with metastatic disease. Management of DSRCT remains challenging and current schemes lack a significant cure rate despite the use of aggressive treatments such as polychemotherapy, debulking surgery and whole abdominal radiation. Several methods are being evaluated to improve survival: addition of chemotherapy and targeted therapies to standard neoadjuvant protocol, completion of surgical resection with HIPEC, postoperative IMRT, treatment of hepatic metastases with [90Y]Yttrium microsphere liver embolization.[1]

So, DSRCT is an aggressive and rare cancer that starts in the abdominal walls of patients and typically metastasizes quickly from there. It is classified as a pediatric cancer most often plaguing males from early adolescence up until forty years old (I was thirty-five at my diagnosis). It is hard to identify DSRCT as DSRCT given the rarity of this disease. In my case it took a full month, with two biopsies and three different labs to come to the correct and final diagnosis. They initially diagnosed me with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which would have been preferable, given that it is in the “curable category.” What this description also shows is the nature of the cancer itself, in regard to the prognosis; but let’s press into this a little further, the prognosis is quite dire. Here is study that demonstrates how dire DSRCT is; in this study several DSRCT cancer patients were evaluated based upon their response to chemotherapy treatment. What becomes apparent is how incurable this disease is; you will notice that even those who responded favorably to the treatment still only made it twenty-two months on average:

Prognosis

… The median survival time was 19 months for all patients and 22 months for the 7 achieving complete response to chemotherapy. An ongoing trial of NCI evaluates the addition of irinotecan, temozolomide, and bevacizumab to P6 protocol. It is also not clear if such high doses of chemotherapy are any more useful than standard doses of chemotherapy employed in Ewing sarcoma and similar small round cell tumors. Given the poor survival despite these high chemotherapy doses, in the adult population we generally employ lower doses than those described in the Kushner paper.[2]

In this particular study nobody survived more than twenty-two months; I think there were sixty-six patients involved in this study. And in my own experience, since my diagnosis, I have come into personal contact with others who have been diagnosed with DSRCT, and only one out of many (besides myself) have survived; so the statistics are accurate, unfortunately. What this translates to, when viewed from a five year perspective, is that there is a fifteen percent chance that someone who receives the DSRCT diagnosis will survive to the five year mark; and even if they do, they will have had been fighting it as a chronic disease up until this point. Typically the twenty-two months mark is the median survival rate for those unfortunate enough to receive the DSRCT diagnosis.

Treatment

Referring to the same study we have been engaging with, this is how it describes the treatment for desmoplastic small round cell tumor:

Therapeutic management of DSRCT remains challenging with low efficacy despite the combination of aggressive treatments such as polychemotherapy, debulking surgery and whole abdominal radiation.

Aggressive surgical debulking is the mainstay of the therapeutic strategy. Debulking surgery is defined as definitive removal of at least 90% of the tumor burden. Two retrospective studies of prognostic factors in 32 and 66 patients with DSRCT respectively, identified gross tumor resection as a highly significant predictor of prolonged overall survival [15, 16]. Lal et al. reported a 3-years survival of 58% in patients treated with debulking compared to no survivors beyond 3 years in the nonresection cohort ().

DSRCT is known to be at least somewhat chemosensitive [17] and radiosensitive tumor. The main series evaluating the efficacy of chemotherapy was reported in 1996 by Kushner et al. [18]. Twelve patients were treated with the P6 protocol: 7 courses of chemotherapy with cyclophosphamide (4200 mg/m²), doxorubicin (75 mg/m²) and vincristine (HD-CAV) alternating with ifosfamide (9 to 12 mg/m²) and etoposide (500 to 1000 mg/m²). All tumors responded to HD-CAV, but there were no pathological complete response. Two patients died after chemotherapy (1 Budd-Chiari syndrome and 1 infectious complication). Following response to this induction regimen, tumor resection was attempted; local radiotherapy and myeloablative regimen comprising thiotepa (900 mg/m²) plus carboplatin (1500 mg/m²) with stem cell rescue were administered to 5 and 4 patients, respectively….[3]

I personally received the chemo-treatment noted in this study; mine in particular was an adaptation of the protocol used for the Ewing’s Sarcoma. My treatment took place at Oregeon Health and Sciences University (OHSU), at The Knight Cancer Institute in Portland, OR. My medical oncologist decided to compress the time between my cycles of chemo from the usual three weeks to two weeks with the hopes of maximizing the effects of the chemo on my cancer. As a result I experienced severe side effects that required I stay in the hospital, sometimes for more than a week at a time to recover from the chemo. I experienced: severe weight loss (a total of 55lbs), loss of appetite, mouth sores, rectum sores, anal fissure, neuropathy, neutropenia, edema, pulmonary edema, C-diff, dizziness, fainting, coughing fits, floaters in my eyes from broken blood vessels, ten units of blood transfused, blockages in my port, resection surgery, loss of my right kidney, and three inches of gortex holding my inferior vena cava together; among other things.

Summary

DSRCT is typically a terminal cancer in the incurable category. There is still no known treatment for the cancer, and yet they often use what is called the P6 protocol or will adapt the Ewing’s Sarcoma protocol as they did in my case. It is a cancer that is considered a pediatric cancer because the cells that turn into DSRCT are cells that normally would have died off during childhood; instead they morph in the body and transmute into DSRCT. It is a cancer that is rare, aggressive (my oncologists called it a monster), and thus, if following a purely traditional approach, requires aggressive measures with the hopes of slowing it down. Even though chemotherapy (and radiation) is used, it is only really used with the hopes of debulking the tumors enough in order to remove them via surgery; DSRCT is considered a surgical cancer. Often, because of the rarity of this cancer its diagnosis takes awhile, and can be mistaken for either some form of lymphoma, or even testicular cancer; which happened to me in my diagnosing process. Because of the aggressive nature of this cancer recurrence, even if the cancer is fully removed, is almost always going to happen.

I was diagnosed in late 2009, and went through multiple cycles of chemo. On May 6th, 2010 my tumor had shrunk enough (in my case I had one big tumor next to my right kidney that stayed local but had involved at least one lymph node in the vicinity) that it became operable. The eight hour surgery was performed, and the surgical oncologist was able to fully remove my tumor along with twenty-five nearby lymph-nodes; also taking my right kidney and three inches of my inferior vena cava in order to get clean tissue margins (which they did). I recovered from surgery, briefly, and we did follow up cycles of chemo. The pathology returned on my tumor and lymph-nodes, and it indicated that the chemotheraphy had essentially killed any cancer that was in the nearby lymph-nodes, and had killed the cancer in the tumor itself upwards of ninety-five percent. Based upon this pathology report I was declared cancer free, or no evidence of disease (NED), which by God’s grace has been my status since that day in 2010.

Conclusion

DSRCT is typically a terminal and incurable cancer which still needs further research to be done. Because of its rarity, funding is not all that forthcoming towards this cancer, and so I hope by writing an article like this that bringing some awareness to it will help to provide more of a presence and thus exposure to it; such that funding for researching it will become more prevalent than it currently is.

Because of the length of this article, I will write a second installment to it where I talk more about the sad death of Nabeel Qureshi; and how God’s providence relates, in particular, to the form of human suffering given expression in the various diseases that make up the panoply of cancers in the world today. I will say this: I am obviously a Christian, and there is no doubt in my mind that I am alive today, not because of the medical treatment I received (which this article should, at the very least, demonstrate the impact that has with DSRCT); but because of God’s unfathomable mercy and grace towards me and my family. I obviously can’t say why God decided to heal me and let me live, but I can say that I know that it was him alone who immediately decided that I would live and remain cancer free of a cancer that in almost every case takes the life of the person who receives such a diagnosis. Soli Deo Gloria

 

[1] Isabelle Ray-Coquard, “Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumor: Current Management and Recent Findings,” Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 714986, 5 pages.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Job 19. Miscellaneous Personal Reflection. Death and Suffering, Incarnation and Resurrection

I am an avid Bible reader, and have been one since 1995; by the grace of God. Indeed, this is where it all started for me; i.e. where the love of theology has come from. But I’m afraid this reality about who I am doesn’t come through enough in my posts; so in an effort to remedy that I’m hoping to post reflective posts on wherever I’m at in my Bible reading at that point. I’m currently in the book of Job, and one of my favorite passages of Scripture is found in Job 19. Let me share the section I’m thinking of, and you’ll see the passages I particularly like emboldened. I will share more on the other side.

13 “He has alienated my family from me my acquaintances are completely estranged from me. 14 My relatives have gone away; my closest friends have forgotten me. 15 My guests and my female servants count me a foreigner; they look on me as on a stranger. 16 I summon my servant, but he does not answer, though I beg him with my own mouth. 17 My breath is offensive to my wife; I am loathsome to my own family. 18 Even the little boys scorn me; when I appear, they ridicule me. 19 All my intimate friends detest me; those I love have turned against me. 20 I am nothing but skin and bones; I have escaped only by the skin of my teeth. 21 “Have pity on me, my friends, have pity, for the hand of God has struck me. 22 Why do you pursue me as God does? Will you never get enough of my flesh? 23 “Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll, 24 that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever! 25 I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. 26 And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; 27 I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me![1]

I don’t really want to try and wax eloquent, but I do want to share from the heart as I reflect upon this passage.

Job obviously was no stranger to human suffering, indeed, we might call him a ‘type’ of the Suffering Servant; in fact I think we’d have exegetical (intertextual) warrant for that. But look at the depth of his suffering given poetic voice in the passage I’ve shared; like many of the Psalms Job moves from utter despair to utter hope. What I love the most about Job’s hope is the contrast we see between the God that he has come to know through his suffering with the God that his “friends” throughout the pages of Job presume to know as the true God. Indeed Job seems to have the same conception of God that his friends have, in the beginning, but as we progress through the book we see an intimacy forged, and knowledge of God gained in and through the suffering Job experiences. It’s as if everything else is torn away, and Job is shorn down to his bare bones; what he finds there is the hope of the Incarnate God (Deus incarnandus). This seems to be an inescapable observation, that is that Job had an idea of the ‘incarnation’ (maybe thinking back to the Genesis theme of God walking in the cool of the garden, and projecting that out proleptically as a real and coming hope). Job also seems to have an understanding of the resurrection; this is all amazing to me. Ostensibly Job is one of the earliest books of the Bible, at least the history it covers, and yet here we have a man who somehow knows the Covenant God, Yahweh, and somehow has an idea about incarnation and resurrection.

What I’m impressed with most is the idea that death and suffering, in God’s economy, within his covenant with humanity (typified in Israel) leads the submitted person to the reality that our only hope is the incarnation and the resurrection of God in Christ for all of us. I see this as the ‘depth dimension’ of what Job is about; that suffering and death only lead us deeper into God. As the Apostle Paul opined ‘he had the sentence of death written upon him so that he wouldn’t trust himself but in the One who raises the dead.’ Job had this same Pauline expectation and hope driven into him through the death and suffering he was pushed up against.

This reality, at least to me, is not the most comforting thing. I mean it does portend that we will and must go through all types of tribulation as we enter the kingdom of Christ, in the kingdom come who is Christ; but then there is this ultimate type of hope. And even in the immediate as Paul also knew, and Job came to know, God’s grace is sufficient and heightening even in the deepest depths; so elevating, in fact, that we get to see God’s face, his glory, in Christ in ways we never have before. For Job this meant that he got to know God in a personal and relational way, contrary to his friends who walked away from the experience only frustrated by the fact that all they were able to do was project a god from their own insecurities that in the end was found wanting by the true and living God.

There is something to be said for suffering before God. It isn’t that we can say it desirable, or easy; or even part of what God ultimately desires. The most we can say about human suffering is that it isn’t something that is absent in God; he is present with us in the deepest of ways because he freely and graciously elected the human predicament for himself to not be God without us but with us in Jesus Christ. In other words, human suffering (death), and all the angst and alienation we experience in our daily lives, to one degree or another, has come to have ultimate and immediate value because God has freely chosen that his life for us be cruciform in shape. He can sympathize with our weaknesses in ways that no one else can. I know that from experience, and I’m sure many of you do as well.

Job is one of the most Christ anticipating books in the canon of Scripture; at least I think so. And now you can see why I might think that.

[1] Job 19, NIV.

God in Christ is Bigger than Our Theology – Nostra Theologia

I want to write something off the cuff, as it were. I’ve really been being impressed with the idea, once again, that my relationship with God in Christ is something that cannot be reduced to some propositions, principles, and practices. Instead, it can only be reduced, indeed, to God in Jesus Christ. As such it is a complexity, and something that transcends all of the arguments and debates
people so often have about him.

What really brought this home for me, at least most recently, was when I had cancer. It wasn’t that my theology meant nothing to me in the heat of that nightmare; it’s just that what really mattered in my theology bubbled to the top of everything. It was Jesus Christ, and his presence, which at points was more tangible that I could ever have imagined. It is hard to explain in words, but the reality of his presence was almost visible; to the point that it almost seemed as if I could reach out and touch him. One day, right before I was going to start my intensive chemo, I had a PET scan. At the end of that day my wife and I stopped at a local eatery to grab some sandwiches for dinner. In line a man, a curious fellow, stood behind me and started talking with me; just small talk. But just as I was about to pay and walk away from him he stopped me, put out his hand to shake it, and as we did he said: “it’s nice to finally meet you.” My wife and I went out to our car, and independent of each other we looked at one and asked: “do you think that guy was an angel?” We both came to that conclusion independent of each other. Later that night I was just contemplating everything that had happened at that point, and thinking about what laid ahead; some fear started to take hold. But that was fleeting, instead the LORD reminded me of the visitor he had brought into our lives earlier that day; and then he seemingly used that experience and tied it into the Elijah story when the he asked the LORD to open his servant’s eyes so he could see the armies of heaven surrounding them. It was as if the LORD opened my eyes to that power and reality; as if I could somehow tangibly sense the heavens opened, and God’s presence being bridged in a real way to me (something like Jacob’s ladder as well).

After I experienced this, I felt such a peace about God’s presence, and that I was not alone heading into the battle of my life. As I think about all of that (non-charismatic that I am) it gives me chills, and goose-bumps. I know that that reality is ever present, even now. And this is what I’m getting at in regard to God not being subject to all of our theologies, and debates about him. He is God, and He is real. He will do what He wants when He wants; and it is very good to be for Him and not against Him. To know that He is for us in Christ and not against us is the greatest hope the Christian soldier has.

I say all of the above not to down the reality of Christian theology; indeed, I believe we need to strive and work at articulating what we can, by the help of the Spirit, in regard to who God is. We ought to debate things, and grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ that way; as the church. We ought to engage in proclaiming the Evangel wherever we go, and not shrink back. But there is something more going on; something that is not easily articulated. Just as I shared a bit of my story above, God is able to transcend what we’ve ever thought to fathom of Him. He can show up in surprising and unexpected ways; and He will when He decides the time and circumstance is right; He will meet us the way He wants to meet us, and He will not show deference to the artificial constraints we have so often place upon Him precisely because of our theologies.

All of the above said, I wouldn’t want anyone to think that just because God shows Himself bigger than our theological constructs can handle, does not mean that something like the charismatic or Pentecostal movements have captured something about God in that regard. I actually don’t think that what I am referring to is a normative thing; i.e. I don’t think that God normally does the miraculous based upon some sort of word faith force, or because I muster something up from deep within me that God magically must meet. Indeed, I’m saying just the opposite. Sound theology will be humble enough to admit that we cannot fully account for how God acts, but that is not to say that we have no ways of testing that it actually is Him and not something that we have projected out of our minds and simply named an act of God. When God acts it is for His purposes, and in His timing; He will meet us, personally, in ways that He knows we need. When Paul says ‘God’s grace is sufficient,’ this is what I take him to mean: i.e. that God will and does meet us in unique and personal ways when we need Him to. We don’t get to dictate how He does that, or when; but we can rest assured that He will indeed meet us according His way, and for His purposes. He will comfort us, and minister to us as we need Him to do that; He has not forgotten that our frames are but dust.

Essentially what I am saying in this post is all premised on that reality that God meets us and makes Himself known to us when we are suffering; whether that be physical suffering, mental and/or emotional suffering; or a variety of many types of suffering. God makes Himself known to us when we feel, like the Apostle Paul, that we have ‘the sentence of death written upon us, so that we won’t trust ourselves but the One who raises the dead.’ We worship the God of Paul, and we call Father, the same One that Jesus has called His Father for all time and eternity.

I have failed at adequately articulating what I wanted to about how God is grander than what our theologies so often allow for. But I hope the gist of what I wanted to communicate has gotten across. I’ll try this again at some point.

Reflecting on Health and Disease; and the “Clinicalization” of Sickness and Death

I have just been thinking again about my incurable/terminal cancer diagnosis back in 2009; I was prompted to this because I just had my annual appointment with my oncologist to make sure I am still okay—I still am. One of the consequences of my treatment, back in late 2009 and then through 2010 was that during my resection surgery they had to remove my right kidney in order to get clean tissue margins when they removed my tumor. So obviously this left me with one kidney, and a kidney that had gone through the ravages of the hardest hard-core chemo the body can handle (and it really can’t). My oncologist ran a test on my kidney function, well at least on my creatinine level, and it was a little elevated; even for someone with one kidney. This is not surprising, it has been this way since 2010. Nevertheless, he wants me to go to a nephrologist (which I have once, and should’ve been in contact with him this whole time), just so they can keep an eye on things and monitor the performance of my kidney. I will have to say, this has rattled me a bit; even though my oncologist said there is nothing to panic about. This leads me to what I want to reflect upon in this post; about the impact that clinical-medical diagnoses have upon the patient, but more importantly, how it reduces death and sickness to the hard and “cold” sciences (i.e. just the facts type of approach) rather than, as it should be framed for the Christian, from the perspective of God’s Providential care, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Todd Billings, a fellow theologian and brother in Christ, was diagnosed with a rare and also incurable cancer back in 2012. He, like me, has survived his cancer, and has even written a book on it Rejoicing in Lament, which I reviewed here. He is the one who started me thinking this way, and he was put onto thinking this way by a medical doctor and oncologist who has personal experience with dealing with cancer (as do so many of us), and he dealt with the death of his father from cancer. This doctor (his name is escaping me) wanted to delve deeper into patient care, and how that care engages with the spiritual and familial aspects of treating cancer patients; to get beyond the “science” of it all.

Billings has extended this out further, and placed this discussion into one wherein such topics should be seen as before God, first, and the science itself, while having its place, should lose its grip on being able to frame issues of health and death itself. I well might be recalling Todd’s premises wrongly, but this is what I am recalling at the moment (off the top). What I want to say, in concert with Todd, is that, at least for me personally, I do not like giving the doctors the last word. There seems to be this elevation of scientists in our culture, even for Christians, wherein they have gained godlike status; as if they have been imbued with some sort of control. But that is not comforting to me; what is comforting to me is that God is in control, that he alone gives life and takes it away (I Sam. 2.6). While scientism dominates our culture, almost in cultic types of ways, those who are suffering some of the most heinous diseases among us are ensconced, unwillingly, right in the middle of that culture, only to suffer through whatever they are suffering through with this type of clinical atmosphere surrounding them. To me this is just one more fall out of living in a post-Christian pagan/secular society wherein the secular has become the sacred, and the scientists have become its priests.

God’s Story in the Drama of Human Suffering: Applied to an Incurable Cancer Diagnosis

I wanted to share something I wrote on April 14th, 2010. I was still in the thralls of my treatment; I was totally beat up! I had gone through 6 cycles of very hard-core chemo, had lost over 50 pounds, and came close to losing my life without the intervention of the oncologists; i.e. from the treatment. At this moment they were just giving me time to recover to prepare for surgery (that would happen until May 6th). As I gained strength back, having a break from my chemo, I gained strength to write; and so I produced the following reflection on the story of Job. Here’s what I wrote:

In Bible study (or literary studies) there is a “device” called “dramatic irony.” The perfect example of this is found in the book of Job. We as the readers have a birds-eye view of the whole story; we see God’s discussion with satan in heaven, we see God giving satan space to slam Job for a “season.” Then we see the unfolding of satan’s attack upon Job, we go through all the false accusations of Job’s friends; we see Job in great pain and affliction, we see him wondering what’s going on, wondering where God was. We see Job in great mental, emotional, and physical anguish. Then we turn the pages and see God responding to Job — not in the way we might think either — and finally we get to the end of the book; we see how it turns out, how Job is blessed, even more so than he was before — mostly because He came to know the LORD in ways he never did before. My point, is that with Job we know he’s going to be okay (we know the end of the story); Job didn’t have our vantage point, he had to go thru it.

As I think about this, and my own precarious situation, it is amazing to think about dramatic irony; there is a story that has already been written by God, there is a so-called “back-story” going on here. To learn from Job, God is sovereignly in control of all the circumstances of my life; when I cry out to Him and wonder where He is and what He’s doing, to learn from Job, God is in control and every circumstance is ordered by Him. Beyond this there is a time of refreshing and rest coming; in ways that me and my family have never known (since we’ve never known the depth of suffering we are currently experiencing). There is great hope in looking at Job. God is in control, and He doesn’t want to keep that a secret; He also doesn’t want to hide that He is a God of great comfort, who doesn’t answer to us, but instead lovingly comes to us in His way, in His time. Dramatic irony is an ongoing reality, in my life, and in all of our lives; unfortunately we don’t know, specifically (we do in general as Christians), how each of our particular stories end (whatever kind of suffering or trial we are currently facing in life as God’s children). The good news is that God knows how each of our stories end and begin; He’s in control, and He just wants us to trust and rest in Him (I say to myself). [originally posted here]

As I contemplate this over 6 years removed from that time I am able to look back and see more of the story, but I still do not know the whole story of course. Like Job, like someone like Lazarus, just because my body has been “raised from the dead” “delivered from the valley of the shadow of death” I am still human and I am still facing my mortality on a daily basis. I have a greater confidence in God’s care and capacity to intervene, to break into my life in a very personal and concrete way. I have come to understand that my life is indeed but a vapor, but that ‘vapor’ is the LORD’s; He is in control of the vapors. The further out we get from my cancer free date (May 6th, 2010), the further away we seem to be removed from that strange world. But in honesty I don’t really feel that removed from it. I still have a 12 inch scar running from the bottom of my sternum to the top of my groin; I still have a horizontal scar running about 3 inches across my upper right chest from where they embedded my port under my skin; I still have some neuropathy in my feet from the chemo; I still have one less kidney; and I still have 6 inches of gortex holding my inferior vena cava together. Beyond that, and this is the more blessed part: I still have not forgotten the dramatic in-breaking of God’s life into our lives during that season. His provision and presence was other-worldly; He spoke with His still small voice into my heart words of encouragement; He pointed me to passages of Scripture before I even knew they were passages of Scripture and spoke those words into my life.

In a small way we have experienced the dramatic irony of God’s dealing with our life. We can look back at that part of the story and see how God has worked. More broadly we can look to God in Jesus Christ and have confidence that this same God from In the beginning to the amen has written the story of all of our lives in the life of Jesus Christ. We can read the drama that this life produces over and again from the Alpha&Omega of God’s finished work in Jesus Christ and know that the story ends very well; just as it did in a temporal sense for Job; just as that happened for Lazarus; and just as it has happened for me in this instance of living through (thus far) an ‘incurable cancer.’ Soli Deo Gloria!