Gordon H. Girod Research Professor of Reformed Theology J. Todd Billings has had a dramatic two and a half years. From being diagnosed with incurable cancer to undergoing a near-lethal dose of chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant, to enduring a two-month quarantine and a long, painful recovery, he has surely walked through “the valley of the shadow of death.” Through it all, he has remained an inspiration to many and has now published a book about the intersection of his faith and cancer.
Since his hospitalization in March 2013, Todd Billings has been on the slow road to what he calls the “new normal.” His cancer is in a strong partial remission, and he has returned to his roles as father, husband, professor, and active church member. However, this season of his health is not without its challenges.
“With the deep joys of interaction, work, and family come downswings in energy that involve physical pain, heavy fatigue, and emotional lows. The three can almost seem inseparable,” he writes.
As he remains under “maintenance chemotherapy” to keep his cancer in check, Todd continues to find solace in the Psalms.
“As I noticed in reading Psalm 77 recently, there is little or no ‘mind over matter’ optimism here,” he shares, “but there is trust in the strong love of the God of deliverance.”
I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, that he may hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted…
I will meditate on all your work,
and muse on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is so great as our God?
In his new book, Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ (Brazos Press), Dr. Billings is honest and vulnerable about his cancer story, all the while pointing to the larger story of Christ’s redemption. He tells of bringing his pain, anger, and even blame before God, while at the same time always basing these questions in trust that God can handle our laments.
“Rejoicing in Lament is both a comfort and a guide for all who labor along the same path as Billings does. It also provides insight to family members and friends of those suffering from cancer or other serious illnesses,” writes John Koessler in his five-star review for Christianity Today.
Rev. April Fiet (WTS ‘07) has found the book particularly helpful in her work as a pastor. It is a “beautiful, raw, and rich work that is hands-down the most important book I’ve read about pastoral care—even though the book is not explicitly written as a pastoral care guide.”
On March 31, Western Theological Seminary will host a conversation between Dr. Billings and esteemed American poet and editor Christian Wiman, who also suffers from incurable cancer.
Wiman’s collection of reflections, entitled My Bright Abyss, chronicles his rediscovery and exploration of faith in the wake of his own diagnosis.
Please join us on March 31 at 7 pm for an evening of rich discussion on life’s deep struggles. No RSVP needed.