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Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ

4.52  ·  Rating details ·  208 ratings  ·  51 reviews
Recipient of Publishers Weekly starred review and Christianity Today 5-star review

At the age of 39, Christian theologian Todd Billings was diagnosed with a rare form of incurable cancer. In the wake of that diagnosis, he began grappling with the hard theological questions we face in the midst of crisis: Why me? Why now? Where is God in all of this? This eloquently written

Paperback, 218 pages
Published February 17th 2015 by Brazos Press (first published February 10th 2015)
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Derek Emerson
[A full disclaimer is needed at the outset. Todd Billings is a friend and neighbor. In fact, at the time of his diagnosis he was our next door neighbor. It was a diagnosis that hit us hard, as at that time our youngest son was in midst of treatment for the cancer that would eventually end his life. It is my son, Oliver, that Todd refers to at one point in the book. While this relationship would incline one to think I'll find favor with the book, it actually creates more risk for me to be hurt by ...more
Jonathan Brown
Sep 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
A moving, heartfelt, head-rich book, not shy about complexity but always open to the light. Perhaps one of the best books on this particular topic. Should I ever develop cancer (quite likely, given my family history), it's one I'll turn to again in a heartbeat. I preface this review with just one critique: Billings is an academic, and even here, he writes like one. Numerous forays into theological disputes with, e.g., Moltmann and numerous others; heavily laden with jargon; all in all, very litt ...more
Matthew Mitchell
Apr 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Profound theological reflections on biblical lament by a man who, sadly and gladly, has had to practice what he preaches.

In 2012, Todd Billings was diagnosed with stage 3 (out of 3) multiple myeloma and told he needed to start chemotherapy the next week. Todd was only 39 and had a wife and two very small children. Immediately, Todd went through intensely aggressive treatment to reach a first remission and then began continual lifelong retesting for the almost inevitable return of the cancer. Tod
Feb 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
It is a rare book that can hover been the academic and the personal in a way that enriches both realms. After he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma at age 39, J. Todd Billings’ life took a surprising turn. A future that had once been measured in decades now lay shrouded in fog. This narrowing of his future led Billings deeper into prayer as he wrestled with his diagnosis. The fruit of that reflection and his journey is found in Rejoicing in Lament.

As Billings notes, “God’s story does not annihi
Mar 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I have stage 4 cancer with it spreading into my bones and lymph nodes. Reading this book helped with my thoughts and emotions, as well as my spiritual response to my creator. I encounter on a daily basis the response of other believers. Some help and really some don't. Dr. Billings walked me through a thorough but easy to understand, response to God and to others from what I might initially feel and think. He takes you through each stage of thoughts and feelings. He offers ways to talk to God in ...more
Ashley McKnight
A beautiful read looking at lament in the life of the Christian, and how we can have hope in the midst of deepest losses. Billing looks to the psalms and teaches us how they should frame our experience of loss and lament by looking through the lens of his own experience with a very rare form of cancer. He addresses many issues such as how to respond and pray in light of loss and suffering, how we can rob others of the space to lament with many half-truths, how we pray in light of the coming king ...more
Michael Philliber
Feb 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
C.S. Lewis once stated, “If you do not listen to theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones – bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas” (“Mere Christianity,” 128). But for many people theology is simply dusty, drab, dispassionate, desiccated drivel. And then into the mix life happens, or death, bringing tragedy and theology to meet and clash in the sparring ring. It’s right here, in all of the sweat, the grit and the grappling, that J. To ...more
Tori Samar
Sep 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Although Dr. Billings and I don't share the same theological perspective (he writes from a Reformed perspective, and it does influence his remarks in places), I appreciated this thoughtful "wrestling" with how his story of having incurable cancer fits into God's bigger story for humanity and the rest of creation. By my observation, this isn't really a book that follows a linear progression of thought. It's more like a series of meditations on various things like lament, mortality, the problem of ...more
April Yamasaki
Aug 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book - personal, self-reflective, thoughtful, theological, with many insights on suffering, prayer, and the purpose of life. "We pray as a Christ-shaped people for a Christ-shaped kingdom to come." "Until the kingdom comes in its fullness, the Christian life will continue to involve ongoing lament & ongoing rejoicing." I've already referred to this book once for a sermon on lament, and am sure I will draw on it again in my preaching. ...more
Nate  Duriga
Jun 28, 2019 rated it liked it
This is a mature, biblically and theologically informed reflection on suffering prompted by the author's own suffering with incurable cancer at an early age. Drawing on the Psalms and how they spoke to the author's emotions during his crisis, with enriching insights from the commentaries of Luther and Calvin, this is a worthwhile meditation.
Sep 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is a depth book - not for the faint of heart- as this book goes into great detail and deep theology in Billings 's experience with his diagnosis of cancer. His views of lament as a Christian who faces a dire prognosis is spot on. I especially liked his thoughts on the pop culture views of God as a granting favors God - wish fulfillment God or that of a no- control God- Fatalistic God. I also appreciated his thoughts and theology on the thought that in order to have one's requests to Go ...more
Douglas Hayes
Nov 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Wonderful book for both those who suffer and for those who minister the the suffering. This NOT just about incurable disease, cancer and dying. It is about living in a world that is not the way it was created to be, and anticipating the work of Sovereign God through the work of Christ bring all things to right. It is about how to think rightly, pray in faith, sing the Psalms and live in the community of the saints. It is about how to talk and live with and for those who are suffering. Its about ...more
Stephen Hielkema
Jun 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I am very thankful for Billings' honest and candid expression of lament in the face of incurable cancer. So often in the midst of life we either despair or try desperately to put on a brave face, that we forget that God invites us to lament and cry out to him. It is through this lament then that we find strength, hope, and trust to move forward!
Matt Manry
Feb 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book should be required reading for all Christians.
Mar 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I appreciated the honesty of Dr. Billings and the courage to tackle very difficult issues. No easy answers, but letting God be God.
The list that I will share this book with is growing.
Apr 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I thank Dr. Billings for writing this book about his faith and health. His honesty in his reflection shines bright. Billings shares a comment from a woman at his church after he was diagnosed with an incurable cancer: “God is bigger than cancer.” Her comment was one that began to remove what he calls “the fog”: a limited view of his future. The fog hindered his once wide-open view of the possibilities after receiving the diagnosis. Being there for things like his children’s growth, high school e ...more
Ben Simmons
May 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this in connection with some of Billings other books (namely his work on participation in Calvin, and his shorter book Union with Christ). That made reading this already very interesting book a much richer experience. To see the connections between Billings capacious brand of Reformed theology, providence, the Psalms, and his own story of suffering was like watching a master at work.

More personally, I read this at a time when I needed to see that orthodox, confessional Reformed tradition,
Joan Buell
Jun 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Redefining where our hope lies

I am a retired Hospice nurse. Seven months ago, my 49 year old son-in-law died just ten months after being diagnosed with cancer. He was a believer and follower of Christ, and this had informed the way he lived and the way he died. The support from our community and our church was tremendous, as they surrounded him, my daughter, and their three young adult children. Many churches - ours included - struggle, however, in knowing how to pray. It seems we focus only on
May 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
How should a Christian wrestle through the agony of incurable cancer? Some are prone to a hypersupernatural sort of fatalism, praying for direct divine intervention while minimizing the need to trust doctors and medicine. Others lean towards belief in an incompetent God who’s doing the best he can under the circumstances. The biblically faithful option is the pathway of lament.

Billings writes from his own experience wrestling with multiple myeloma at 39, leaving the reader engrossed in a gut-wr
Dec 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Honestly, I haven’t been able to finish this. From the intro, the author says this was written from two perspectives. One as theologian and the other as one who is lamenting in the midst of his terminal illness.

The “lamenting” portion is culled from his journals. Yet, it was these portions I found lacking, not authentic (or not lamenting as I lament). It felt as if he was holding back.

The author’s theological perspective is right ion biblically and it was here I gained much encouragement, but
Sep 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
So, so good. This book was referenced in another book on Lament that I read, and I'm glad I took the time to read this one as well. It got a little heady at some points, but the rest is so good, it's worth pushing trough. He weaves theology and his own story of being diagnosed with incurable cancer at age 39. But this book is not just people impacted by cancer. It's about how we can all find our lives in Christ and rejoice in lament- whatever life throws our way.
Alastair Gooderham
Sep 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Helpful reflection on suffering and Life in Christ, driving us to wrestle with big questions and tensions in a thoughtful and poignant way that is never trite. Todd Billings has provided a book writ large with compassion and Christ.
Nathan Douthit
May 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There is a lot to unpack here theologically. However the author's use of the psalms I think is helpful. Definitely a book worth reading prior to being diagnosed with cancer.
Mar 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Not an easy read, but worth the time. The author spends less time telling his story and more time wrestling with the theological implications of his receiving a diagnosis of incurable cancer at age 39. His insights into God's goodness, sovereignty, and impassibility are deeply Reformed and nourishing to the soul. I particularly love how, from start to finish, he keeps coming back to the truth expressed in Q&A 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism, that "I am not my own but belong, body and soul, in life ...more
Aug 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: christian
I really appreciated Billings' thoughts on the connection between the gospel and lament. Especially since he is still walking through difficulties and wrestling with a life that is not as he had planned or wished. While the question of why God allows suffering is so complex, Billings does an excellent job of walking through real, hard questions while constantly keeping in focus the truth of life as a Christian. I would recommend this book for someone who is "suffering adjacent" as opposed to som ...more
Jo Rabaduex
May 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Whatever happpens- find joy.

A cancer patient deeply struggles with accepting that God is God. Searching and heart-warming at the same time, a book that probes the “why me?” questions.
Ho Christopher
May 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
One of the most frightening disease one can have is cancer, let alone one that is definitely incurable. Added on to this, many of us do not know how we should respond to such news. Should we pray for healing? Or should we pray for something else? How should I encourage the other person?

Having some first hand experience, J. Todd Billings has written a book to help christians struggle through this issue. He also wants to help christian think christianly about such issues. First, Billings brings us
Julie G
Mar 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: christian-faith
Billings is such a talented writer - I'm not sure why this is the first I'm hearing of him, since I pay fairly close attention to what's being published in Christian non-fiction. He does seem to write more academically-geared titles, which may be the reason. This book is, in my opinion, the perfect blend of academic theology and personal insight. Billings uses his personal struggles to illustrate his theological understanding of the Psalms and Lament. This isn't just a surface look at lam
James Korsmo
Feb 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In this phenomenal memoir and reflection, theologian J. Todd Billings reflects on his own diagnosis of incurable cancer. Being faced with the possibility of his own death in the middle of his life brought many questions in to focus in a new way for Billings. And he used his convalescence to pursue these pressing questions, and now we all get to benefit from his reflections. Especially important for him have been the lament psalms. These oft ignored psalms have much to say to our modern life, and ...more
Jamie Howison
Oct 07, 2015 rated it liked it
I started reading this some time ago, and at first I was really taken by it. Billings is a theologian with some serious credentials, who also happens to by living with (slowly dying from...) cancer. His engagement with the theological tradition, the psalms, his own disease and all that it means to those around him really rather gripped me. But then it seemed like the book was too long, with too many detours and theological bunny-trails. I can't blame him, really, as he was clearly working out a ...more
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J. Todd Billings (ThD, Harvard University Divinity School) is Gordon H. Girod Research Professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, and an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America. He is the author of several books, including the Christianity Today Book Award Winner Union with Christ and Calvin, Participation, and the Gift, winner of a 2009 John T ...more

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329 likes · 284 comments
“When worship expresses only “victory,” it can unintentionally suggest that the broken and the lonely and the hurting have no place here. The message can be, “If you want to fit in, first get your emotions in order so that you can be positive, and then go to worship.” But the Psalms help show us that bottling up or trying to “fix” those emotions ourselves is not the right way.” 1 likes
“The church is the church as a creature of God’s Word—a creature that finds its life outside of itself, that does not have faith in faith so much as faith in the God of covenant promise made known in Christ. From one standpoint, the church is a gathering of sinners who are both old and young, healthy and sick, growing and dying. But, by God’s promise, the church is also people who move through birth, health, dying, and even death on a journey to resurrection because they belong to Jesus Christ. For the end of the story of God, and of the church, is not death but resurrection. “Christ has been raised from the dead,” and the defeat of death in resurrection comes through him and then to those who belong to him. “Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Cor. 15:20, 23).” 1 likes
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