My personal resurrection

Photo: Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash.

I recently heard the story of a well-known theologian who admitted doubt, perhaps even denial, of a ­bodily resurrection. But in the throes of an illness that had conquered his body, he is said to have changed his mind. 

His wife called my friend, who told me the story, and said something like, “The possibility of a resurrected body now feels more real and more likely.”  

It’s funny how our faith rises and falls with the circumstances of our lives. 

“Religion,” says the theologian ­Walter Brueggemann, “reflects our utter dependence on God.” 

When we feel no need for a resurrection, its likelihood feels far away. But when, like Jonah, we lie in the belly of darkness, the hope of resurrection might be our last lifeline.

Many who read this column know that I recently underwent deep brain stimulation surgery to address symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. I had reached a point in my journey with Parkinson’s where I desperately needed hope of a resurrection. My horizon of the future kept shortening. The box I was living in kept ­closing around me. I was losing hope.

I have been clear that I believe God is behind my having this disease. That belief has not gone over well with those who assume I am ascribing to God the capacity to do evil or blaming God for evil. 

Others have looked at me sympathetically, as if to say, “It’s just the way he copes. Let him be.” 

I’m not sure many actually believed that I believed this.

But along the way I ran into Brueggemann, whose controversial understanding of God’s sovereignty re­inforced my view that God can do whatever God wants. 

We are quick to restrict God by denying God’s agency to act in the very world God created. We take away God’s power to be God.

My belief that God was responsible for my illness gave me great comfort. It meant that my life was not random, not happenstance. It meant that I was seen by God. It meant that God was with me in the darkness.  

And it kept the door open for a resurrection. Because what makes us believe that a God who is incapable of bringing illness and death is suddenly capable of raising the dead? 

My belief in the sovereignty of God had nurtured my preaching for years, and it would nurture my suffering.

So, on Feb. 20, I underwent the first of three procedures with a promise of restoration that might have been as much a pipedream as the resurrection, and likely more painful. 

“We don’t know why this technology works,” my surgeon said. “But it does.” 

The procedures were more painful and the recovery more challenging than I anticipated. But, as I was awakened in the midst of the second surgery to test my brain’s response to the electrode implants, I found myself momentarily still. No tremors. No tightness. No rigidity. No toe ­curling. No incessant buzzing in my body.

In that moment, I remembered the Apostle Paul’s words from Romans 8:18: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” 

The moment did not last, and I was soon back to my shaking ways. But after another surgery, which installed a “generator” in my chest, and after two adjustments, my symptoms have dramatically improved.

I’ve had all kinds of thoughts and questions since then. Some days I feel 10 years younger, other days like an old guy with Parkinson’s. Somewhere in between is likely the reality. 

By the mercy of God, who gives and takes away (Job 1:21), I’ll figure it out.

I continue to affirm the God whose sovereignty means that God sees me, loves me and calls me God’s own. I have begun to understand why Paul declares that “living is Christ and dying is gain” (Philippians 1:21) 

Under the care of a God who is sovereign — but merciful in that sovereignty — our trials are temporary and our resurrections in this earthly life are partial. 

One day we will pick up the phone and call a child or a friend and say, “The resurrection feels much more real and more likely than we ever imagined it was. What we have endured is nothing compared to the glory that we now see ahead of us.”  

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