Monday 8 March 2021

Tim Keller on Faith in the Face of Death

A friend and colleague directed me to a helpful and moving piece in The Atlantic, by Tim Keller, ‘Growing My Faith in the Face of Death’.

He writes about his and his wife’s response to his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer:

‘My wife, Kathy, and I spent much time in tears and disbelief. We were both turning 70, but felt strong, clear-minded, and capable of nearly all the things we have done for the past 50 years. “I thought we’d feel a lot older when we got to this age,” Kathy said. We had plenty of plans and lots of comforts, especially our children and grandchildren. We expected some illness to come and take us when we felt really old. But not now, not yet. This couldn’t be; what was God doing to us? The Bible, and especially the Psalms, gave voice to our feelings: “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?” “Wake up, O Lord. Why are you sleeping?” “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?”’

He notes that ‘religious faith does not automatically provide solace in times of crisis, and that a belief in God and an afterlife ‘does not become spontaneously comforting and existentially strengthening’. In fact, such beliefs, if we have them, ‘are often abstractions’. ‘If we don’t accept the reality of death, we don’t need these beliefs to be anything other than mental assents.’

Keller writes that, for him, ‘theoretical ideas about God’s love and the future resurrection had to become life-gripping truths, or be discarded as useless’.

What’s required, he says, is ‘both intellectual and emotional engagement: head work and heart work.’

The rest of the piece, which can be read here, goes on to describe what that has looked like for him and his wife.

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