Todd Billings, professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary, was in his late thirties when he was diagnosed with incurable cancer in 2012. Rejoicing in Lament chronicles his journey through chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, suffering, and uncertainty about his future. From the time of his diagnosis Billings immersed himself in the study of Scriptures, especially the Psalms (p. ix). His insights from Scripture, forged in the furnace of pain and anxiety, make up the heart of this book. Billings offers no pious platitudes but rather tackles the hard questions with clarity and boldness. His conclusions will benefit both those suffering similar illnesses and those attempting to show compassion and understanding to people who are ill.
I wondered as I read the book, however, if Billings’ strength as an author and theologian might also be his weakness. His strength lies in his deep insights and in wrestling thoroughly with the theological issues involved. The result is a meaty treatise on the issue of suffering as it interacts with Scripture. I question, however, how many Christians going through illnesses, such as cancer, would want to work through heavy theological and philosophical issues and engage themselves in such deep meditation. Those who would, or could, will gain much from Rejoicing in Lament. Others will seek simpler resources of comfort and understanding. Given this consideration, this work will probably benefit the care givers more than most sufferers.
Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2015), 201 pp., paper $12.49
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher, Southern View Chapel