New York Times Op-Ed: How a Cancer Diagnosis Makes Jesus’ Death and Resurrection Mean More, by Tish Harrison Warren (Priest, Anglican Church; Author, Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep (2021) (Christianity Today's 2022 Book of the Year)):
I’ve talked to Timothy Keller several times since he was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer almost two years ago. ... Keller moved to New York City in 1989 with his wife, Kathy, and their three young sons to start a church from scratch. It was a risky move to plant a traditional, evangelical Presbyterian church in a secular, progressive city. But Redeemer grew, has become one of the best-known churches in the country and birthed City to City, a global church planting network.
Keller has also written over two dozen books, most recently Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter. David Brooks recently described Tim as having “one of the most impressive and important minds in the evangelical world.”
Tim said that when he received his cancer diagnosis, “The doctor looked at us and said, ‘I want you to realize that when it comes to pancreatic cancer, you’re going to die from this.’” The vast majority of patients live less than a year after diagnosis. Tim described that day itself as a kind of death. ...
As many Christians around the world begin Holy Week, I wanted to hear more about how Tim’s diagnosis changed how he thinks about life, death and this week leading up to Easter. In the midst of ongoing chemotherapy, he kindly agreed to this interview, which has been condensed and edited for length and clarity. ...
In your latest book, you wrote that our culture is experiencing a “crisis of hope.” Where do you find hope? What hope do you offer to others?
If the resurrection of Jesus Christ really happened, then ultimately, God is going to put everything right. Suffering is going to go away. Evil is going to go away. Death is going to go away. Aging is going to go away. Pancreatic cancer is going to go away. Now if the resurrection of Jesus Christ did not happen, then I guess all bets are off. But if it actually happened, then there’s all the hope in the world.
We all deep down kind of know that this is the way life ought to be, and if the resurrection of Jesus Christ happens, then all those things are literally going to come true for us.
That’s the reason you have this paradox. On the one hand, the resurrection is a kind of very concrete thing to talk about, like “What is the evidence for this historical event?” Probably the single best book on this subject in the last 100 years is N.T. Wright’s book The Resurrection of the Son of God.
Yet if we come to the place where we accept it, then suddenly there’s no limit to what kinds of things we can look forward to. I know some of your readers are thinking, “I can’t believe there’s a person with more than a third-grade education that actually believes that.” But I do. And these last few months, as we’ve gotten in touch with these great parts of our faith, Kathy and I would both say we’ve never been happier in our lives, even though I’m living under the shadow of cancer.
Today, most Christians are entering Holy Week, when we walk through the last week of Jesus’s earthly ministry, his Crucifixion and death, and then next Sunday we celebrate Easter. Can you reflect on how your suffering has changed how you think about the suffering of Jesus and also Easter?
Holy Week gives you both death and resurrection. They don’t make any sense apart. You can’t have the joy of resurrection unless you’ve gone through a death, and death without resurrection is just hopeless. Essentially, the death/resurrection motif or pattern is absolutely at the heart of what it means to live a Christian life. And actually everything in life is like that. With any kind of suffering, if I respond to it by looking to God in faith, suffering drives me like a nail deeper into God’s love, which is what cancer has done for me.
I do think that the great thing about cancer is that Easter does mean a whole lot more because I look at Easter and I say, “Because of this, I can face anything.” In the past, I thought of Easter as a kind of optimistic, upbeat way of thinking about life. And now I see that Easter is a universal solvent. It can eat through any fear, any anger and despair. I see it as more powerful than ever before.
Other New York Times op-eds by Tish Harrison Warren: