Wrestling with God’s Role in My Child’s Death
Herald Press — April 26, 2016
Does God’s perfect plan really include this?
When her young son was diagnosed with brain cancer, Jessica Kelley couldn’t stomach Christian clichés. God’s will? Divine design? The Lord’s perfect plan? In Lord Willing?, Kelley boldly tackles one of the most difficult questions of the Christian life: if God is all-powerful and all-loving, why do we suffer? For Kelley, this question takes an even more painful and personal turn: did God lack the power or the desire to spare her four-year-old son?
For those dissatisfied with easy answers to why evil and tragedy occur, Lord Willing? offers a refreshing, hopeful journey straight to the heart of God. Be prepared for something more beautiful, more pure, and more healing than you can dare to imagine.
I have spent a good portion of my life in books, and I honestly have never encountered anything like this. . . . Never have I witnessed such profound theological insights woven together with such a masterfully written narrative. . . . [Kelley’s] theological arguments are as compelling as her narrative is heartrending. Never have I encountered a book that made me simultaneously weep and think the way this one has. . . . Whatever your situation, I assure you: this book is a gift to you! It will not leave you unchanged.
—Gregory A. Boyd, senior pastor, Woodland Hills Church
This remarkable book will challenge you to reexamine your theological response to tragedy. Jessica Kelley’s thoughtful engagement with Scripture and experience gently demands that our theology be shaped by a God who looks like Jesus.
—Bruxy Cavey, author of bestselling The End of Religion and teaching pastor at The Meeting House
What’s God’s role in suffering? As a theologian and as a father who knows what it feels like to put a child’s stocking back in the box instead of hanging it above the chimney with care, I’ve wrestled with this question in all its painful complexities. And to be perfectly honest, every answer I’ve ever read has left me wanting, unfulfilled, and even at times more discouraged. That is, until I read this book. This book may very well be the missing link in your understanding of God’s role in human suffering—it was mine.
—Benjamin L. Corey, author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus
Few and far between are the books that both grow the mind and grip the heart at the very same time. But this is precisely the gift one receives in the reading of this book. Kelley explores both the unfathomably beautiful character of our triune God and the paradigm shattering reality of spiritual war, all through the lens of a mother’s heart. A powerful book that will leave no reader untouched.
—Paul Rhodes Eddy, professor of biblical and theological studies, Bethel University
Kelley grapples with the very worst kind of situation using the very best kind of theology—theology that engages honestly with the daily realities of human life, in all its grace and grief. Too often, theologies of illness and disability insist on God’s power at the expense of God’s love. Kelley, however, insists that our notions about God must always align with the God of unfailing compassion revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. She testifies to that love not merely in accessible and thoughtful theology, but in the wrenching story of her son’s death—and how the love of God shone even in that unspeakable darkness. In Lord Willing?, young Henry’s life and death invite us to gaze straight into terrible pain to find a God who offers always, and only, love.
—Ellen Painter Dollar, author of No Easy Choice
An alarming number of popular Christian personalities would have us believe that human suffering—even horrific tragedy—is ordained by God. Had Jessica Kelley followed this logic as she lived out the very real personal tragedy of her four-year-old son’s brain cancer, she would have been left with a resigned, passionless faith—if any faith at all. But instead of drawing faint comfort from a God whose will cannot be thwarted, Kelley drew deep strength and hope from a God whose love cannot fail. Hers is a hard-won joy that only comes from realizing that no matter how great the darkness, love prevails.
—Janel Kragt Bakker, assistant professor, Memphis Theological Seminary
Jessica Kelley’s perspective on God’s role in human suffering is fresh, her writing style is gripping, and her ability to think theologically is sound. I don’t know how she does it, but somehow she manages to take her questions, her pain, and her knowledge of the Bible and walk through the valley of the shadow of death with her readers. An incredibly helpful companion on the journey for anyone who has been touched by suffering.
—Amanda A. Yoder, associate pastor, Belmont Mennonite Church
Nothing forces us to consider life’s most serious questions more urgently than great personal loss. And nothing I have read combines more effectively than Lord Willing? a moving account of life’s greatest loss with a serious attempt to understand how such things could happen in God’s world. Kelley makes a strong case for the superiority of a cosmic conflict worldview to the widespread conviction that God’s will determines all that happens. Whether or not one shares her conclusions, her journey will touch the heart and challenge the mind of every reader.
—Richard Rice, author of Suffering and the Search for Meaning
Kelley looks past common responses to tragedy, which ultimately fail to give hope because they are locked into a ‘perfect blueprint’ view of God’s interaction with creation. For those who have shared a similar path, Kelley offers hope from a loving God who battles evil with us. For those who have not faced such trials, her insight frees us to look carefully at our assumptions about God and gives us understanding about how to bring hope to those in grief.
—David Woodruff, professor of philosophy, Azusa Pacific University