Redeem, Restore, Remember

More than anything I have longed to have a voice with my blog – a voice that can’t be put in a box or a category or a tag. A voice that could be used to enter the worlds of people I don’t know and may never meet but could somehow bring hope, humor, memories, passion or whatever the post of the day may evoke.

Today I had a post all planned but received news that a man by the name of Dr.William J.Stuntz died just three days ago on March 15th. Bill Stuntz was a well-known and beloved professor at Harvard Law School, but in the past years has been less defined by his great scholarship and more defined by chronic pain and the diagnosis of metastatic cancer. This put him in a place where he knew he was facing death and with the pain and spread of cancer used his mind to learn and speak the truth of God in the midst of suffering. Something that so many of us desperately need.  

It seems strange that I would write about compassion fatigue one day, and then overload readers with yet another story of pain and sadness. But this story is so different, for when I say Bill was defined by this, what I really mean is that he was defined by his response to suffering, and he suffered deeply.

So on this day, when many of you responded through emails and comments to the feelings of being overwhelmed with life itself, let alone disasters in far off places, I am going to pass on the three gift that Bill believed God has given to those who suffer. These are taken from an open declaration of faith at Park Street Church and requoted in Life in the Marketplace from Patheos online.

God redeems, working through the curses of our lives to bring about blessing. “I may never know precisely what form that redemption takes, and that’s fine with me. It’s enough to know that I do not, and we do not, suffer pointlessly. Our God delights in taking the worst things in life and using them to produce the best things in life.” This is essential to God’s identity, and “it’s an incomparably large gift.”

God restores, returning to us a portion of the dignity our afflictions have stolen from us. The sights and smells of cancer, he said, were foul. Sometimes it felt “as though the clothes I was wearing were soaked in sewage. Long before it kills, cancer steals the dignity and the beauty from life. It is as though tumors inside me were attacking whatever small pieces of good and decency that were in me.” Yet the thief of cancer, the destroyer of suffering, does not have the last word. God entered into the pain and ugliness of our condition, and this changes everything. “It’s part of this world’s deep magic that when the One Man, who is so supremely beautiful that his existence defines beauty—when that one man took on himself all the worst ugliness this world has to offer, he changed forever what it means to live in the midst of that ugliness, to live in the midst of pain and loss and hardship. My disease may be ugly . . . But I am not, and thanks be to God for that. I no longer need to wear those foul clothes that cancer spun for me. God the Son gave me cleaner clothes to wear, clothes I did not buy and do not deserve. He elevates all he touches, and he has touched ultimate suffering and he has also touched me.”

God remembers, holding us in his heart even in the worst of our sufferings. “Memory for God is not a matter of recall; it’s about a love so passionate and powerful that it overwhelms all it touches.” God “remembers each one of us in our worst moments the way the Prodigal’s Father remembered his lost son, the way a lover remembers a long-lost beloved….Standing with us in the midst of those curses is the God who longs to redeem and restore and remember and wrap you in his arms. And if there is one thing I have learned in the midst of cancer and chronic pain, it is this: God is larger and stronger and more powerful than the worst disease.”

And I will end this post by using the verse from Job that this man who is now resting with no pain states he clung to:“You will call, and I will answer. You will long for the creature your hands have made. Surely then you will count my steps but not keep track of my sins (Job 14:15-16).

Bloggers Note: Quotes are taken directly from Home to the Loving Godby Timothy Dalrymple in an online article from Patheos. It is well worth reading the entire article and it will link you to an earlier interview. I didn’t know Bill well (our children attended Sunday School together several years ago when all of them were younger but that is the extent of our connection) and hesitated blogging, feeling unworthy. At the same time I have a deep desire to know truth and realize many would never know this man and never find his words so as I read the words this morning felt compelled to pass them on.

6 thoughts on “Redeem, Restore, Remember

  1. Marilyn—I should have edited my thoughts more carefully this morning. I hope you will delete my post. I realize I probably sound like quite the heretic. That’s okay…I do in fact find the notions of creation and evolution to be quite compatible. I’m neither a philosopher nor a theologian, and I should have shied away from the term “evil.” Cancer is so utterly detestable, it does feel like evil to me. Whether one can love cancer itself seems like a pointless question. I was very moved by the holistic image of Stuntz being open to love and the recognition of beauty while he was suffering greatly from cancer; by extension, it seems to me that that kind of love (the kind Jesus showed as well) provides hope and inspiration for others of us to also find ways to love the earth—the land and the people—with its beautiful and cancerous/ugly elements. As for Christians being separate from the world and not in it—that is so not my business to judge/comment on., except to selfishly say that I am very grateful for the Christians who do not live totally by that dichotomy and who are joyfully loving others in the earthly here and now.


    1. Nancy – after all these years I love you even more! I will happily delete the post if you want me to, but one of the reasons I do this is for dialogue. I’m not afraid of dialogue even if I disagree. It may make me uncomfortable, and it may make me mad but it helps me to think and wrestle and for that I am incredibly grateful. And I love your mind and that you are willing to share your mind. You don’t sound like a heretic, rather someone who continuously wrestles with life, God and big questions willing to both challenge and be challenged.
      I will send you another thing that Stuntz said that really moved me. When asked if he was pleased with the life he has led he said:
      “I feel an acute sense that I ought to have done better with the circumstances I was given. This is one of the reasons why it cut me so deeply when people suggested that suffering is God’s discipline — because I find it so very, very easy to believe in a God who is profoundly disappointed in me.
      It seems utterly natural to believe in the Disappointed God, because I myself am disappointed. He must be even more disappointed, I think, because his standards are so much higher than mine. How could he not be disappointed? That makes complete sense to me.
      It’s the other God, the God who does not experience that kind of disappointment, the God who sees me the way that Prodigal Son’s father saw him — that is the harder God for me to believe in. It takes work for me to believe in that God. ”
      When I read that I felt such sadness because I know what that feels like – to feel like God is disappointed in me – I know at heart that this is distorted theology but it’s sometimes there anyway.
      I could go on and on but as for the Christians being separate from the world…As my mom would say, some of us are so full of heaven that we are no earthly good which does not seem anything like what God intends.


  2. Thank you for this post, Marilyn. Reading it now, after having read the obituary in the NYTimes, I find myself feeling very grateful for the way that this remarkable man was testimony to the power of love and God in the midst of some intense personal suffering. I do not think of God in terms of the anthropomorphic being that Stuntz did (or does in his lasting legacy), but I share his faith that the creator of earth and the amazing collection of human beings who have evolved here cares intimately about his/her creation. Cancer, and many other forms of what we might call evil, are aspects of creation that are integral to the whole. We can love our world, and by extension, our selves, with all the organic aspects that make us human, including those parts that we cannot heal or divorce ourselves from–especially those cancers that eat away at us so intensely they end up killing us. Our divine selves are part of our human selves. I wonder if I will have the love and optimism of Stuntz if/when I face the suffering he experienced, but I hope so, as it seems to me to be so very generous. I thank him for how his expressions of hope, love, justice and mercy remind us all to be open to loving others and to seeing the beauty of life, the earth, our neighbors, and our selves. [I cannot imagine such love not being an extension of my connection to the creator.]


  3. Our destinies live on far longer than we do, and it was Bill’s destiny and his purpose of existence, to find the Lord and spread his word, and here it is being spread even through your blog. So many things which seem totally unconnected come and connect at some point, like the original message, your blog and your readers receiving through it and then passing it on. a wonderful message of faith.
    We are all nothing but tools in God’s hands and he uses us how He will. Often we are not even aware that He is using us. :)
    Love this post.


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