I’m mainly familiar with John Goldingay‘s work because he’s an Old Testament scholar but To The Usual Suspects, also published as Walk On, is a book of quite a different nature. More autobiographical, it’s a series of reflections on what it’s been like to live with his wife who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when they were engaged. The book is about his one word questions, like ‘calamity’, ‘darkness’, ‘friendship’, ‘hope’, ‘identity’, ‘trust’.
Goldingay’s frank treatment of what he lost or missed out on by being married to a women whose already serious condition has deteriorated significantly over their marriage is painfully honest. It might even be self-indulgent if it didn’t make him so vulnerable and if it didn’t mirror the struggles of every Christian. Does this excerpt sound familiar?:
I woke up and found myself saying to God, “I do not trust you with Ann.” Then, before I could get struck by lightning I said, “Well in some ultimate sense I do trust you. I know it will be all right in the End. The problem is what you might let happen in the meantime.”
There’s no holier-than-thou in this book and there are no easy answers. In fact, Goldingay avoids them. He says, “Meaningless is hard to cope with. Any inadequate answer is preferable to the true and honest answer, ‘I don’t know’ which is why people go around repeating inadequate answers.”
Still, Goldingay does offer some pointers. He reflects on how people with disabilities help us to see the fragility, dependence and uncertainty that we too easily attempt to exclude from our human experience. He hopes in the resurrection of the body and used that anticipation to fuel life in the now. He draws on the writings of Christian mystics to consider how God works in and through out tears, how these are even his gift to us. There’s something of celebration in this book, right alongside the struggle.
The great strength of this book is that it profiles what trusting God over a long time for the long term looks like: how you make decisions both in the present and the future; how you deal with the pain; what the motivation is for continuing to believe that God is good. The author’s frankness and quirky sense of humor make it an enjoyable read and the combination of deep theological and biblical reflection with reflection on his lived experience make it compelling. I read it over a few days but it may offer even more read one chapter per day or week, almost devotionally.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.