T. M. Suffield

God and Healing

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Sunday, January 22, 2023
It is important to wrestle with these questions in an attempt for answers. Why is God’s will so, seemingly, horrible to some people who love him? Here’s my answer: I don’t know. But I continue to believe that he is the sovereign King of the Universe, that he is Goodness itself, and that he loves me more dearly than I can imagine.

I’m a charismatic, I believe that God heals today and that this happens frequently. I’ve watched someone’s leg grow while someone else prayed for them. I’ve felt the muscles in someone’s back untwist while I prayed for them. I’ve known a friend’s brain cancer to disappear. God heals. We can, in a general sense, suggest that God wills that everyone be healed, not least on the basis that sickness has no place in his inbreaking kingdom (Revelation 21).
I’ve also prayed for numerous people who have not been healed, including a dear friend who is going blind, I’ve known a friend die from a brain tumour despite our prayers.
Which at the very least raises a theological question for us. It raises a range of pastoral ones too. Why was it that these people aren’t healed? Is it their fault? Is it mine for not praying correctly?
Some of the big American charismatic churches that are popular in my circles would probably suggest that the problem was with our faith. One particular church suggests in their popular teaching that there is no ‘deficiency’ on God’s end (sure, no one disagrees), so when someone isn’t healed all the ‘lack’ is on our end.
Thankfully they don’t always blame the person being prayed for their lack of faith, though this sadly does happen, more often they would situate the lack of faith in those praying. Which raises some important pastoral questions. And it’s nonsense.
Let’s go back to the Bible. Sometimes, we’re told that Jesus ‘healed everyone he met’ so therefore we would too if we could, indicating that the problem is ‘on our end.’ Except clearly he doesn’t heal everyone he meets: think of Mark 6, which raises its own questions, or of characters healed by the apostles who Jesus presumably knew (e.g. Acts 3).
In the pages of the Scriptures, we find a God who heals, marvellously, time and time again. We also find a God who wounds (2 Corinthians 12). Our theology needs to be big enough for both. We know that the revealed will of God is to heal and to bless. And we know that God sends calamity (Isaiah 45).
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God in the Manger

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Saturday, December 24, 2022
He came to be with the world despite our hatred of him, he came to dwell in you before you loved him. We love him because he first loved us (1 John 4). God arriving in a manger teaches us his character and his disposition. He is a God of gift. He gives. That’s what he does. The greatest gift he gives is himself.

It’s approaching Christmas time. We’re beginning, perhaps, to hear Christmas sermons, depending on how your tradition structures these things.
In the Evangelical world someone somewhere is advising us to remember to include the cross in our preaching—don’t give them the cute and sentimentalised baby Jesus, remind them that the meaning of Christmas is found at Easter!
I can get on board as far as it goes, Christ came to Planet Earth as human flesh to die in the place of sinners. That is true. But I part ways slightly, because its not everything that’s true. What I mean by that is that the gospel cannot be narrowed down to “Christ died for sinners” as though that were everything there is to say. The good news is far too big to get all of it out in one sitting, anyway, so we always present an aspect—a flavour if you will—of the grand story of the cosmos.
If someone preaches God in the Manger rather than God on the Cross, they have still preached the gospel. God in the manger is the gospel.
Why? Because the scandalous, outright ludicrous, suggestion that the almighty maker of heaven and earth, the unmoved mover, the first word and speaker of the first word, the alpha and omega, the grand storyteller, the author of life, Goodness himself, Love himself, the simple and incomprehensible God who is pure act, the Sovereign Lord Yahweh—him—that he would chose to become a creature—
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Deus Absconditus

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Friday, December 23, 2022
How do we face up to the silence of God? Alain Emerson says we do so in prayer, as we learn to sit with God in the midst of pain. We learn this in Gethsemane, where Jesus asked for the cup to go from him and was answered, as best we know, with silence. This heavenly silence was the very centre of the purposes of the entire cosmos. Silence does not mean absence. Nor does it mean that we have been side-lined.

“Silence is violence,” we are told—to not speak on a particular issue is to perpetrate violence against those affected by it.
If that is true, how then do we cope with the silence of God? In the midst of our pain and our struggle, is his silence an act of violence against his people?
Perhaps you want to rush to say that God is not silent. We have his word in the Bible. He speaks through others and sometimes directly. You’re right, of course. Yet, for many, and so often for those suffering unspeakable tragedy, this is their experience. In the face of horror, in the face of despair, in the fact of death, we experience God as silent.
But silence is not violence. As Andy Crouch wrote in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, “there is no contradiction between silence and presence.” Silence can be presence. What did Job’s friends do well at? They sat with him in the ash heap for a week (Job 2) and were silent. It started to go wrong when they started to speak—not that speech is wrong, but they spoke wrongly. They were not absent, but they were silent. That was the right response to Job’s anguish.
Perhaps in God’s silence we can encounter his presence. At Advent we face up to the silence of God. If we live the season rather than the end of the story from the beginning, then we do not know when God’s silence will end. Instead, we have a rumour, a hope, of his return. Then he comes in the surprising ‘silence’ of a newly born baby. Silence is part of learning to hope.
In our Advent days, as we live in the Between, what Auden called ‘The Time Being,’ we have a rumour of hope for the future. The Christ who was born and died and rose, the Christ who conquered Death—Jesus of Nazareth, King forever—is coming back. His rule will break in and the world will be burned with fire, before being reborn.
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Longing, Lament, and Joy

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Sunday, November 20, 2022
We can cultivate joy. We can learn joy. We can choose joy—in fact you have to, it won’t come naturally. But there is no shortcut to joy. There are no five steps that will get you there. We simply have to realise that nothing we have is worth anything all that much when viewed eternally, that the Kingdom is glorious beyond all wonder, that we have no right to be there, but that we are loved and wanted and known by the God who has committed to getting us there.

We live in the Between, this now and not yet time stretched by our waiting for the Kingdom to come on the one hand and by its grand arrival in the ascension of Christ on the other. Our eschatology is firmed realised, present and not yet present. The Kingdom is here, the Kingdom is not yet here. We live in the Twixt, the time between the times.
That’s who we are, a Holy Saturday people.
To live in the Between is to grieve. To be a Christian is to carry great grief about the world. Every Sunday we grieve. To live in the Between is to be surprised by joy as it appears, fleeting and fulsome, casting forwards to a day after this day, to a living land. Our longing for another land is the ground of our joy, that’s where it starts. Every Sunday we delight in God.
We are constantly looking at what is ahead of us with anticipatory joy, and we are constantly grieving that while the Enemy has been cast from the heavens he has yet to be hurled into the lake of fire. We are always longing for the feast to come and grieving the state of our lives as we wait for the clock to strike dinnertime.
This is the Christian life. It is a naïve escape from reality to think otherwise. We are pulled between the poles of longing and lament. As we sit in the tension—and it is like being pulled taught between two poles—we learn that thanksgiving is what keeps the proverbial elastic band from either snapping or slackening from the strain.
It’s ok to feel the tension. It’s ok to notice that we’ve let one of our ‘ropes’ grow slack, our next step is to consciously lament or consciously rejoice as we embrace the life of the Between.
You’ll find some disagree. Even back in the apostolic period we find some strange ideas floating about. The Shepherd of Hermas, one of the books belovéd by the early church that they didn’t add to the canon of Scripture (because, if there’s doubt here, it was demonstrably not the word of God) suggests that cheerful people do good things, and grieving people “always do evil.”
Ouch.
Hermas also asserts that “the intercession of grieving people never has the power to ascend to … God.” This is the sort of argument that we should honestly laugh at: it’s such a saddeningly small view of the human life and it misses the contours of the story of scripture.
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Ministry with an Extraordinary God

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Sunday, November 13, 2022
He is extraordinary, we are not. It’s good to work to do what we do for God—in every arena of life—better than we have done it previously. The true moments where the veil is lifted and we see reality, where we meet with God in his heavenly temple, where we enjoy sacrament are gifted by the grace of God. We cannot create them, but he won’t meet us if we do not engage in the ordinary first.

I wrote a few months back about our preoccupation with the need to be extraordinary. It’s, particularly for my generation, a problem in ministry. It can play havoc with leadership, undermine the ordinary means of grace, and mean that we miss what we’re aiming for.
To take preaching as an example, I am convinced that I haven’t ever preached an ‘excellent’ sermon, if there is such a thing. I’ve preached a few good ones and a bunch of average ones—I preach about once a month these days and have been preaching for fifteen years though not at that frequency the whole time. I know what I’m good at and have a good sense of some of what I’d like to improve on. I haven’t hit ‘excellence.’ Which, since we’re not going to be extraordinary, is just fine.
Except, I think it’s worth aiming for. I reckon most preachers manage a message that’s truly great once or twice in their lives. I’m not talking about the sort of preaching that goes viral, though that does occasionally happen and isn’t a bad thing if it’s happened for the right reasons; rather, I mean the sermon where the preacher knows that they are speaking words as if from God, and doing it well instead of ham-fistedly like normal. The kind of sermon where the congregation knows it too, and their lives are impacted even if they don’t remember a word of it afterwards.
We manage that for one person in the congregation more often than you would think, in the kindness of God’s economy. But I strive for that day where everyone is aware of it. I think that’s important because I know I do not do well at speaking God’s words after himself, which is the core of preaching. I aspire to doing it once or maybe twice in my life.
I think that’s a worthy goal. Of course, that means most times I preach it will be fairly ordinary. Which I’m quite happy with. Or, learning to be at least. The difference between the two is partly my effort—if I put no work in then the elevated preaching won’t ever happen—but it’s primarily God’s gift.
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Our Church Calendars

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Sunday, November 6, 2022
I think there’s wisdom in the church calendar, I don’t think we need to slavishly follow it—in fact enforcing it is probably against Paul’s instructions (Galatians 4). There is something wise about catechising our people to think Christianly about their lives by shaping what we do across the year (and not necessarily just on Sunday) to fit the shape of the gospel. We will adopt a pattern of annual rhythms as a church whatever we do, it is inevitable, so it seems really strange to me that we would be shaped by anything other than the story of Jesus’ victory over sin, Satan, and Death.

Israel had a cycle of a weekly Sabbath, seven feasts a year, a sabbatical year every seventh year, and a Jubliee year every seventh sabbatical year. Their days were patterned for them, and it was wisdom to follow them.
They function how the Church calendar was designed by our Christian forbears to function for us—now of course that doesn’t hold the same force, it is set by the Church’s tradition rather than the word of God, but it holds some force—each year the story of the gospel, God’s dealings with humanity, are re-enacted for us in our cycle of Advent-Christmas-Epiphany-Lent-Easter-Ascension-Pentecost.
I’m a non-conformist and happily so, but I like the calendar because of what I read in the Old Testament Law. This is good for us to do as well for much the same reasons as them. It’s important to note though that it fits in the category of wisdom and not law. Paul has plenty to say about those who were enforcing the celebration of days and seasons on the New Testament church (Galatians 4).
Of course, almost every non-conformist church I’ve met still follows a church calendar. We follow the academic year, despite this only really being relevant for teachers and those with young children—I appreciate Paul Blackham’s suggestion that since this is irrelevant for the vast majority of any church, we should largely ignore it. Honestly, who cares if it’s half-term? The academic year means more to me than most since I work in a University, but it isn’t that academic year that most churches I know map onto.
We might well do something for Christmas and Easter—most will, but probably avoid Christmas Day due to the reality of not being able to get access to our venues. Which is understandable, but then we assume Christmas is over immediately rather than enjoy the whole twelve-day feast.
Most likely though its other considerations which form our liturgical calendar, particularly the national calendar. We celebrate Mother’s Day in March, Father’s Day in June, and Remembrance Sunday in November. We probably acknowledge Halloween exists by doing something for it, but ignore Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sundays. What particularly makes this weird is that those last three are still baked into our national character—factories are likely to be closed around Whit Week, we still have a Bank Holiday for Pentecost (though it’s now fixed and doesn’t always coincide), and in the upper echelons of society they name their ‘terms’ after these festivals.
It makes sense to me that the national church provides a religious angle on some of these national events—and a bunch more, including the Queen’s birthday—but it’s my non-conformism that means I don’t want to.
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Faith’s Economy

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Sunday, October 30, 2022
It’s a backwards economy, in that what we have grows by spending. It’s a communal economy, in that we can spend what each other have as we share. Yet, to access it, we must reveal our poverty, we must make friendships that are deep enough to hear that your friend has nothing to give, realise you can’t give them anything, and then give them what you don’t have anyway.

Have you ever pondered God’s economy? I don’t mean what is God’s opinion on our economic structures, or a typically American apologia for capitalism as the sine qua non of the Kingdom.
Let’s put such thoughts aside for now—though if you want a typically provocative thought on the subject: I’m queasy about capitalism for Biblical reasons. All the alternatives look worse.
Rather I’d like to speak of the economy of faith, how faith is spent as a currency and how that works. Which you might immediately want to query as being a nonsense, faith isn’t a currency! No, but there is an inheritance (Ephesians 1) that comes by faith, for all it isn’t financial. Faith is more like the wind than what goes in your wallet, it fills your sails, or it doesn’t, but go with the analogy—I trust it will be instructive.
Faith has an economy, and it runs counter to most of our intuitions. It’s more communal than you might imagine. For example, I can ‘spend’ your faith. Have you noticed that?
Let me show you what I mean. Let’s say you’ve been through a particularly trying time, and it is a genuine struggle to summon up the will to do some hoping, or the faith to pray for a breakthrough. Some, perhaps, would admonish you for that, as though your faith is deficient or lacking. I think we can safely discount them as people who have not suffered. The true friend bolsters my faith and reminds me of what’s true.
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Leading is Editing

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Friday, October 28, 2022
For all there is pain in having lovingly crafted prose torn up, there is purpose to it. We can rarely see our own faults, and since churches tend to work well for their leaders, we can rarely see our church’s faults either. Work with “editors,” be they trusted outsiders or those within the church. Trust their intentions even if their words make it hard, and edit like their lives depend on it. They might.

A much more experienced writer than me recently gave me some writing advice about editors:
He suggested that you don’t always need to make the changes editors suggest—and every writer breathes a sigh of dramatic relief. But you do need to assume that they have spotted something that’s wrong and that section or idea needs attention.
To put it another way, they aren’t necessarily right about the solution but they are right about the problem—or at the very least that there is a problem right there.
I thought that was helpful advice for a wider setting than the one I was being given it in. Let me show you what I mean.
If you receive criticism, and it doesn’t seem to jibe well with your own self-understanding and the other feedback you receive, it is possible to disregard it. After all, that person could be wrong.
Of course, the problem is, so could you. A Christian understanding of sin and the deceitful nature of our hearts should give us pause when we assume that the problem is outside of ourselves. We might be right. Before we decide we are, we should examine ourselves carefully. I found it helpful to think that, like an editor, perhaps my critic has put their finger on something even if they are completely wrong about what that is.
It’s certainly worth consideration and prayer before we decide that they are just flat wrong.
I think we should apply the same principle in Church leadership. All Church leaders have plenty of critics. Everyone has an opinion about how things should be done in the church. Some people have been hurt badly, and some of those by the church, meaning that their complaints and criticisms come laced with pain and can be difficult for church leaders to receive.
As pastors we’re supposed to understand people, so you don’t take the way the feedback is delivered into account and instead listen to the marrow of it.
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Leading Change

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Friday, October 21, 2022
Our churches should act more like tended gardens. We as people need curation. We need a gardener, or we risk turning into human weeds: becoming without arriving. But we need that like plants do, slowly, in the right season, enjoying the timeless delights of growing in the same direction.

I’ve worked in a global corporate company and in some large public sector institutions. Every one of them has gone through some sort of major change programme while I was there. It’s the nature of the beast, nothing is perfect so every five years or so it gets reinvented—usually fixing a real problem by creating a different one.
I’ve never been a change manager but in some of these changes they’ve been things I needed to happen or things I was tasked with implementing. On other occasions they’ve been done to me, which is about as delightful as it sounds.
At my previous University we were early on in a project to implement some changes to teaching that would (all being well) improve things for students. I remember my manager expressing consternation and confusion that those we were needing to change weren’t excited about the potential changes. I know, it was a naïve thought. I looked at her and said, “because all change is loss.”
I think that surprised her, but it’s a truism. The kind of churches I’ve been part of are dynamic and change fairly frequently. This is a great strength and a great weakness. It is always pastorally difficult to help a congregation through a change—even a relatively minor one—because for someone change is always loss.
Incrementalism
Usually for those deciding on the change the loss is a desirable one, which can make it easy to lose sight of the fact that it won’t be for everyone, even if you think it should be. If you’re trying to lead change then people will be resistant to it if there is no tangible good. We have to remember that change usually challenges our underlying stories.
When change is done to you rather than with you that loss is inevitably pain rather than gain. It’s impossible to see the relative goods of the change or understand why its being done if you are a subject instead of a participant. Anyone who has been through a company reorganisation can testify to this.
Which is to say that if you’re a church leader and you’re changing something in your church’s life (and you probably are, let’s be honest), you need to consider carefully who will be impacted by the change. I would really encourage assuming someone will be rather than thinking they’ll be fine. What’s the story that this change will affect for them? Where will it hurt them, even though that wasn’t your intention?
This means organic or incremental change is easier for people to handle because we’re used to lightly editing our stories as we go along.
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The Gift of Dissatisfaction

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Monday, October 3, 2022
We need God to unsettle us, to make us dissatisfied with anything but Jesus, and with anything but the age of come. This unsettled longing for an age to come is what the Bible calls joy. It, strangely enough, tends to make contented people, because God satisfies.

There is a gift from God that we do not want. If we’re honest with ourselves, I suspect there are many gifts from God that we don’t want. We enjoy both sin and comfort too much to value all of God’s gifts; we are indicted by our lacklustre enthusiasm for the things of God.
The gift I’d like to focus on is dissatisfaction. There is a spiritual gift of dissatisfaction. And in our comfortable, western, industrialised world we dearly need it.
There’s also something that looks like the spiritual gift of dissatisfaction but is actually the infernal curse of cynicism. I have this one in spades.
Let me flesh out what I mean: if we believe that our world is passing away, that it is in fact groaning in the birth pangs of a better world (Romans 8) then we should compare our lives, our churches, and our societies, with what we understand is coming.
If we believe that the old creation is gone and the new come in Christ’s resurrection (John 20-21), but that the kingdom—the new creation—is also not yet here; that we live in what theologians call realised eschatology and I call the Between, then we must expect to see partial fulfilments of what the world will be like after she is reborn in fire. And we must expect to not see total fulfilments of that pregnant promise.
There’s a sense in which a Christian’s life is orientated towards a future that we only see through a glass, darkly (1 Corinthians 13). Or it’s supposed to be, anyway.
We also desire to see our hearts, our churches, and our cultures, changed and shaped in the direction of the Kingdom here and now before we die. That’s a good desire, and we should expect to see some fulfilments as the Spirit acts on us. As always, God changes churches by changing people. Typically I think he also changes cultures by changing churches—in Leithart’s language “the heavenly city resurrects the cities of men.”
These are good desires. It is good to ask what God requires of us in order to do as we ask. I think there are two criteria for a move of God, one for us and one for him. The requirement that sits with us is found in the logic of baptism in the Spirit. In John 7 Jesus gives one requirement for us to be changed: thirst.
In other words, we must want it. Want requires a precondition: dissatisfaction.
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