KURT WILLEMS. Echoing Hope: How Humanity of Jesus Redeems Our Pain. Waterbrook. 2021. Pp. 226. $16.00US.
In his book, Echoing Hope, Willems doesn’t just normalize pain but admits that all humanity experiences pain. He makes the claim that Christians experience pain, too. As obvious as this statement seems, many Christians feel “unchristian” admitting that pain and suffering do cause trauma. We put on a “good” face and attempt to keep up the reputation that, as Christians, we shouldn’t let our pain bother us. But Willems says that “joy and pain aren’t enemies. They’re companions” (3). He gives us a peek into the vulnerable aspects of his own life and talks about his personal experience with pain, suffering verbal and physical abuse as a child.
He looks to the God of hope in his own life and encourages others to do the same as they walk through pain. Willems breaks the “code of silence” that so often prevails in Christian circles and makes his readers more comfortable admitting to their own pain and expressing their feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
He includes helpful suggestions for readers who set out on the journey to tackle their pain and experience healing. Formation exercises at the end of each chapter provide clear actions steps toward healing. For example, he offers important resources that help readers work through the concepts he puts forth in the book and to internalize his healing suggestions such as prayer (67), meditation (141), reading scripture (50, 141), sharing with others (98), profound imaginative exercises (153, 170), taking action (170), and journaling (24). In addition, the book is organized in a way that enables readers to easily follow his points and suggestions. Extra tips at the bottom of some pages provide further instructions for self-care. Importantly, he suggests professional counseling and/or sharing in a safe community for some contexts so that readers can acquire tools to deal with their pain in healthy ways. His useful charts lead readers through scripture as they work on personal pain (114-115) and enable them to pinpoint their place on a contextual sliding scale (113) between peaceful and violent resolutions.
True to the Anabaptist tradition, Willems’s dependence on Jesus for the healing process serves as one of the most significant contributions he makes to the field of pain management. Rather than focus on the divinity of Jesus and thus taking him out of the sometimes-messy vicissitudes of life, Willems focuses on the humanity of Jesus and his constant presence with us as we walk through pain. In his chapter on “Human . . . Like Jesus?” in the section on “Underhumanizing Jesus” (28), he encourages readers to imagine life with Jesus, how Jesus energizes us to “lean into” Christ-like character traits. He reminds those who hurt that “in Jesus, God suffers with us all. And because of his presence, suffering doesn’t get the final word. Love does” (209). He then encourages everyone to be human just like Jesus was human, by loving others and seeking to heal them just as Jesus still seeks to heal us. In true doxological form, Willems exclaims: “may the echoing hope of an empty grave empower you to bring the humanity of Jesus with you wherever you go” (210).
But of course, since no perfect text exists, Willems’s book does have a couple of shortcomings. First, although he does talk about forgiveness very briefly, he doesn’t spend much time with it. Since forgiveness plays such a profound part in so many healing processes, his readers may benefit from a longer and more in-depth treatment so that they could incorporate this significant action and attitude into their own healing initiatives. Second, listing several resources for further reading would give readers some direction on where to go next to continue their work.
Third, Echoing Hope may seem a bit too “on the surface” for those in professional therapy groups or for those who have spent extensive time working on their journey to healing and wholeness. For these folks and for those working in ministry for any length of time, Willems’s book does not offer any brand-new insight, but could still serve as a reminder of the importance of self-care and healing—all within the context of the loving presence of God through Christ.
All in all, even though the topic of pain at times proves difficult to discuss because of the incredibly diverse experiences of each person, Willems’s book serves the purpose for which he wrote it. His conversational style and practical outlook, along with his formation exercises, provide a perfect text for lay groups in churches and any ministry context that addresses the issues of personal pain and suffering. He expresses his hope for himself and for his readers with this moving and motivating statement: “In Jesus, I’m learning the rhythms of redemption as I become more fully human like and with him” (210).