Kelly M. Kapic
InterVarsity Press, 192 pages
Reviewed by Deborah McKinley
“I’m going to visit _________.” That’s what I do when I need to reset my ministry buttons. Congregational ministry has many moving parts. It’s easy to lose sight of what ministry is all about. When that happens to me, I go visiting: parishioners in the hospital, in care facilities, at their homes. There is a lot of communication via email or social media. But ministry is incarnational. We do it person-to-person. That’s why I visit folks. And that’s what “Embodied Hope” is about: embodying hope with and for one another, with and for the community of faith, with and for the larger world.
Kelly Kapic opens the book with a brave introduction, poignantly reflecting on and setting his own very personal story within a larger conversation about faith, suffering and the faithfulness of God. The book is not a memoir of how his family has dealt with illness and suffering, but it’s refreshing how well he keeps the theological reflections grounded in very real human experience. He writes, explores and wrestles with physical suffering and pain through the lens of his own family’s experience and the experience of friends, colleagues and students. This book lives up to the author’s claim that “this is a theological and pastoral meditation.”
Kapic begins with the difficult questions that suffering and physical pain raise. Questions about life and death, about God and the sovereignty of God, about faith and doubt. He doesn’t dismiss the difficulty nor ignore the depth of the questions. Nor does he answer them with easy platitudes. Instead, he enters deeply into the questions, reflecting on them theologically and with great sensitivity. The book encourages the reader to take the journey with him, a journey into the embodiment of hope, holding the questions and the faith that believes there’s an answer to those questions always together.
The middle section is a theological reflection on the incarnation, the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Christian faith is necessarily physical because of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, because of the physical suffering of Jesus Christ in his passion and death, because of the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ that emptied the tomb. The heart of Christian faith is incarnational. And that’s where Kapic goes to seek answers on how to cope with physical pain and suffering. Kapic doesn’t attempt a theological tome, but rather a reflection. The three chapters of this section explore the history of thought without being exhaustive. He gets the point across: Jesus was a real human being and in that human being our hope is embodied because that human being was also God.
In the last section he explores how it is that we can now live this hope in our own lives in light of our own pain and suffering and embody this hope for others. Disease and suffering can lure us toward the temptation of isolation. Kapic makes a strong case for avoiding that temptation. The body of Christ, the church, is called to be with one another in times of suffering, believing for one another and drawing one another forward in hope.
I found the book very helpful and would consider using it as an adult study book or perhaps a study book with those who provide pastoral care in the life of the congregation.
Deborah McKinley is pastor of East Craftsbury Presbyterian Church in Vermont.