N.T. Wright: The Mystery of God

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Scripture can become a weapon in the hands of the ultra-certain. As if every pain or suffering is part of “God’s divine plan.” So how should we understand and apply the Bible to our real lives with our real-life problems?

NT Wright, a New Testament scholar, is a trusted expert to help us understand what truths resound across time and circumstance and which don’t. In this conversation, Kate and Tom dig in especially on Romans 8:28 which is the Pauline version of EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON. Is that what Paul intended to say? Is there maybe another, more life-giving way to interpret it instead?

Kate and NT Wright also discuss:

  • The importance of lament as a response to the human condition
  • Why we have such a low tolerance for uncertainty
  • Which scripture to turn to when life comes apart (and which to avoid)
  • What our response should be to others who are in pain or experiencing tragedy

This is a bit of a Bible-nerd out, but I would trust no one else to help us better make sense of where is God when we’re suffering than NT Wright.

Watch clips from this conversation, read the full transcript, and access discussion questions by clicking here.

Follow Kate on InstagramFacebook, or X (formerly known as Twitter)—@katecbowler.



Kate Bowler, N.T. Wright

Kate Bowler  00:01

My name is Kate bowler, and this is everything happens. I think I may have specialized myself out of answering Jeopardy questions when it comes to the Bible. And that might surprise people who think that I am thank you if you think this that I’m just a font of Christian wisdom. But it’s so strange that that’s what academia does. You’re really trained to stay in your lane. And everything else you can email a very esteemed colleague about who wrote a very detailed dissertation on that exact topic. And here are 12 articles about it. But then I got sick, And people started using scripture against me as ways to explain my suffering or justify my pain as part of God’s divine plan. And I didn’t really have a rubric for how to handle that. I love God, I love the Bible I love the Psalms, but they’re just parts that felt, I don’t know. Like, I didn’t want to answer things that weren’t in my wheelhouse. I would find myself saying things like, have you met my very good friend Steven Chapman, he’s and he knows he’s written something very specific about the rise of so on and so forth. But my new friend N.T. Wright, though he wants me to call him Tom is one of those experts that I trust to tell me how to better understand the Bible in my real life with all my real problems, how to dig for the truth that resounds across time into my life and into my circumstances. N.T. Wright, of course, is one of the world’s leading New Testament scholars. He’s the author of over 80 books. Yes, I said that correctly, 80 books that span from academic titles to commentaries to, you know, accessible work that just about everybody reads. Not only is he an academic, he’s a pastor. Tom is ordained in the Church of England and among other roles served as the Bishop of Durham, though not my Durham, unfortunately. He is currently a research professor emeritus of New Testament and early Christianity at St. Mary’s College in the University of St. Andrews, and serves as the senior research fellow at Wickliffe Hall Oxford, which is where I visited him for this conversation in his office that is as full of ideas as I imagine his brain is. And in this just lovely heartfelt chat we really dig in. Now, we especially dig in about this verse in Romans that you might have heard before. It’s the New Testament version of everything happens for a reason. And you might have seen it embroidered on throw pillows or on someone’s inspirational wall quote, It’s Romans 8:28, which says, and we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him who have been called according to His purpose, sound familiar? That Tom has a different way of translating that verse and interpreting it that I think is going to be so useful to all of us. All right, listen.


Kate Bowler  05:18

Well, my friend, I feel so lucky to be in your incredible, beautiful life of learning. I feel like I’m getting a picture of your mind when I look around.


N.T. Wright  05:28

Shouldn’t bits of it anyway?


Kate Bowler  05:30

What was your first clue that this was the kind of person you were going to end up being?


N.T. Wright  05:35

Good question, I knew from an early age that I was supposed to be being ordained when I grew up, because there were lots of clergy on my mother’s side of the family. And I kind of admired them and like what they did. So from the age of about seven or eight, that was I thought, okay, I’m going to be preached, vicar, whatever, run a parish. When I came to Oxford to study, I then discovered that there was this thing called the academic world, and particularly when I was doing ancient history and philosophy, and both of them, I just absolutely thought this, this is amazing stuff and then I realized that the stuff that you learn at school, and college is just the tip of the iceberg. And that there are all sorts of questions out behind what they teach you when you’re in your teams, and that some of those are just extraordinary and exciting, and for a short, while, I thought maybe I should be a philosopher, because that was, what we were studying here was very exciting to me, and then I realized, no, actually, I really want to dig into the Bible and find out more about that.


Kate Bowler  06:38

I can see why scripture or philosophy would be kind of the two ways in for you, I mean, one frames the, the large, wise. And then the other is, I mean, I suppose by the time you get to scripture, you have to be looking for an answer to something you can’t just wander forever.


N.T. Wright  07:00

Well, yeah, I mean, particularly when I was an undergraduate here, the Christian circles, I was moving in got very excited about different interpretations of Romans 678, which I’m still kind of excited about. Because there were those who said, this picture of the wretched man in Romans seven who can’t do the things that he ought to do, that cannot be a Christian. So you have to move out of Romans seven into Romans eight, and the Holy Spirit will enable you to leave Romans hidden behind, and other people saying no, no, don’t fool yourself. You know, Romans seven is normal Christian life, that’s how it is. And that it and Romans eight are the other side of the same coin. And so I would now say those are the wrong questions to be asking about those chapters. But at the time, this and Romans six, which leads into it, what does it mean that we have died to sin, etc? How does that all work personally, morally? And if you’re in your late teens, early 20s, these are kind of robust questions which attack you and and if you have a sensitive conscience, you know, you feel I want to be in the right place with this and only fooling around. So for me those questions were important, and then the other questions which were important were the ones who was Romans nine, which were about predestination, and so on. And again, I want to say, wrong question but it took me a long time to work through that. So I knew that I wanted to be doing business with Paul, and that the more I dug into the Greek, the more you solve some things, but other questions will come up behind which you weren’t aware of before. And so I was determined to go at it. And I spent, I spent my life doing exactly that.


Kate Bowler  08:37

Yeah. The idea that we could get to the questions behind other questions that gets so exciting when you feel I just remember the first feeling that I knew something enough to hang a little hook in my mind. And then if I learned a bit more that I could hang enough other hooks that I could at least that there’s maybe there’s maybe not a tapestry yet but a cloth and then some sure embroidery in there. So you’re obviously an incredibly curious person who lights up at all the fireflies.


N.T. Wright  09:06

Well, yeah.


Kate Bowler  09:07

How did you first realize that, at the same time that there was the feeling of transcendence behind it, because some people can just be curious for curiosities, own sake, forever.


N.T. Wright  09:19

Well, basically, from an early age, I had a strong sense of the presence of God and the love of God. I mean, my one of my earliest memories from about six or seven or eight or something is frustrating, because I do not know what triggered this but I was by myself in a room in my parents home, and I was weeping and weeping and weeping at the sense that God loved me enough to send His Son to die for me. And now you may think that was a fairly unhealthy thing for a seven year old boy who crying about but it made a vivid impression on me at the time, and I do not know whether it was a sermon I’d heard or a hymn or something someone had said, but it got through and that sustained me from age seven till about age 12 and so, you know, we said prayers in the evening went to church on Sundays are gradually starting to read but to the Bible, but I was also singing in a church choir, which means that you, the Psalms are just flowing through you all the time. And then through my teens, I was part of a wonderful organization where that we’d go on boys camps in the Scottish Highlands, and we do climbing and sailing and canoeing and all this, but there would be quite simple campers, morning and evening with a short talk. And sooner or later, during the camp, one of the leaders would probably sit down with you and say, so how’s it going? And how are you saying your prayers, etc. And all that stuff just meant a great deal to me, it was actually, I suppose, in a sense, the backbone of my life. So all that I’ve done, as a theologian, as a biblical scholar, is out of that early sense of the presence of God, and of the importance of prayer and Bible reading as the habit of life.


Kate Bowler  11:03

Funny how hard it is to communicate to anybody, let alone I mean, I’m just thinking, my son or a friend or, but the feeling of being loved. So love that it’s a fuses your understanding of what you see in the world, when the world is both beautiful and ugly.


N.T. Wright  11:22

Absolutely, and you may realize what I’ve told that story a few times, and I still joke, I’m telling it, because so something is going on there, which just goes very deep, and has colored everything else.


Kate Bowler  11:40



N.T. Wright  11:41

The other thing that happened when I was 15, on my 15th birthday, I was confirmed in school chapel by a bishop who came around did that I like the hands came around. That’s right, that’s what we should do and thereafter, communion every week has been my my settled practice, whenever that’s been possible, sometimes more often, occasionally on holiday if I’m traveling, it’s not always possible on a Sunday but so prayer Bible reading and regular communion adjust. And what I was gonna say was, these are like, like music, they are themselves. They are their own language, and they don’t reduce to anything else, that’s their primary.


Kate Bowler  12:23

Yes, what a beautiful way of putting that they will not be divided any further.


N.T. Wright  12:28

Yeah, well, that’s right. I mean, it isn’t that oh, well, that’s because […] you could reduce it to some bit of pop psychology.


Kate Bowler  12:37

Yeah, that’s such a temptation now, isn’t it to say, well, we need to feel secure or.


Kate Bowler  12:43

And while you were in your early teens, so naturally, you were going through this and that and the other, so you are reaching out for something well, okay, so, God made me like this. And if that’s part of the deal, then it’s part of the deal. It’s not an either or.


Kate Bowler  14:36

We’ll be right back.


Kate Bowler  16:09

When I got very sick, the feeling of being reduced to more of a the primary elements of whoever I was, and whoever I was, it spiritually did open me up to to be able to have a little bit more courage with the theological questions that I love academia, and I’ve really been trained into, I stay in my lane. I know a lot about American religion, please don’t ask me about the Bible, that kind of thing. And it was hard to get down to the that deep feeling of like, if then this is who I am before God. Then what are the what are the fundamental questions of life? And how can I have the courage to ask them a little more plainly than maybe I was taught, and I think certainly my academic education, trained me out of a lot of desire to interpret the Bible by myself, which I know is one of the th e things that people tell, you know, as a cautionary tale, don’t go to date religion classes, you’ll, but I felt less confident interpreting the Bible on my own. And I think because I love professionalization, I thought, well, I’ll just go ask my friend, Steven.


N.T. Wright  17:30



Kate Bowler  17:30

Steven, so Hebrew scholar, why do I need to do this? I felt very differently after when I got sick. Scripture often became a weapon in the hands of the very certain, they look at someone like me, and so well, I’ll tell you why.


N.T. Wright  17:45

Yes. Because at first.


Kate Bowler  17:49

I had written an op ed about it sure is difficult to die in a culture that believes that everything happens for a reason. When you’re drowning and other people’s reasons, it’s harder than to feel the love of God, the love of other people. And instead, I thought of other people saying, there are some things for which there can be no answer except to love you. I got a lot of Gary from Indiana, surely you got his just to let you die? Surely, I saw I wondered, since this is your area, the Bible business? What are some of the most what are some of the least comforting uses of Scripture about suffering? Do you think?


N.T. Wright  18:34

Well, yeah, I ran into this when the pandemic began. So early 2020. And I don’t know how much of this backstory, you know, but I had a call from one of the editors on Time Magazine who I’ve worked with before. And she said, just wonder if you could say, is there a Christian answer to this and Satan 700 words. And I thought, well, that’s what you guys did a little a little column in time.


Kate Bowler  19:00

Three paragraphs.


N.T. Wright  19:01

Quite well, less than that but I thought I did not want to get into this. This was I’m not a kind of interpreter of current events like that. I was at the same time being asked to do zoom calls with people, for churches that I’ve known and saying, can you just talk us through this and so I okay, I write something. So I basically said, there is no good Christian answer for this except lament. I said, The Bible gives us plenty of lament, we lose that because half the churches these days, don’t sing the Psalms, and the Psalms give us the laments. And the point about lament is that we’re not telling God what he ought to be doing. And we’re not telling one another what God is doing. We’re saying, hey, what’s going on? This is not the way it should be do something. So Psalm 44, Psalm 88, etc. These these are hugely important. And I noticed that Paul is referring to Psalm 44. One of the classic laments in Romans eight when he talks about the groaning of all creation and us groaning, and spirit groaning within us and God knowing etc. You’ve got Psalm 44 in mind throughout the whole thing. And I got all sorts of, you know, hypnotically hate mail, but doesn’t tend to write read his Bible anymore kind of mail, because people were saying, read the prophet Amos. If evil happens to a country, it’s because they have done this and this and this, and so isn’t it obvious that the pandemic has happened because and then you kind of rattle off a list of the things that you were probably preaching against anyway, it’s because those people have been doing these bad things. And so that’s, that seems to me, classically, the wrong use of the Bible, because take the Bible as a whole and yes, if you do crazy, stupid things, bad things may happen, and don’t then blame God as though it’s random. But read the book of Job for goodness sake, and read those psalms of lament. There are many, many times when, as with Jesus in Gethsemane, you know, on the cross, my God, why did you abandon me? And if we’re not prepared to face that apparent randomness, then we’re not actually being faithful to Scripture itself?


N.T. Wright  19:43

Tell me that sentence again, you just said that the scripture is not that kind of response to uncertainty?


N.T. Wright  21:13

Well, yes, that scripture, I mean, of course, however much we focus in on particular texts, which I’ve spent my life doing, we always have to zoom out again and see the bigger picture. And so I’m constantly saying to people, yes, you’ve got the bit in the Book of Amos. But you can’t take that by itself, that belongs along with job and particularly along with the Psalms. And eventually, along with Jesus in the gospels as well. There are times when Jesus says, unless you repent, you will all have Roman swords cutting you down in the temple and so there may be a quid pro quo time. But there are many other times when Jesus says things like, don’t ask whether it was this man’s fault, or his parents that he was born blind. This is in the mystery of God. And let’s just see what we’ve got what God is now going to do. The other thing which I was really struck by, was that bit at the end of Acts 11, where a prophet says, there’s going to be a great famine, and they don’t say, oh, it’s because the Romans have sinned, or it’s because that church has done something bad. They don’t see any of that they say, who’s going to be a risk here? What can we do to help? And who should we send? And out of lament grows love, and the sharing of that across ethnic and geographical boundaries, which is really quite powerful.


Kate Bowler  22:37

Yes, why do you think we have such a low tolerance for uncertainty?


N.T. Wright  22:42

right now? Because we’re children of the 18th century. And there’s a bit of the rationalist in us. And that fights with the romantic of course, because it’s done ever since the 18th century but I think, and there’s there’s probably more rationalist apologetics still going on in America than there are in Britain.


N.T. Wright  23:04

And so so you have a God who was a quid pro quo God. And in a sense, that’s a way of talking about your God is not flailing around. He’s not random. He’s not unjust, and ultimately, but it is ultimately, God over seem to be just and the vindication of the justice of God is partly what Romans is all about. But it remains at very mysterious, very dark. And if you believe in the justice of God, you also have to believe according to Romans eight in those moments of unknowing, when even God the Holy Spirit hasn’t got words, to say the spirit is groaning without words. If God the Holy Spirit hasn’t got words to say, to express the horror of words, I mean, I was lecturing on this last year it just as the Ukraine war was starting, and I’ve got a friend in Ukraine who emailing Maggie and me quite regularly and she’s just think there is no explanation for this except it’s just horrible. And we have to lament, and trust that somehow out of that something will happen but we don’t know what.


Kate Bowler  24:15

I think people who have felt very scripture always ends up being like holding the holding the wrong side of the dagger, but it’s always the blade always. I think someone hearing you say that, you know, I’m talking to NT rWight? You could be the Bible Answer factor, you know, that we could just like put in a question and then get fed the answer. And I think knowing that when we that feeling of being unraveled, by play by the death of a child by the end of a relationship, that when they get to the end of themselves, that they don’t then feel like their misery is an affront to God or just the the fundamental sign that they’re not faithful.


N.T. Wright  24:59

Yeah, I remember the first time I had for some reason to preach on Psalm 88, which is the darkest of all the songs and just ends up, lover and friend you’ve put away from me and darkness is my only companion, and of Psalm. And because we’re good Anglicans, we sing glory to the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit, you know, at the end of that Psalm, but you kind of tremble, sing it through trembling, that somehow we hold on to that darkness is my only companion, remembering, get 70 and the three hours on the cross, that is part of the deal as part of who we are. And it’s part of the can I put it like as part of the glorious humaneness of Jesus.


Kate Bowler  25:45



N.T. Wright  25:46

It’s one of the things that I learned through one of our graduate students who’s working on Romans eight. And looking at the way the word glory there comes out of Psalm eight, where human beings are crowned with glory and honor with all things put in subjection under their feet. But the present form that the glory takes is the suffering and the prayer. Because that suffering and prayer is mysteriously part of the way in which what happened on the cross is being turned into the living, spirit driven prayer here and now. And that is how God is working. What is working, that’s the it’s that extraordinary thing that the Spirit is doing is precisely when we don’t know what to say. And when the Spirit doesn’t know what to say but there is this groaning.


Kate Bowler  26:36

Maybe let’s pause there for a minute where for people who might not say, immediately reach for Romans 8:28 in their minds, would you mind reciting it for me and giving me a sense of what the popular understanding?


N.T. Wright  26:49

Okay, it’s funny, I was talking to a group of pastors here in Oxford a month or two ago, and they asked me what I’d been working on. And this came up, and I said, you all know Romans eight, and they recited.


N.T. Wright  27:03

Yeah, all things work together for good to those who love God. And I said, well, okay, I’m sorry but actually, what the Greek says is not all things work together for good for those who love God. It’s that God works all things for good with those who love Him. And the phrase those who love Him refers back to the previous verse, were the people in question are the people who are caught up strangely against their own will, perhaps, in the extraordinary dialogue between the Father and the Spirit. And and that then goes back to Romans five, five, which says that God pours out His love in our hearts through the Spirit who has been given to us so that there is this bizarre dire to ask bizarre dialogue between the Father and the Spirit, and we’re caught in the middle. And the place where we are caught is the Christ shaped place, the place of saying, my God, why did you abandon me. And that’s why he says in the next verse, that we might be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many siblings. But so it’s, God works all things with those who love Him. And we’ve resisted that with because we’re frightened of anything that looks as if we are adding to our own salvation. This is not about salvation, it’s about vocation. It’s about who we are called to be in the present, we are called to be people who allow that agonized prayer to happen. And it happens either when something bad has happened to us, or when something bad has happened to people that we love, or people that we know about, or people that we see on the news, whatever. And we simply have to hold on to it with the lament in the presence of God, and what Paul is saying is, God is working with us because the Spirit is at work within us. So it’s a Trinitarian theology, both of suffering and of intercession and then of ultimate purpose, which currently we don’t see where that’s going.


Kate Bowler  27:03

Oh, they did?


Kate Bowler  28:58

That is a radically different reading than the cross stitch.


N.T. Wright  29:03

It is, absolutely and the cross stitch on a pillow is basically a form of stoicism. Because all things work together so that, you know there is this sort of inner force.


Kate Bowler  29:14

Together, we’ll be here I am with the just what I think is the disordered pneus of my life. But actually, this whole time, it’s in a divine conspiracy. And actually, if I look through all of the pieces, I will fit them together. And in my faithfulness, then I will know that good or bad, God was leading me here and I should eat it. That’s usually where I land on it.


N.T. Wright  29:35

That’s right. But I mean, this conversation reminds me of that rather terrifying moment where apparently when CS Lewis, his wife, Joy died at the funeral. Somebody said to Louis, after the funeral, your faith must be such a comfort to you at this time, and he said, my faith is of no confidence. Just don’t lay that one on me, thank you very much, and he was being relentlessly honest. And you see that of course in a grief observed.


Kate Bowler  30:02

Yes. I mean, I’m just thinking of certain Christian traditions have, especially when they have a very intimate sense of God acting in small ways. And then you look for signs and little signs everywhere. And yes.


Kate Bowler  30:18

God got activity of your bubble. But the feeling that and especially when you’re in pain, yep, the desire to look around for each small sign action, or God’s intervention and God’s love the I find that the thing that’s most confusing is the thing that feels like it should feel most like love. God just show up. Now, please now it does become very confusing when somebody else comes alongside and says, All these little signs, each as you describe, like, each like a little jigsaw. And then I, Gary from Indiana, we’re going to show you how to look above. Like, like faith is actually just the drone footage. Because, yes, whatever your life is.


N.T. Wright  30:18



N.T. Wright  31:04

Good phrase, yes. Okay, God moves in mysterious ways. And many of us have believed things in the past, which we now look back and see that was actually quite misleading. But again, I do want to say, God can use even muddled and misguided thinking, to help and sustain us in dark times. I remember, there’s a thing in the story of John Bunyan, when, at a certain point in his life, he realized that his faith had been being sustained by a particular text, which he’d read. And then you discovered it was in this aquifer. It wasn’t in the Bible at all. And he felt odd. Should I’ve allowed that to happen? I will say, no, just lighten up. Go through the text from Shakespeare or whatever. Although actually, of course, I think it is. I think people confuse Romans 828. With that text from Shakespeare said, there’s a divinity which shapes our ends, rough view them how we will, which is that kind of, it’s all gonna work out. And there’s part of me that still wants to say, it will work out, you know, God is good, God is sovereign but there’s the danger then is that we imagine God being sovereign, he’s the big CEO upstairs, everything’s gonna be alright. And then we kind of fit Jesus into that picture. No, that’s not the way to do Christian theology, the way to Chris theology is have Jesus in the middle, Jesus in Gethsemane in the middle, Jesus saying, now is my soul troubled in the middle, and somehow rethink God around that. Systematic theologians have noticed, much like that, which is why historical Jesus studies has been as a discount. And as you probably know, I’ve spent my life trying to bash through that brick wall,


Kate Bowler  32:44

It does feel, I mean, I guess it kind of depends on when you’re trying to work out your life. I mean, there’s moments. Sometimes, you know, if you’re lucky in your 20s, you get a minute to think about the architecture of your ideas, and you imagine this beautiful chessboard, and I have this idea about what the, what you know, how the Earth was made, and what we’re for, and then I have this view of how bad we are, and what kind of intervention is necessary. And then when I look at the whole thing, I feel the integration of it, and I feel sort of hermetically sealed. And here we are, the great Tupperware of life has been closed. And it’s a great feeling. There is a closeness. And I think, and sometimes the life of the mind, just you feel like, Oh, I just get to fill up this container of all these incredible facts and stories and all things will confirm this feeling. And then life.


N.T. Wright  33:38

I mean, about 34, 35, which is roughly when it was for me, I mean, when we were in Montreal, my second and third year there, because we had four small children, we had very little money, the inflation rate have gone through the roof and mortgage rates have gone through the roof. We were really quite in a difficult position. But I plunged into a depression. I didn’t even know about depression before then. So I’ve never been a kind of a depression person. I was supposed to be writing a commentary on Colossians, which did get written as the Tyndale conjunct Colossians. The first draft I got as far as chapter one, verse 15, following which is about Jesus is the image of the invisible God and all things were created in him principalities and powers the whole lot. I had no idea what that could possibly be about, and I read the commentaries and I knew even less what that could possibly be that increased my depression. I was supposed to be the scholar who could solve these things. So eventually, I put that aside. I then spent two years doing other things and working through depression with I had very good help, I have to say there’s a wonderful counselor I had in Montreal who really helped me. As I came out the other side of the Depression, I thought, I really should go back and do Colossians because I have been contracted to do this. And rather nervously I approached that same passage and I couldn’t understand what it was that I hadn’t understood, which taught me something that there’s all sorts of things out there that unless you have lived through this or that or the other, you may just not get that.


Kate Bowler  35:15

Yeah, that’s right.


N.T. Wright  35:16

And that reminded me of somebody, I think it may have been William Temple who said something about the sign of Christian maturity, maybe human maturity, to be able to understand or get some handle on another biblical book, you know, a lot of poor line scholars can’t be doing with St. John, for instance, and vice versa. And maybe maturity is when you are able to read the things that don’t immediately relate and discover, oh, I seem to have grown to the point. Where does that make sense?


Kate Bowler  35:47

Yes, but I think there’s something about in those crucible moments where you don’t just have that an expertise. But you start to develop a worldview that can hold the the first and the fifth, and then the third, and then you start adding the minor seventh, and then all of a sudden, you’ve got a whole song.


N.T. Wright  36:08

Yep, absolutely. No, that’s, that’s exactly right. And to begin with, you simply have the rather bare playing song a bit of a new thought that that would sustain you throughout your life. Then you discover now, you’re gonna need some minor 13 so whatever.


Kate Bowler  36:22

Yes, I think this is how I feel about the wanting so much to grow into the implications of my beliefs that of each time I have this, yes, deep sense of what is true. And then, and then a person or an experience, starts to unravel it, and then once you know, and then you’re like, oh, that was a sandcastle. […] And once you rebuild it, and you dig a different modes, and then I think it starts to, I think it starts to hold together. But I have a little bit come, I’ve gotten a little more used to how quickly, a deep belief comes apart. I mean, even just to hold some things a little more lightly. Like, I mean, what the what we were the feeling of the how much I needed my life to feel coherent. I now have, I hope, a sense of even what the word hope means that I can feel deeply hopeful for the way that the beauty of our lives are made, and the things for which we are formed. And to maybe have to know that perhaps hope is a, is an anchor dropped in a future that is not just my own, God is pulling me toward it.


N.T. Wright  36:28

One of the things that I’ve been really struck by recently is a bit towards the end of Romans chapter 15. We’re having lectures on Romans many times, people tend to do the first eight chapters, quite thoroughly, and then burn through the last eight. But actually, the letter goes all the way. And in chapter 15, Paul talks about when the church worships together, cross culturally, Jews and Gentiles all sorts of worshipping together, then you are filled with this, the spirit of hope, and the bag by the above, that may be filled with the Spirit and may are bound in hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit, because when the church is being like that, what you are witnessing is a small, advanced taste of the new creation. And one of my current mantras is the church is supposed to be a small working model of new creation. So when that stuff is happening, then it is a concrete hope. But of course, putting together a church of Jews and Gentiles are black and white of this and that a male female slavery, cross class, cross culture, across gender, etc. is very difficult and often very painful. And you know, you can’t just say, okay, let’s do it. It’s really tough but when you see it when you discover it, just, yeah. glimpsing the kingdom of God.


Kate Bowler  38:23

Idealism costs us something man, even just hoping for things. When we do I can think of all these people who feel alienated from churches who tried who tried and then communal living is horrible. Trusting a pastor is horrible, sharing a Pew is horrible thing in a Sunday school with what’s his face is horrible.


N.T. Wright  39:32



Kate Bowler  39:33

You know, and then they tried. And how hard our hopes so expensive.


N.T. Wright  39:39



Kate Bowler  39:40

And then when we see a little glimmer of something, I think that’s why we just love. We love it does, it always feels like a miracle when something works and it comes together.


N.T. Wright  39:50

This is why for me, being a bishop was both very painful and very, very beautiful because obviously I would see, the same is how.


Kate Bowler  40:01

You get the misconduct, you get all the big, you get.


N.T. Wright  40:05

All sorts of things and things which you can’t just fix overnight things. You just have to live with decisions that you’ve made, which you can’t unmake, etc. But at the same time, you get the privilege of suddenly being in with one particular parish or community where all sorts of great things are happening, that don’t hit the headlines. They’re not even in the local papers, because the press aren’t interested in giving the church good publicity. But you see, all sorts of amazing things happening and people being built up in faith and hope and love and it actually working.


Kate Bowler  40:36



Kate Bowler  40:36

Most of my friends are pastors. And it is one of my favorite things about being friends with just a world of pastors is they preach, they find themselves power washing somebody’s driveway, because this lady couldn’t leave the house. And now she’s got this and now they’re headed over to the hospital. And didn’t they all just cry and sing this gorgeous song when this person was going through that? And, they’re afforded it’s like, they just have to have the thinnest skin so that everything is permeable otherwise. Know the truth is proxy.


N.T. Wright  41:13

Yes, that’s right and but the moments of tears as well, are also also moments of grace.


Kate Bowler  42:15

We’ll be right back.


Kate Bowler  44:36

What do you think are some of the most comforting scriptures that we could use when someone’s life has come apart?


N.T. Wright  44:48

I find myself drawn back again and again to John chapter 20. And to the first chunk of that chapter, which is Mary Magdalene arriving at the tomb and then Mary Magdalene weeping at the tomb. And it’s when she is weeping that she sees two angels. And Peter and John, have been to the tomb and they have gone in I’ve seen the grave clothes, but they haven’t seen the angels apparently. And I’ve often thought that maybe tears function as a kind of lens through which one might just see angels. And then of course, Jesus shows up, why you weeping who you’re looking for and she thinks he’s the gardener, and it’s the misunderstanding is part of the deal. It’s people not getting it, and yet Jesus is the etc. John 20 is all about new creation, but it’s about new creation glimpse through tears. And that seems to me quite important as a drawing together of the threads of so much of John’s gospel, and then a pointing forwards, and John’s Gospel doesn’t end with it, or QED, all done. Quarter End Demonstrate the end of a maths problem. You have a maths problem and this this was what we were supposed to prove. John’s Gospel ends, there are many other many other things that Jesus did. And if we were to tell them the world wouldn’t contain the books that should be written. And it can very well. So I feel that sense in John 20 and 21, that there’s a lot of grief. But there is also the sense the way John has written it. It’s pointing ahead, and we need to hold those together sometimes so. But I mean, of course, part of the answer to your question would be to say again, there are lots of Psalms, Psalms 42 and 43. Like as the deer longs for flowing waters. And why are you so heavier myself? Jesus quoted that line, you know, now is my soul troubled? If Jesus could say that, John 12 why shouldn’t we? And then saying, you know, well go on hoping and God because I will yet praise him. I may not feel like praising him at the moment, but just hang in there.


Kate Bowler  47:03

For some reason, I always pictured Jesus asleep on the boat. And I just picture and I know that you know, the other version. One interpretation is like, well, that’s not a very comforting story is disabled or freaking out and then he just sleeps like he’s a different jerk.


N.T. Wright  47:22

But that is straight out of the Psalms you know, there are passages in the Psalms, you say, wake up, Lord, for goodness sake, what are you doing? Why are you sleeping? You got to do something.


Kate Bowler  47:30

I’m in an MRI machine a lot. And they make these like, did they make these very rhythmic? Very intense sounds and a lot of a lot of it kind of always just reminds me of waves and I pictures. I always just picture Jesus asleep. And the song, I will lie down and sleep in peace for you alone, the Lord gave me 12 unsafety, I think if I could just lie down, like yes, like, yes, there is a storm, I find to be a more comforting thing to say because it is true.


N.T. Wright  48:02



Kate Bowler  48:04

Hey, it still takes a nap.


N.T. Wright  48:10

It’s good, and I mean, Richard Hayes, his book on the Gospels makes it quite clear, but it’s not just John who thinks that Jesus is the embodiment of Israel’s God, you know, that when we see Jesus asleep on the boat, we are seeing God as people on the boat, and we have to get used to saying that and we have to get used to feeling it. Because still, in Western culture, theology, we think that, well, Jesus made this leap on the boat, but God is the big CEO, isn’t it? And the answer is, well, he isn’t he isn’t. And I think part of what I have lived through as a theologian, is what I hope and pray is a Jesus shaped revolution in the way that we should see God. And I’ve tried to write about that in various places. And it may seem a ridiculous thing to say, because of course, we believe as theologians that you know, God is incarnate in Jesus. But so many people have started off with a big picture of God and said, well, that’s sort of true of Jesus. But the Bible says no one has ever seen God but Jesus is revealing.


Kate Bowler  49:12



N.T. Wright  49:13

People don’t take that seriously.


Kate Bowler  49:16

Revelatory religions, a lot of work.


N.T. Wright  49:20

I think out of all of that, I want to say, in the middle of this funny old book, we call the Bible there is the story of Jesus, which is the place we should go to find out the whole thing about who God is and what the world is so on. And that’s, that’s tough to do.


Kate Bowler  49:36

It’s a beautiful thing, too about faith. It’s like things, some things will get stripped away.


N.T. Wright  49:42



Kate Bowler  49:43

And then and then the things that are really true. They will take a bit of courage to stick to.


N.T. Wright  49:49

Yeah, no, that’s absolutely right.


Kate Bowler  49:51

I kind of wonder if it feels like, then part of courage is that we don’t require them for our life to feel complete. I’m just sort of hoping infer enough of a foundation to sort of always bubble up from underneath that it can hold the weight of all of it or some.


N.T. Wright  50:06

Something like that. Yes, but I mean, I always say to people who are training to be clergy, remember every time you look down at the faces in a congregation they all smiling sweetly singing hymns. Behind every face, there is a secret sorrow.


Kate Bowler  50:20

Yes, thank you for your inexhaustible curiosity. And for all of the wisdom that it has created, the fact that you are my favorite hope is always don’t be above it for anything, I find that if I approach theology that way, don’t be above it, that I will, that the desire to know more, and then love more will sustain me and I just love seeing you.


N.T. Wright  50:49

That’s great. Thank you very much. That’s very good talking to you.


Kate Bowler  51:08

This episode was so rich, if you’ve thought so too, and wanted to have a little structured conversation about it, my team put together some discussion questions to be used in a small group or a book club or as any school or even just like a very chatty group text, we actually make discussion questions for every conversation. So if that’s something you’d like, and you find yourself like, hey, I’d love to talk a little bit more about this, then head on over to Kate bowler.com/podcast and you can find them there, along with some video clips, you can point people to watch too, because seriously, you have to see anti rights office, it is just as glorious as his mind. There are books everywhere, guys, it was just like books on books or books or books. It was fantastic. Okay, but before I go, I’d like to bless the crap out of all of us, which is what I love to do. So this is a blessing for those times in which you’re just not exactly sure what spiritual words would even help at all. And maybe you’ve been given a few that that don’t speak the truth or don’t serve you well. So my love’s there’s a blessing for that. Teach us how to pray God, when our faith doesn’t feel like comfort, when there are not easy answers or tidy scripts, when there are no other words, but limit. Teach us how to pray God. When we see Christ and Gethsemane at the center of it all. Teach us how to pray God, when the Spirit groans alongside of us, speechless to at the pain at the inexplicable at the unfair. Join in the chorus of others in this agonized prayer. Teach us how to pray God. May our words of lament turn toward acts of love, as we remake this beautiful, terrible world together.


Kate Bowler  53:31

Alright, lovelies, if you liked this conversation, would you do me a favor and leave us a review on Apple podcasts or on Spotify. I know it’s annoying, but I promise it just takes a few seconds. And weirdly, it makes a huge difference. Oh, also, make sure you’re subscribed while you’re there you just click the you know, subscribe button, and there it is. Poof, all the episodes will show up in your feed when they come out. And of course, we would absolutely love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail. We might even use it on the air. Call us at 919-322-8731. And this is the part of the episode where I get to just say thank you. Thank you, thank you. Thank you to our generous partners, the folks at the Lilly Endowment and the Duke Endowment, who really want to support storytelling about faith and life and I was so grateful for it. Thank you also to my academic home Duke Divinity School and for our new podcast network limonada where their slogan is when life gives you lemons, listen to Lemonada, which I always find just the perfect thing to say. And of course, a massive thank you to my incredible team who do really just you know everything. Jessica Ricci, Harriet Putman, Keith Weston, Glen Higginbotham, Brenda Thompson, Pope Anderson, Kristen Bowser, Jeff Burt and Catherine Smith. Okay, darlings, okay, next week. I am going to be visiting another incredible person with a delightful British accent. She’s the writer Clover Stroud, you are going to love her. We sat down in her home, and she’s just like, earnest and visceral and so precise in the beauty of her language, and she’s the absolute best. I can’t wait for you to meet her. And in the meantime, come find me online at Kate Bowler. This is Everything Happens With Kate bowler.

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