Andrew Peterson: The Resurrection Letters
About the Guest
Can seasons of darkness help us see more clearly than ever? Singer & author Andrew Peterson describes his path through depression to resurrection.
Andrew Peterson: The Resurrection Letters
Andrew: A lot of us aren’t super good at dwelling on the dark parts. At church, we tend to kind of brush over that. There’s a whole theology of suffering and of lament in Scripture. Lament needs a place in our worship services, I really think; and silence needs a place, but also celebration and rejoicing. It’s all part of the deal.
I didn’t grow up in a church that did this; but later in life, we ended up in a more liturgical church that celebrates Holy Week to the nines. I love starting with Palm Sunday, it’s like, “Okay, here we go. [Laughter] We’re about to walk through the story in a pretty intense way.” On Wednesday of Holy Week we would have a Tenebrae service. It was done in a way that ended with darkness: you blow out a candle; you read a Scripture; you remember how broken the world is, but you don’t provide the answer yet. Learning to sit in the grief of the brokenness of the world makes Easter morning all the more precious; doesn’t it?
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife—
We’ve got Andrew Peterson back in the studio. Andrew, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Andrew: Thanks for having me.
Dave: We’re coming up on the critical historical moment in the whole Christian faith.
Ann: —the most wonderful.
Dave: Everything hinges and rises and falls on this one moment in history: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Obviously, that’s something that you believe in and have written songs about Resurrection Letters.
Ann: —albums about.
Dave: Talk about resurrection and why—I mean, not too many people have written three different albums on that one topic; but you did—the question is: “Why?”
Andrew: There is this book called Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright. I don’t know if you guys have read it. Some people don’t agree with everything he says, but this book in particular—I haven’t really talked to anybody who said, “He’s wrong about it,”—[Laughter]—it’s this book about the resurrection and what it really meant to the early church and what it means for us now.
Somehow, I missed it, growing up in the church. I just didn’t really understand the significance of what it was that Jesus did and what that means for us: this idea that we also have this bodily resurrection that has been promised to us/that He is the first fruits of that whole thing.
I just/I love Easter. I love it because, in the northern Hemisphere at least, we get to see all of creation resurrect. It’s one of the coolest things to me that we get to celebrate Lent and Easter in this season, where the earth is going from very dead-looking to daffodils poking out of the ground, these little trumpets of the resurrection. It’s like all of creation is preaching this sermon to us, and I just want to embrace that whole heartedly.
It’s one of the great joys of my life is that I think this is our fourth year now that we’re touring around, and proclaiming that truth and saying, “Keep your eyes peeled, because the thing that’s happening all around you/the way—there’s a song my friend wrote that says “The hills remember green again”—as that happens, it’s this great reminder that Christ conquered death and that we also will through His power.”
All of that is like—the centrality of it—was something that I missed. I’ve read plenty of—C.S. Lewis talked about it—every sermon in the book of Acts mentions the resurrection as the centerpiece of the thing, like, “If that thing didn’t happen, why are we even here?”
The short version of the story is: maybe 12 years ago/13 years ago, I wrote an album—usually, you put the songs together; and I look for some connecting thread, like, “What’s the theme?”—and I noticed all the songs were, in one way or another, about the coming resurrection or this idea that the resurrection of Jesus sent these shock waves into creation, and we’re experiencing those. Those songs were about that.
I went to the label; and I was like, “I want to call it Resurrection Letters, but I realize I think I should have written an album about Jesus’s resurrection—that this would be the answer—so I want to call this one Resurrection Letters, Volume II.” They were like, “What are you talking about?” I was like, “Star Wars, man; we’re just going to go do the prequel later.” [Laughter] So we called it Resurrection Letters II.
Ten years later was when I finally had the guts to try to write the songs about Jesus’s resurrection. It was this huge, scary project. But eventually, we finished writing Resurrection Letters, Volume I; and then I was like, “Well, that opens with Jesus’s heart beating in the tomb. I feel like we need to, at least, acknowledge the crucifixion; so we went and wrote Resurrection Letters Prologue. The whole thing holds together as: the crucifixion, followed by the resurrection of Jesus, followed by glorying in what is coming to us.
Ann: Take us back. You said that you never really got it, growing up. Talk about when you first got it and what happened.
Andrew: I keep talking about C.S. Lewis. It was reading the Narnia books and The Great Divorce. I don’t know if you guys know The Great Divorce: great, great book. It kind of began the process of making me realize that—I think Lewis said that the people who did the most in God’s name for this world were the people who were thinking the most about the next one—this idea that keeping your eyes fixed on what is to come changes the way you behave now.
I loved that idea. But even when I listen to my older records, I can hear this kind of like “I’ll fly away”-kind of theology that still was missing the puzzle piece that the New Jerusalem descends and God makes His home with us again; that’s what Revelation tells us. That is like, “The good news is better than I thought it was.”
It isn’t just that Jesus died for us, paid for our sin, conquered death so that we could be in heaven. There was almost this: “What for?” kind of elephant in the room, as a kid. I was like, “But why; why would He do all of these things?” And slowly realizing that the answer is because He loves this world. He loves His creation, and He made us to be stewards over it—to rule over it and to take care of it in a proper way—that was the puzzle piece that clicked into place and made me so excited about what’s to come.
I talk to kids who, sometimes, are terrified of eternity. I don’t know if you guys have ever talked to people like that, like the idea that we’re just going to be in this disembodied state, floating around forever: “Who wants to do that?!”
I think one of the—I heard a theologian talk about how, in John 3:16 when it says, “For God so loved the world,” that the—I’m no Greek scholar—but the idea was that the word for “the world”; I always assumed that meant the people in the world—but it actually could be translated: “For God so loved His creation,” which includes us; but it’s all of His creation that He gave His only begotten Son. So He’s in the process of redeeming creation and us. I’m thrilled; you can see that I get excited right now. I get so worked up talking—
Ann: I love it.
Andrew: —because it just feels so/it’s like I just want to go back in time and tell 12-/13-year-old Andrew that all that stuff that he aches to be true is more true than he can believe. It just fills in the blanks that were left in that typical cultural Southern Christianity that I grew up in.
Dave: Talk about—I mean, if you’re thinking about telling 12- and 13-year-old Andrew—a lot of our listeners are parents, like us, who have experienced the radical transformation of the resurrection, not only of Christ, but of our own lives—how do we teach that?—translate that?—pass that on? How did you try to do that with your own kids?
Ann: —besides having them listen to your albums. [Laughter]
Andrew: Right; making them listen to my albums. [Laughter]
I can tell you one of the ways that I have tried to help my kids see it is through gardening. I went through a depression when I was like 40, and it lasted a few years; it was a really tough confusing season for me. It happened to coincide with this awakening to my love for taking care of the property where we live. I started keeping bees and trying to grow flowers. We have this cottage garden out front. A friend of mine gave us this 30-year garden plan; she’s an English gardener, who gave us this really elaborate plan for our property. She was like, “Don’t try to do this all now; it will cost you a fortune. Just pick a little section and work on it every year.”
I was doing all of that work; and at some point, I began to realize that—I don’t know if you’ve ever struggled with depression, but it doesn’t really have a hard-end date—I just realized one day that I was talking about it in the past tense; I was like, “Oh, whatever the thing was is kind of over now.” I realized that the gardening/the putting things in the ground embodied the metaphor for me. It was like I spent a lot of time feeling like God was mad at me—that He was pushing my face into the dirt—that He was punishing me for something I didn’t even know I had done wrong, whatever it was.
I remember vividly going out into the garden with my daughter and taking a little seed and saying, “Hey, it’s spring; we’re going to plant some seeds.” I took the seed, and I pushed its face into the dirt. [Laughter] I kind of wounded the earth in the process: I cut a hole in it and covered it over like a death. We would go out every day to wait for that new life to come breaking through.
It was like—that was when the light bulb began to come on for me that—how much it means that: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof [Psalm 24:1]”; that “The heavens declare His handiwork” and His praise or whatever [Psalm 19:1]. Paul talks about, in Romans, that we’re without excuse; because if you’ve got your eyes peeled, you can see this truth showing up all the time [Romans, Chapter 1]. That, to me, was like, “If God didn’t intend for our bodies to be resurrected one day, then why would He give us such a perfect metaphor for it?”
You asked about how I impressed those things on my kids: I think trying to help them to live close to the earth and in a way that pays attention to God’s creation—to the fact that it is preaching to us—kind of lays the groundwork for this widened imagination for what it means for us to, one day, die and be resurrected.
Dave: Yes; and there is the—as you just/that picture in the garden; and I’m not a big garden guy—but man, I could see the image. It made me think more of death than resurrection; but there is no resurrection without death.
We run from pain; we run from anything that feels like it’s dying. Talk about that a little bit, because you have to embrace a little bit the death of the crucifixion before you can have resurrection. As a mom/as a dad—as a person—how does that impact [us]?
Andrew: A lot of us aren’t super good at dwelling on the dark parts—right?—at church, we tend to kind of brush over that. There’s a whole theology of suffering and of lament in Scripture. Lament needs a place in our worship services, I really think; and silence needs a place, but also celebration and rejoicing. It’s all part of the deal.
I didn’t grow up in a church that did this; but later in life, we ended up in a more liturgical church that celebrates Holy Week to the nines. I love starting with Palm Sunday; it’s like, “Okay, here we go. [Laughter] We’re about to walk through the story in a pretty intense way.” On Wednesday of Holy Week, we would have a Tenebrae service. Have you guys ever heard of this?
Dave: We’ve done it at our church.
Andrew: There’s a zillion ways to do it. But at this church, it was done in a way that ended with darkness: you blow out a candle; you read a Scripture; you remember how broken the world is, but you don’t provide the answer yet; because we’re experiencing it in the wider context of this week. Learning to sit in the grief of the brokenness of the world makes Easter morning all the more precious; doesn’t it?
Andrew: I think that’s part of it: teaching our kids that we don’t have to be afraid to lean into lament and into darkness; let the suffering do its work in us. The fact that you’re suffering doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong necessarily. It could mean that you’re in the cave, because God loves you; not because He doesn’t.
Ann: Go back to that, Andrew, talking about that two-year time of depression; because a lot of us/a lot of our listeners have gone through that. How has it marked you? How has it changed you?
Andrew: I feel a lot of empathy with people who are going through that. Quite a few people came out of the woodwork when I wrote about it in The God of the Garden—people I knew and some people who I didn’t—who have said, “Thank you for expressing this. It’s not often that Christians talk a whole lot about that.” I’ve made some good friends out of the process.
But really, it’s given me a better relationship to time. What I mean by that is that I’m a very impatient person. But gardening—like when I plant a tree now, I plant the tree and I’m better at imagining what it’s going to look like in 15 years—now, I do work in the garden that I go, “Okay, this isn’t going to look great for a while. But I’m going to do the work now, and I’m going to trust that this plan is going to come to fruition.” Ha, ha; pun intended. [Laughter]
What I mean by that is that, when I am in those seasons of suffering, I’m better now at holding onto the fact that this is not going to be forever. That’s the great lie of depression, I think—is that: “This is your life, and it will always be this way,”—and that’s despair. It’s a lack of imagination that, one day, some great good thing could fall into your lap; it’s trusting that the Author of the story has good intentions for you.
For me, it’s like reading our kids stories when they were little, talking, listening to music—great music by people, sometimes, who aren’t even Christians to understand better what it feels like to really ache—and then to show them that Jesus is stronger than all of that/that they don’t have to be afraid to engage with it, because there is a good coming.
Anyway, I could talk about this for days. But one of the/the last thing I would say about that is that I saw this theologian talking about The Lord of the Rings one time. He talked about how one of the main themes is the triumph of hope over despair in that story. Some of the characters despair; and one of them, Denethor, actually commits suicide because he thinks, “How can we ever defeat the Orcs? There’s no way; there’s too much darkness.”
Then Sam and Frodo find their way in—I’m going to spoil the ending for people—but the ring ends up getting destroyed in a way that nobody could foresee. If you’ve read that story for the first time, you would never guess that that’s how it happens. What I love about it is that Frodo is not the hero of The Lord of the Rings, and Sam is not the hero of The Lord of the Rings. The author of the story is the hero of The Lord of the Rings, because providence is the thing that ended up working all of these threads together and allowed the ring to be destroyed in a way that the characters were unable to do on their own.
In that context, if we think of our own lives that way, we don’t have to be the hero of our story; it’s not our job to destroy the ring. It’s our job to be obedient; walk into the darkness, trusting that the Author of the story is good.
Dave: Yes; I think it’s important what you’ve actually modeled for our listeners, especially for parents, is talking about the darkness—not hiding that/not pretending you didn’t struggle—but actually, if we, as parents, could talk about that in our family room with our kids; I think we’re afraid to do that.
I know when we would do a Good Friday service—and we did it for 30 years—we would walk out of Good Friday, like you talked about the Tenebrae: darkness—I always/I was in the planning of those services; I’m like, “What?! We’re going to walk out? No, no, no!” Everything in me is like—
Ann: —he wanted to give hope.
Dave: Yes, everything in me [thought], “We can’t let people walk out!” But because we did—and people are quiet; there’s no talking; it’s dark—then you walk in Sunday, and the resurrection story has so much more power because you’ve experienced the darkness.
I think, as parents—tell me if you agree, Andrew—we need to talk about the darkness and the struggle so that, when we talk about the power of the resurrection, they feel it/we feel it—our family feels it in a way that’s powerful—because we’ve experienced both extremes.
Andrew: Yes, I completely agree. I hope we haven’t done it—I feel like we’ve always erred, Jamie and I, on the side of being open with our kids about what we’re dealing with at whatever time. We’ve had a few times when we’ve let our friends in on some crisis that we’re going through, and we’ll mention in passing that our kids know about it; and they would be like, “You told your kids about this?” It’s like, “Well, yes. We would talk about it over dinner.”
Especially that season when I was in depression, I couldn’t hide it; they knew something was wrong. The worst thing would have been for me to just pretend. Instead, they would say, “What’s going on?” I would say, “I don’t know; I’m just really sad.” And that went on for about two years.
But they would also see Mom and Dad get up in the morning and go to church; and sometimes, stand there, unable to sing, when the songs were too happy—which, by the way, as a person who has led music before—I remember in that moment, whenever people would say, “Now sing; let me hear you sing louder,” I wanted to be like, “Isn’t it enough that I’m here, man?” [Laughter] Like, “I showed up; let me off the hook.” Maybe the people in the audience need to just be silent, and to listen, and to be present.
I’m kind of bouncing all over the place. But I was just thinking how, when somebody’s in real crisis, it doesn’t do a whole lot of good to tell him everything’s going to be okay. What they need is somebody to just feel the pain with them; right?—
Andrew: —and to just say, “I’m so sorry,” and to weep with them. We get to do that; we get to grieve like those who have hope [1 Thessalonians 4:13]; right? I don’t know exactly—I messed up that quote—but you know what I mean.
But we don’t have to be afraid of grieving; we don’t have to be afraid of trying to fix it all today. That goes for when you’re trying to lead somebody to Jesus. Sometimes, we feel this great pressure to like: “This is the conversation, “I’ve got this one chance.” It’s like, “Man, it’s going to be a thousand conversations; and it’s going to be a thousand meals together, walking together.”
That’s kind of what I’m getting at when I talk about my relationship to time, like I’m learning to be patient with the suffering and really give that seed time to germinate.
Ann: The good news is that Easter is just around the corner, and that is our hope. The resurrection of Christ is always our hope as we keep our eyes on Him—whether we’re in a good place or a bad place—to have Him at the center.
We’re just wondering, Andrew, could you pray for our listeners/for all of us as we close and as Easter’s approaching? Could you just pray for us?
Most merciful God, we give You thanks and praise that, when we were still far off, You met us in Your Son and brought us home. Thank You so much for giving us such a good story. We pray that You would please come back soon. In Christ’s name, Amen.
Dave and Ann: Amen.
[Risen Indeed playing]
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Andrew Peterson on FamilyLife Today. You’ll find links to his album, Resurrection Letters, in today’s show notes and at FamilyLifeToday.com.
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Tomorrow, we’re going to hear from two more musicians, Keith and Kristyn Getty. They helped write the modern hymn, In Christ Alone, which, of course, if you’ve heard it, you know it’s a beautiful and theologically-rich song. You’ll see that’s something they’re very, very passionate about when you hear from them tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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©Song: Risen Indeed
Artist: Andrew Peterson
Album: Resurrection Letters, Volume I (2018)by Andrew Petersonon Centricity Music
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