I Have Parkinson’s and I Am at Peace

Wayne Grudem has been a friend for over 45 years. We have walked through a lot together in scholarship and family life. When I spoke with him yesterday to see how he was doing, he said, “The last time I looked, Romans 8:28 was still in the Bible.” I smiled, and said, “You did a good job editing the ESV. Thanks for not taking it out.” When the roots go as deep as they do with Wayne and me, laughter is the fruit of indomitable joy. Join me in praying that God would heal the body, sustain the faith, and give the strength for the work Wayne believes he is still called to do. We asked him if we could let you know about this with his letter he had sent to some friends. Thank you, Wayne. –John Piper

Last Wednesday I saw my family doctor with some puzzling symptoms, and he suspected Parkinson’s disease. He referred me to a neurologist, and on Friday, she confirmed that I definitely have Parkinson’s disease.

This is a progressive neurological disorder for which there is no known cure, but there are medicines that alleviate the symptoms and may slow the progress of the disease. The doctor started me on one medicine that helps some patients, but not others. She did not think my symptoms were severe enough to start me on the most common medicine (dopamine), because its effectiveness diminishes over time and she did not want to start it too early.

We have begun the process of seeking an appointment at Barrow Neurological Institute, which is, according to Wikipedia, “the world’s largest neurological disease treatment and research institution” and is here in Phoenix.

The symptoms that I have now include a diminishing of fine-motor control, so that my handwriting is less legible and more crowded together; and in typing, I sometimes hit a key twice or not at all; and my mouse control is not as precise with the computer. It’s also harder to button my shirts, and I sometimes feel a tiny tremor when I reach for things. I can still do all these things, but they are a bit slower and take more concentration. In addition, I seem to be moving my arms and legs more slowly in ordinary daily activities. And my wife, Margaret, says that sometimes my facial expression seems a bit “fallen,” and I notice that it’s harder to smile. In recent photos, my smile has not seemed as genuine or natural, but more forced.

The symptoms and the rate of progression of the disease vary widely from patient to patient and are apparently impossible to predict. Sometimes the progression is very slow, as with Billy Graham who has had Parkinson’s for 26 years (he is now 96 years old). The actor Michael J. Fox also has Parkinson’s and has continued to function. In other people, however, the disease progresses more quickly.

Deep Peace from the Lord

How are we doing? Margaret has been a wonderful help and encouragement, and she keeps reminding me that “we’re in this together.” She is an amazing, most wonderful wife.

We both feel a deep peace from the Lord about this. King David said to the Lord, “My times are in your hand” (Psalm 31:15), and I truly feel that way.

Parkinson’s usually does not shorten a person’s life expectancy very much, but in any case, I’m happy to live as long as the Lord wills that I live, and to keep on being productive for as long as he enables me to do so. “In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:16).

But I would like, if God allows, to finish my current major writing projects:

  1. a textbook on Christian ethics, which I hope will take me about one more year to finish after the first draft is done — or until January 2017

  2. a revised edition of my book Systematic Theology, which should take from 2017 to 2019

I plan to continue to teach at Phoenix Seminary, so long as I am able to teach effectively. (The seminary will be moving in July, 2017 to a new location to be built just twelve minutes from our house.)

Fulfill the Ministry You Have Received

Here are some other verses which the Lord has brought to my mind a number of times in the last year, and which seem especially appropriate now:

  • “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). I need to be a wise steward of my remaining days.

  • “David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep” (Acts 13:36). All I want to do is to serve the purpose of God for me in my generation.

  • “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord” (Colossians 4:17). This verse has been especially forceful in my mind for the last year or so — I deeply want to “fulfill the ministry that [I] have received in the Lord,” which I understand to be the ethics textbook and the Systematic Theology revision.

Then on a personal level, I am concerned to make wise plans so that Margaret will be well cared for if the time should come when I am unable to work and to help with ordinary tasks.

Other verses that have become more meaningful in the last few days:

  • “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:20–21). My hope of a perfect, Christ-like, resurrection body is even stronger now.

  • “We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:16–17). Parkinson’s is a “light momentary affliction” in the light of eternity.

  • “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25–26). My personal fellowship with God is far more precious than any measure of physical health, and I deeply and truly feel that right now.

I would appreciate your prayers for the projects I mentioned above, and for continuing good medical care, and also, if the Lord wills, for partial or full healing, whether through medicine or through his miraculous intervention.

I am at peace.

is research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary and author of Systematic Theology. He co-founded the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood and served as the general editor of the ESV Study Bible.