Stumbling Toward Eternity

Losing & Finding Ourselves in the Cross of Jesus

About the Book

Live with freedom and abundance as you freshly discover the cross of Jesus through the powerful stories and biblical insights of influential preacher and musician Josh White.

“[A] vision of gospel hope.”—John Mark Comer

Desperation reverberates at the very center of our anxious age. Despite our fiercest efforts, we never seem to find the meaning, depth, and beauty we long for. Where do we turn? There are so many voices promising happiness and endless ladders for us to climb toward a wholeness we can’t seem to reach.

Yet what if what we are looking for has already come down to us?

In Stumbling Toward Eternity, writer, pastor, and recording artist Josh White offers confessional stories and theological insights as he interprets the pain of his own past, the complicated “mixture” of the present, and the beautiful uncertainty of the future through the lens of grace. Using crisp and honest prose, he reveals why the most familiar symbol of Christianity—the cross of Jesus—is also the most misunderstood. He shows us why the goal of our desperate existence is not arriving at perfection or success but knowing the crucified Christ.

The cross is not something to climb toward status. It is something to die on. It is where illusions die and wounds are healed. The cross is where the crucified God speaks over us words that bring freedom. Freedom from futility. Freedom to live with hope. Freedom to truly love.

When we lose and find ourselves in the cross of Jesus, we discover that even the most dissonant notes of life can be redeemed in His song, even as we stumble toward eternity.
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Praise for Stumbling Toward Eternity

“Josh White has done the hard work of facing his troubled past and finding the thread of grace that has long made beauty from ashes. Many will resonate with the pain of his upbringing; even more will come alive at his vision of gospel hope.”—John Mark Comer, author of The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

Stumbling Toward Eternity is a bit like its author: intrepid and infectious, openhearted yet unflinching, and singularly focused on the grace of God for nontheoretical sinners. . . . This book is redemption made plain, essential reading for anyone in need of real hope. And the footnotes alone are worth the price of admission!”—David Zahl, founder of Mockingbird Ministries and author of Low Anthropology

“These pages hold deep theology, rich memoir, and a call to enter the life you were made for with God. Josh’s vulnerability with his heartbreak and shortcomings will give you the courage to face your own head-on and discover there the presence of the crucified King.”—Joshua Ryan Butler, lead pastor of Redemption Tempe, author of Beautiful Union

“Josh White artfully interweaves his own story of trauma and healing with God’s redemptive plan for all humanity. One cannot help but walk away from this text with a deeper sense of the never-ending grace and all-encompassing love of God.”—Jake Johnson, PhD, LMFT, associate professor of marriage and family therapy at Wheaton College

Stumbling Toward Eternity can be described in various ways: compelling, faithful, engaging, hope-filled, beautifully written—but most of all, it is real.”—Mark R. McMinn, PhD, author of The Science of Virtue

Stumbling Toward Eternity weaves together the historical reality of Jesus’s crucifixion and how Christ crucified brings healing, beauty, and redemption to our fragile humanity. Raw, honest, funny, and perhaps, most important, hopeful.”—Rick McKinley, founding pastor of Imago Dei Community, Portland

“Josh White takes us into the very heart of Jesus’s story, reminding us that His story is also ours…. The suffering of Christ is our only hope.”—Patrick Schreiner, author of The Visual Word 

“I read this book over and over, drinking in the reminders of the love of God, the stories of His people’s suffering, and the confusion we all face when life goes bad . . . This should be required reading for every follower of Jesus.”—Diane Comer, author of He Speaks in the Silence 

“While this book gives a glimpse into Josh’s heart, it also provides an expansive view of the ragged terrain of everyman’s soul and the wounded healer who beckons us to His cross.”—Josh Garrels, musician and owner of Small Voice Records

“This book will take its place next to the great classics penned by the cloud of witnesses who similarly and obsessively clung to Christ’s cross through countless seasons of cultural upheaval and spiritual decline.”—Evan Wickham, worship leader, songwriter, and lead pastor of Park Hill Church, San Diego
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Stumbling Toward Eternity

The First Word from the Cross

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” —­Luke 23:33–­34

The Wounded Hand & the Clenched Fist

Forgiveness saves. Forgiveness reconciles. Forgiveness must permeate our politics again; forgiveness and not moral codes; forgiveness and not Moses-­zeal! For forgiveness alone makes it possible for us to live together. Forgiveness alone heals wounds. Forgiveness does not make void the laws of God; no indeed, it teaches us to keep them. —­Karl Barth, Come, Holy Spirit: Sermons

No words have haunted me with such paradoxical beauty like the first recorded words that fell from the lips of Jesus as He hung in agony, naked and beaten beyond recognition. Not even the crowd’s derision could silence the two-­edged sword that He spoke from His parched and bloody lips. This was His heart of mercy spoken over and against the blinding violence of alienated humanity.

It is here we find the God of yes with His reconciliation on display through Jesus the suffering servant. This is forgiveness not requested but personified and proclaimed. Jesus’s open and pierced hands are contrasted against the clenched fists of the hateful mob, absorbing the vitriol and violence of human history. Jesus’s glory is revealed in His humiliation. The elective love of God is on display. He chooses—­for He alone is truly free—­to love sinners in their sin. He is a forgiving God because He is love. Neither forgiveness nor wrath are a part of His essential nature; rather they are the outcome of His holy character violated. We have done much, known and unknown, that needs forgiveness. Ignorance is not innocence, but the good news that falls from the forsaken God’s lips is that He is a God of mercy. In the anguish, there was also the joy set before Him, which is you. This is judgment and re-­creation. This is the great exchange: Our sin blotted out through His spilled blood. This is the Judge who was judged in our place. It is the heart of the Father being revealed through the Spirit-­filled Son’s atoning work. He does not need us, but He is not content to exist without us. To be forgiven is to be embraced by the forgiving God. To be forgiven is to be freed to forgive and love.

Second Fragment

You Didn’t Want to Be with Me

[ 1975 ]

A dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it.

—­Mary Karr, The Liars’ Club

He watched with unblinking eyes, too large for his disheveled head. He was clinging so tightly to his teddy that his hands had turned a whitish blue. He was staring, alone in his fear, out of a dirty window from the back seat of his father’s run-­down car at a volatile scene he did not understand. You could hear his heartbeat almost as loudly as his parents’ muffled screams while he watched the scene through tears. His mother was hitting his outraged father like a wild animal.

This is my earliest memory. It’s vivid but silent when I play through it in my mind, like an out-­of-body experience, which makes it all the more unsettling.

When I was one, my parents had divorced. On this visit, Dad was drunk and had put me in the back of his car. Mom later told me I kept crying, “Please don’t let him take me, Mommy!” while my Father yelled, “He is my son too!” I can see the scene, but I do not hear it. What is etched upon my mind is two people fighting over me, in front of me, while I am invisible. Despite the silence of this remembered event, even today I find the emotions of it are still present and impactful.


Forty-­four years later, while I was visiting my father in his run-­down, filthy, cigarette-­stained home in rural Alaska, he brought up that incident. Between drags of Camel Red and sips of vodka, with greasy hair stuck to his forehead and a highly flammable breathing tube in his nose, Dad spoke to me. The words came in his crackling baritone voice that never seems to have enough air: “I am still pissed at you for that, Joshua!”

“Pissed at me for what?”

“That you didn’t want to be with me!”

“I was two!”

“I am still pissed!”

As with most conversations with my father these days, this dialogue came suddenly to an end. There was a stilted and abrupt quality to his speech, as it moved without warning between nostalgia, worry, agitation, and sudden silence. I am sure this was due to a lifetime of substance abuse and years of isolation. Words were spoken and then abandoned as he retreated into an interior solitude that matched the loneliness of the Alaskan landscape around him.

How could he say that to me? The words pressed down on me with a near-­otherworldly significance—­not because they were true but because they were honest. He felt rejected, angry, and alone; he had pushed those feelings down and hid. Now, finally, he had confessed. He had released his grievance, and we were left with the sadness and absurdity of the words. His statement stood between us—­as cold and oppressive as the permanent twilight and subzero weather outside. But as I sat in the discomfort of that smoke-­filled space, an understanding began to slowly wash over my frustration in what I can only describe as a holy intervention. As Dad stared out the window at the snow-­covered ground, fighting to breathe, I saw him in his brokenness as a child, and there I found compassion. My lips unlocked and my tongue loosened: “I am sorry, Dad.”

“It’s okay, Joshua. I’m just having a hard time at the moment, son.”

“I know, Dad. I love you.”

“I love you too, son. I’m glad you’re here. Your old man is usually tougher than this.”

“I know, Dad.”

End of conversation.

About the Author

Josh White
Josh White is a speaker, recording artist, writer, and founding pastor of Door of Hope, a thriving church community in the heart of Portland. He has recorded multiple worship albums, including as the frontman of Telecast. Josh has also produced numerous records, including Liz Vice’s first album, There’s a Light. Josh and his wife, Darcy, reside in Portland, Oregon, with their son and daughter. More by Josh White
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