Words: Liuan Chen Huska ’09
Photos: Greg Halvorsen Schreck
When Heather Joy Zimmerman Ph.D. ’22 was 17, her best friend died and her father was diagnosed with cancer within the same week. These personal experiences—and working with others who are suffering in YouthWorks, a summer program connecting teens to missions opportunities—have fueled Heather’s intention to augment the church’s theology of lament and suffering.
As a doctoral student in Wheaton’s program for biblical and theological studies, Heather integrates this goal with her gift for faithfully preaching Scripture. Her dissertation contends that individual psalms, particularly lament psalms such as Psalm 89, mean more when preached in the context of the entire psalter. The psalms, Heather said, model individual and communal lament, adding that lament is something white Christians in particular can learn to practice better.
“[White Christians] often feel very uncomfortable with pain and suffering, but then we don’t actually get to experience the healing work that comes through lament,” she said.
As Heather has pushed through her doctoral coursework, her extroverted nature has made her grateful for the support of Wheaton’s tight-knit, cross-disciplinary Ph.D. community, and the personal investment of her supervisor, Dr. Richard Schultz. Though she is a preacher in a male-dominated sphere, Heather can recall several key moments when a male colleague has affirmed her gifts. For instance, one night during a particularly difficult season, she wrote in her journal, “God, why have you given me these gifts and passions and made me a woman? It seems cruel.” Three years to the date, she received a text from a friend inviting her to serve on the board of the Evangelical Homiletics Society, an academic society supporting biblical preaching. Observing how God prompted her friend to recommend her for such an influential role, Heather notes that God is “a God of great reversals.”
“I have an academic mind, but a practitioner’s heart,” Heather said. She hopes to teach Old Testament and homiletics at a Bible college or seminary while also giving pastoral aid to those who work on the front lines of ministry.
“I hope to work in academia as a means of equipping leaders throughout the global church,” Heather said.