Sunday, April 10, 2016

Grief

A Grief Observed is the journal C.S. Lewis kept after the death of his wife, Joy Davidman. It was published pseudonymously in 1961. His faith was shaken and unlike an earlier book, The Problem of Pain, in which he attempts a logical argument explaining how suffering happens in a universe created by a good and loving God, this is an account of an emotional response to loss. I first discovered the book in the bookstore of what was then known as Nyack Missionary College during a Seventh Day Baptist General Conference there in a summer in the 1960s. The book is very short — only 60 pages — so quickly read that I was able to recommend it to others that very week. One of the responses I got was particularly disappointing: "But it doesn't give an answer." And truly it doesn't tell us why God allows suffering — but neither does Scripture. The book does lead us vicariously through an experience that each of us has had, or will have.

From the first page:
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me. ....
Later:
.... You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn't you then first discover how much you really trusted it? The same with people. For years 1 would have said that I had perfect confidence in B.R. Then came the moment when I had to decide whether I would or would not trust him with a really important secret. That threw quite a new light on what I called my 'confidence' in him. I discovered that there was no such thing. Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief. Apparently the faith — I thought it faith — which enables me to pray for the other dead has seemed strong only because 1 have never really cared, not desperately, whether they existed or not. Yet I thought I did. ....

Feelings, and feelings, and feelings. Let me try thinking instead. From the rational point of view, what new factor has H's death introduced into the problem of the universe? What grounds has it given me for doubting all that I believe? I knew already that these things, and worse, happened daily. I would have said that I had taken them into account. I had been warned — I had warned myself — not to reckon on worldly happiness. We were even promised sufferings. They were part of the programme. We were even told 'Blessed are they that mourn' and I accepted it. I've got nothing that I hadn't bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination. Yes; but should it, for a sane man, make quite such a difference as this? No. And it wouldn't for a man whose faith had been real faith and whose concern for other people's sorrows had been real concern. The case is too plain. If my house has collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards. The faith which 'took these things into account' was not faith but imagination. The taking them into account was not real sympathy. If I had really cared, as I thought I did, about the sorrows of the world, I should not have been so overwhelmed when my own sorrow came. It has been an imaginary faith playing with innocuous counters labelled 'Illness', 'Pain', 'Death' and 'Loneliness'. I thought I trusted the rope until it mattered to me whether it would bear me. Now it matters, and I find I didn't. ....
It gets better — Lewis didn't lose his faith in God or in God's goodness. It is, I think, one of the best books for those bereaved.

A Grief Observed at Amazon