Clive Staples Lewis( or Jack as he would rather be called) is perhaps one of the most influential writers in history. His works especially those in relation to the Christian faith has being quoted, discussed and widely praised over the years.
To me, one of my favourite books written by Lewis is that of “A Grief Observed”. As I read and delved in the words written on those pages, I realised that this was not merely just a “book” in its ordinary sense but so much more. It’s pages are filled with brutal honesty, questions, and no nonsense answers.
This book was first published under the pseudonym N.W. Clerk. It was written by Lewis after the death of his wife Helen Joy Gresham (referred to as “H” in the book). In a moment of severe grief and anguish due to her death, Lewis observes all that he is undergoing. It is an unfiltered observation in which he tries to make sense of grief/suffering and all the questions it inevitably brings.
- No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear
Lewis compares grief to a mixture of feelings and emotions. Those moments of being afraid, drunk, self pity, laziness and wallow. It is agonising, painful and lonely.
2. Meanwhile, where is God?
At the time of writing this, Lewis was someone who would be seen by many as a “solid food Christian” (to borrow Paul’s metaphor). He was well known not just in England but also in other countries as a famous author and Christian. More so, he was regarded as one of the leading apologist of that time.
But in this time of grief, his faith is greatly challenged. He writes:
“When you are happy, so happy you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels — welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.”
In contemplating these questions, Lewis states that he still believes in the existence of God. But his greatest fear is coming to the conclusion that God is not what he all along thought was. From a human perspective at this time of grief, the prima facie evidence points towards not a loving God but rather a cosmic sadist, the spiteful imbecile.
Here is a man who is well known as a great defender of the Christian faith beginning to show doubt. He begins to lash out at God for his suffering and loss and begins to question whether God is really a loving God. In the bible, Job also displays similar emotions when everything was taken away from him. From this we can learn that as a human being, we can never be perfect. We will always fall short of God’s grace from time to time. No matter how well we may try to portray to others a perfect image of ourselves, when faced with difficult times, we will crumble and fall from our own efforts. However, in these times of failures we should always turn to God. By turning to God, we can confront him with our questions and our shortcomings. For Lewis, he showed honest frustration that God seemed silent during this period and he made sure that God knew this. But, he still turned to God nonetheless.
3. House of cards
In Chapter three, Lewis begins to explore these questions from a rational point of view. He begins by acknowledging that he had already being warned of worldly happiness. He quotes Mathew 5:4 “blessed are they that mourn” and states that we were promised suffering therefore everything that he is experiencing is what he had bargained for.
This view by Lewis is directly contrary to those shared by some. Some have subscribed to the notion that being a Christian will result in a “good life”. Blindly, they fail to recognise the paradox of such a notion. Christ did not die on the cross so you can have a good materialistic life in this world. He died so we can have eternal life with him in heaven. In this world, we will face suffering because we are foreigners here and will be considered as such.
Lewis realises that although he knew that suffering was “part of the deal” in his Christian walk, he had only accepted it when it happened to others and not to himself. When it did occur to him, his faith collapsed like a house of cards because it was never real faith to begin with but rather imaginary faith. He had trusted the rope but when it mattered on whether it could bear his weight over a precipice, his faith disappeared.
Lewis then presents us with the analogy of a surgeon. If you are up against a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good, the kinder and more conscientious he is, the deeper he will go on cutting. If the surgeon stops in the middle of surgery because of your “suffering”, all the pain up to that point would be rendered useless and you would not be rid of your ailments and diseases. Therefore if there is a good God, then these tortures and suffering are indeed necessary. Coming to God and having faith in him does not mean that he will let us be. We come to God because we acknowledge our fallen condition and only God can make us perfect, so to speak. But, this will require pain and suffering on our side.
What do people mean when they say, ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good’? Have they never even been to a dentist?