Joy escaped death once. The impossible miracle occurred when her cancer went into remission. For the next two years, Jack and Joy reveled in their young marriage. But in November of 1959, her cancer came back throughout her body. Joy was dying. On July 11, 1960 she succumbed to the disease and left with the words, “I am at peace with God.” Her death paralyzed Jack. He could barely pray and his writing stopped. The once great hero of the faith was shattered by overwhelming darkness and doubt. In his book A Grief Observed, he candidly wrote of his struggle.
"Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that 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. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?
. . . Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about him."
Fantasy author Madeleine L’Engle wrote about A Grief Observed:
“I am grateful to Lewis for having the courage to yell, to doubt, to kick at God in angry violence. This is a part of a healthy grief which is not often encouraged. It is helpful indeed that C. S. Lewis, who has been such a successful apologist for Christianity, should have the courage to admit doubt about what he has so superbly proclaimed. It gives us permission to admit our own doubts, our own angers and anguishes, and to know that they are part of the soul’s growth.”
I am thankful for the weight of C.S. Lewis’ works that encourage and challenge me in my faith as a Christ follower. But A Grief Observed reminds me, like no other book I know, about the fragility of life, our tightrope of faith and the devastation of death. This was Jack’s Gethsemane. May we find an anchor when we enter our Gethsemanes.
How has grief drawn you closer to the heart of God?
A Grief Observed (1961)
This short book was written shortly after C.S. Lewis lost the love of his life, Joy, to cancer. For weeks after his wife’s death, Lewis penned about his pain, doubt and struggle with God in various notebooks in his home. Those notes were collected to create the book. Joy’s death shook everything Lewis believed and published up to that point. His conclusion to the pain? “Bereavement is a universal and integral part of the experience of love.” The raw, transparent nature of A Grief Observed makes it his most poignant and powerful work.
Interesting Fact: Lewis wrote the book under the pseudonym N.W. Clerk because of the intimate and personal nature of the material.
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