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Wednesday, 18 June 2008

God and Grief - An Essay

Can God be found in Grief?
Or is God Lost?

Both C.S. Lewis and Jerome A. Miller in their respective works, A Grief Observed and The Way of Suffering, deal with the questions of faith and doubt and love, in and through the process of grief. The question we will examine is: Did Lewis actually find God in a deeper way, or did he lose his God or understanding of God, through the grief he experienced at the loss of his wife Joy? Both of these scholars present very differently in the works we are examining: Lewis's writing is very raw and visceral and written in the moment of pain and grief and loss of his wife Joy, whereas Miller's argument is much more scholarly and is written as a clearly defined argument.

To begin with, Lewis himself stated in his book The Four Loves: "We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting t
hem and offering them to Him, throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it." This book by Lewis is an academic study of the four different loves. In A Grief Observed we have a very different approach. Lewis presents a very visceral response to the loss of his wife. An example of this is that Lewis states at the beginning of the book: "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." Where Miller declares in his paper: "God writes straight with crooked lines. The most crooked path conceivable is the one that leads us up to God by inviting us to follow the intimations that lead us straight down into our own nothingness." Lewis does indeed go down that path and comes out the other side with a new perspective and experience. (Note: Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis's stepson recently released a book about Lewis called Jack's Life. It includes a DVD interview, where Gresham states that Lewis did not intend to publish A Grief Observed; it was a personal notebook. When it was published it was under the pseudonym NW Clark and by a publisher Lewis had never published with. Gresham also said that Lewis received numerous copies of the book as gifts from friends who thought it would help.) Lewis's stepson Douglas Gresham shared in an interview how much Lewis grieved, yet came out the other end with an even deeper faith. He stated that he wrote the book about Lewis to share about the man he loved and respected, who was a true Christian gentleman.

Miller states: "When we lose the thing that gives us so clear, so perfect an intimation of something infinitely precious, loss seems the most deadly of wounds, dashing everything we have longed for. But what we never suspect, what we never in a million years would have thought to anticipate, is the simple truth that the only way we can ever find that infinitely loveable reality we have always looked for is by losing that very thing that has given us the most perfect intimation of it" Lewis comes to the same conclusion in a very different way. He declares: "God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't." Lewis has come to the conclusion that through the process and pain of his grief he has come back to God in a deeper, truer and more full way. He has learned how to love and love fully through this process. This is contrasted with what Lewis stated earlier in the book: "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." Lewis feared that he would come out of the process of grief with a distorted, evil view of God. Instead, he goes through this process with a belief in God.

Lewis describes Grief as a journey. "Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape. As I've already noted, not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left miles ago. … There are partial recurrences, but the sequence doesn't repeat." Lewis went down that long journey and as Miller says, he comes out with a new insight, impression and experience of the divine. Miller states: "Those who have suffered a mortal loss, those who have allowed it to shatter them, know that God does not prevent it from happening."

Lewis states: "Yet that would have been best for me. Praise is the mode of love which always has some element of Joy in it. Praise is due order; of Him as the giver, of her as the gift. Don't we in praise somehow enjoy what we praise, however far we are from it?" When we compare that statement with Miller's: "In the other Case, something has happened to us at some point that broke through the surface and penetrated the most secret, intimate part of the self. Some agony, some joy, some terrible suffering, or some transporting ecstasy made us think, at least while it was happening, that we were in the presence of something of absolute transcendent importance." Lewis clearly made that progression; he has gone from anger to a greater experience of God through his suffering.

Endnotes:

Lewis, C.S., The Four Loves, Harper Collins, London, 1960 p.148
Lewis, C.S., A Grief Observed, Harper Collins, London, 1961 p.1
Miller, Jerome A., The Way of Suffering, Second Opinions, No. April, pp.21-23
Miller, Jerome A., The Way of Suffering, Second Opinions, No. April, pp.21-23
Lewis, C.S., A Grief Observed, Harper Collins, London, 1961 p.61
Lewis, C.S., A Grief Observed, Harper Collins, London, 1961 p.5
Lewis, C.S., A Grief Observed, Harper Collins, London, 1961 p.69
Miller, Jerome A., The Way of Suffering, Second Opinions, No. April, pp.21-23
Lewis, C.S., A Grief Observed, Harper Collins, London, 1961 p.72
Miller, Jerome A., The Way of Suffering, Second Opinions, No. April, pp.21-23

(Written for RS 100M Love & Friendship Fall 2006.)
(Click here for my review of A Grief Observed.)



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