Observing Grief: 2

C. S. Lewis was profoundly changed, as one should be, by his marriage to Joy Davidman. A Grief Observed is his ordeal of dealing with her death in light of the Gospel and the goodness of God. We turn to chapter two at present since chapter one is discussed in a previous entry. Chapter one concludes with Lewis still hearing her voice vividly, a voice that can turn him into a “whimpering child” at any moment.

C.S. Lewis with Joy Davidman

We pick up the second chapter with a real fear, that Lewis’s opened door to love and affection will now close again. “Oh God, God, why did you take such trouble to force this creature out of its shell if it is doomed to crawl back — to be sucked back — into it?” Lewis asks.

It’s a legitimate question. Why do we let lose our affections when we know that they’ll be broken with death or distrust or some other pain? Lewis struggles with an answer and he cringes to know that the raw memory of his wife will soon fade with time and through the natural process of grieving.

He struggles too with where exactly Joy resides, “in what place is she at the present time?” he asks. If not in a body then where? And Lewis wonders that if it’s not the body he knows and loves, than is she still she? “Kind people have said to me, ‘She is with God,'” he says. “In one sense that is most certain. She is, like God, incomprehensible and unimaginable.”

Even though the answer might be true, it doesn’t relinquish any pull away from his grief. “Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly,” he says perhaps with his throat curled up, “Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolation of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.”

The truth? There is nothing easy about loss, and even that sounds cheap and pat. Lewis rails about her being in God’s hands and if that’s so, “she was in God’s hands all the time, and I have seen what they did to her here. Do they suddenly become gentler to us the moment we are out of the body?  And if so, why?”

Lewis can’t measure up God’s goodness with hurting us, as he puts it. He wonders if there’s really good in God or whether there is a God at all.  Will Lewis work himself out from under his  desperate venting to God? Maybe not entirely. For now, he questions all of it and asks if it’s a big practical joke – Jesus, the cross and the whole set up.

“Why do I make room in my mind for such filth and nonsense?” he asks. “Do I hope that if feeling disguises itself as thought I shall feel less? Aren’t all these notes the senseless writhings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it.”

Maybe so, but it’s encouraging to walk with Lewis, closely knit to grief and discovering grace again, despite the questions and the knife wound made by real suffering.

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