Death leaves us feeling flat and thinking the world mean. Lewis knew it, but Joy’s passing made it real and in full color. He questions in the third chapter of A Grief Observed what kind of faith he had, and, if, “my house has collapsed at one blow.” He calls his faith a house of cards – more imagination than true faith. “If I really cared, as I thought I did, about the sorrows of the world, I should not have been so overwhelmed when my sorrow came,” he says.
Faith means we have “money on the game,” and the bet is whether God is a good God or a Cosmic Sadist. In other words, does he inflict pain for no real purpose beside some tortuous delight, or are loss and grief and trials for something more?
Doctrine says it’s the latter, and Lewis is inching closer to a place where theology and grief will again see each other, eye-to-eye. But, as Lewis points out, it’s all the more difficult when it’s not you and it’s about another person and their pain.
“But oh God,” says Lewis, “tenderly, tenderly. Already, month by month and week by week you broke her body on the wheel whilst she still wore it. Is it not yet enough?”
It’s not enough. “The more we believe that God hurts only to heal,” Lewis says, “the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness.”
And isn’t this suggestive of his holiness and Truth? Because if the bet could be altered and the “money on the game” would give us an out, then the pain would be pointless. Lewis compares God to a dentist and suggests that God’s goodness does not negate the decay inside of us and his need to alleviate it.
Somewhere, past the emptiness (yet always swallowed in it), there is a peace and a celebration of a life lived and the life to come. Lewis begins to recount the importance of Joy’s life and the blessings of his marriage, apart from the pain of her death. And, he begins to circle to the point: “[God] always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.” However, he knows there is no “getting over it” – not really – and it’s not something he says flippantly. Rather, he sees grief as distancing himself from Joy and the love he has for her. The folktales mention mourning as doing some kind of wrong to the dead. “They beg us to stop,” he says. But it’s difficult. Grief is unending and layered with uncertainty, regret, love, anger and so much more.
Chapter three ends this way: “They say, ‘The coward dies many times’; so does the beloved. Didn’t the eagle find a fresh liver to tear in Prometheus every time it dined?