C.S. Lewis poured out his grief in his journals after the death of his wife, which became this, his last published book (he died three years after his wife).
Lewis' most popular book (after the Chronicles of Narnia series) is the great defense of the Christian faith, Mere Christianity. But when faced with devastating loss and suffering, Lewis starts to question many of the statements of his own faith.
Here is just a short list of some of the effects of grief Lewis experienced:
- There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says
- Then comes a red-hot jab of memory and all this "commonsense" vanishes like an ant in the mouth of a furnace
- An odd by-product of my loss is that I'm aware of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet
- Part of the misery is... the misery's shadow... the fact that you don't merely suffer, but you have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer
- Grief still feels like fear. Perhaps, more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting...it gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn't seem worth starting anything...
- Up till this I always had too little time Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.
- At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall eventually be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again.
- Reality, looked at steadily, is unbearable
- Meanwhile, where is God? ...go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what to do you find? A door slammed in your face.
- Time after time, when He seemed most gracious, He was really preparing the next torture
- Aren't all these notes the senseless writings of a man who won't accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it?
Another hard statement that Lewis made:
Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand.I can understand where he's coming from here. Though I have not struggled with grief, I have suffered with depression, (a much more selfish relative of grief). It does no good when people try to comfort or encourage me in this state. There is no consolation in religion when facing grief or other forms of suffering, except the fact that God is in control and he sees the bigger picture we cannot yet see. And that is a hard fact to cling to. Sometimes you grasp it; other times the best you can do is cry, "I believe - help my unbelief." In the worst of times, like Lewis, you loathe God as a sadist, or in my case, berate myself for ever believing in Him and his very out-of-date Word in the first place.
Lewis refers to the notion of the hope of future family reunions on "the furthest shore" as foolishness:
There's not a word of it in the Bible. We know it rings false. We know it couldn't be like that. Reality never repeats. The exact same thing is never taken away and given back.On the other hand, there is Biblical assurance that there will be no more tears when God creates the new heaven and earth. But Lewis is right on one thing: it won't be the same. We know, for instance, that there is no marriage in heaven, as there is on earth. I am now curious to read what Lewis writes in his book "The Business of Heaven." I find it interesting, and a bit odd, that Lewis never mentions any of his previous work, either to defend it or refute it. He says simply this:
Heaven will solve our problems, but not, I think, by showing us subtle reconciliations between all our apparently contradictory notions. The notions will all be knocked down from under our feet. We shall see that there never was any problem.I also struggled to understand what Lewis meant by this statement:
I begin to see. My love for H. was of much the same quality as my faith in God... But neither was the thing I thought it was.Then a whole chapter later, almost near the end, this:
My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins... All reality is iconoclastic. The earthly beloved, even in this life, incessantly triumphs over your mere idea of her.(I had to look up the meaning of iconoclast: a breaker or destroyer of images, esp. those set up for religious veneration; a person who attacks cherished beliefs, traditional institutions).
This idea of God using various means - suffering, including death - to shatter our conceptions of Him in order to know Him better (and likewise with our loved ones) is also expressed here:
Bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love. It follows marriage as normally as marriage follows courtship or as autumn follows summer. It is not a truncation of the process but one of its phases; not the interruption of the dance, but the next figure. We are "taken out of ourselves" by the loved one while she is here. Then comes the tragic figure of the dance in which we must learn to be still taken out of ourselves, though the bodily presence is withdrawn, to love the very her, and not fall back to loving our past, or our memory, or our sorrow, or relief from sorrow, or our own love.In other words, I think, we don't know how full, how deep our faith in God can go, or the same for our love for a beloved, until we reach the point where we have to go on without their presence. Even Jesus knew a moment where he cried, "My God, why have you forsaken me?"
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 that didn't.