Posts Tagged ‘sadness’

grief

A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

The short book entitled “A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis relates how the author joined the human race when his wife and spirited poet, Joy Gresham, died of cancer. Lewis, the Oxford professor whose Christian apologetics make it seem like he’s got an answer for everything, experienced crushing doubt for the first time during her illness and after his wife’s tragic death. A Grief Observed contains meaningful reflections on that period: “Your bid–for God or no God, for a good God or the Cosmic Sadist, for eternal life or nonentity–will not be serious if nothing much is staked on it. And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horribly high,” Lewis writes. “Nothing will shake a man–or at any rate a man like me–out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.”

This is the book that inspired the film Shadowlands but it is more wrenching, more revelatory, and more real than the movie. It is a beautiful and unflinchingly honest record of how even a stalwart believer can lose all sense of meaning in the universe, and how he can gradually regain his bearings.

Although this book is non-fiction it is written like the author of so many famous books of fiction can write.  Yet, from a very personal standpoint, Lewis comes to grips with the reality of terminal illness.  It is always from the viewpoint of “this can’t be happening to me!”  He goes through stages of denial, first of the illness itself, and second of the untimely death of his wife.  Sharing his feelings with her son was very hard for Lewis.  Lewis and Joy’s son Douglas became very close.  The relationship started because he enjoyed reading Lewis’ classics.  Douglas truly admired and respected Lewis. Lewis was always the professor and statesman, and always had that stiff upper lip of the Englishman.  But when it came down to facing his feelings, Lewis was the first to really get in touch with them.  His wife, Joy, helped him get through the times of unknowing before she died.  Lewis and Douglas grew very fond of each other and mourned the loss of Joy together, arm in arm.

JoyJack

Joy was very warm and caring toward him during her therapy and temporary recovery.  She insisted on spending as much time with Lewis as possible.  They basically did everything together.  What is really touching about this story is what became of their marriage, and the reason why they married in the first place.

From the first meeting of Lewis, Joy Gresham, and her son Douglas, the beginning of their lasting friendship, through the courtship that took many years, A Grief Observed blends the two worlds or cultures of American values and those of the British.  The book brings you into the heart of Lewis like no other book he had written.  When you finish this book, your heart will be warmed and your mind will rest assured of the possibility of loving someone so deeply as to suffer more than the one who is sick.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is going through the illness of a loved one, especially if he or she has been diagnosed as terminal.

*Authors note: The following is the sermon I preached at my father-in-law’s funeral.

We are here today to honor and remember the life of Fran Dahlberg.  It may seem strange to speak about worship, especially since, to some; our prayers for Fran did not prevent his death. In particular, we find our attention drawn to the many good things about Fran, which only makes the matter of his death more painful to us. How is it that we should worship God in times of tragedy? The answer, I believe, can be found in the first chapter of the Book of Job.

We know from the first chapter of the Book of Job that he was a righteous man, a man who was blameless and who feared God and turned away from evil (1:1, 8). We know also that he was a man blessed by God, he was rich in the goods of this world (1:3), and he was blessed with a family of ten children (1:2).

We know, as Job did not, that God had chosen to use Job as an example of a faithful man. Satan, however, protested that anyone would worship God when God prospered him for doing so. “Let his life turn sour, and then see what becomes of Job’s piety,” Satan challenged. This scene in heaven is the backdrop for all the tragedy that is to follow.

I do not want to focus on Satan’s folly, however, but on Job’s righteousness in a time of family tragedy. The biblical story of Job tells us that wave upon wave of announcements of tragedy quickly were thrust upon this godly man. One messenger reported that all of Job’s oxen and donkeys had been stolen, and the servants were killed (1:14-15). Then another came to convey the news that lightening had destroyed all of his sheep, and those who tended them (1:16). Then another came to report that a band of raiders had stolen his camels and killed the servants who cared for them (1:17). The most devastating report came last. A wind had struck and collapsed the home of his eldest son, where he and all the other children were gathered, and all perished (1:18-19).

Satan was certain that Job’s faith would collapse, like the roof of the house of his eldest son, crushing his devotion to God. In addition, there was good reason, in Satan’s mind, for such anticipation. After all, Job was a righteous man. Why should God allow tragedy to strike not only his possessions, but also his loved ones? Even beyond this, we have been told that it was Job’s habitual practice to intercede for his children, asking God’s special care on them. The tragic death of his family was surely contrary to Job’s righteousness, contrary to his prayers, and contrary to his faith–or so Satan reasoned.

Some of Job’s responses were predictable. He tore his clothes and shaved his head–all signs of mourning and grief. But what he did after this is the key to our comfort in the face of grief–Job fell to the ground and worshipped God (v. 20), and these are his words:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.

In these words, we find the reason why Job could worship God, even in the greatest tragedy he had ever known–the loss of his loved ones.

As I point out the reasons for Job’s worship, I want to be clear in saying that Job’s grief was not inconsistent with his faith in God. Job worshipped God with a torn robe and with a shaved head and a tear-stained face–all genuine tokens of his grief. However, in his grief, he did not lose sight of God. Indeed, it was in his grief that God become ever more real. I do not want you to think that grief is inappropriate this afternoon, for it is altogether right. However, in our grief, we will only find consolation, as we are able to worship God in the face of tragedy. There are two truths revealed in these words of Job, which were the basis for his worship.

First, Job was confident of the greatness of God.

He said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away” (v. 21). Job understood that God was in control of His creation. Whether it is the cruel and heartlessness of a raiding army, or the forces of nature, it was, in the final analysis, God who had given him his riches and his family, and it was God who took them away. Whatever had happened, Job knew that God had allowed it, and that He was still in control.

This same is true of Fran’s death. God gave him a full life and a wonderful family, and God, in His own time, took him in death. Just as Job recognized this when he prayed for the protection of his family, so the Dahlberg family, relatives, and others recognized it when they prayed for Fran. Just as Job remained confident, though his prayers seemed unanswered, we too must be confident of the Sovereign hand of God in the sudden death of this man whom we have loved.

Second, Job was confident of the goodness of God.

God is good, all the time. It is good to know that we can worship a God Who is all-powerful, Who controls every aspect of our lives. Nevertheless, it is even better to know that God, Who is great, is also a God Who is compassionate, merciful, and good. Because of the greatness and goodness found in God, there is every reason to worship Him. Verse 31 says that Job did not sin, nor did he blame God, as though God had done something wrong.

While Job did not understand the purposes that God was working out in this tragedy, He did trust in the Person Who was in control. Thus, he could worship, even in his grief.

In the Biblical letter from the Apostle James chapter 5:10-11 declares, “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast (or patiently endured). You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”

What we know that Job did not know.

Knowing the greatness and the goodness of God was the sufficient basis for the faith of Job, which revealed more in his worship at the time of tragedy than at any other occasion. These two truths, the greatness of God and His goodness, should be sufficient for our worship, but there is even more for us, for we have been given additional revelation, which was not made known to Job at his time of sorrow. I will briefly mention these.

The Word of God shows us how and why God was great and good to Job. Job not only glorified God by revealing his faith, but Job grew in his faith as he was tested. In addition, the last chapter tells us that when Job’s faith was strengthened, God prospered him twice as much in the end, as at the beginning (Job 42:10-17).

The greatest revelation, however, is that of the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Gospels. Here we discover that the believer not only can have victory in death, but also through Jesus Christ, have victory over death.

During His life and ministry, the Lord Jesus raised the dead. In John chapter 11, we have recorded the raising of Lazarus. There, our Lord assured Mary and Martha that He was the resurrection and the life, and that those who place their trust in Him would never die.

The Gospel accounts tell us that Jesus staked His authority and the truth of His message on His resurrection from the grave. Matthew 12:38-40 says, “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But He answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” The Gospels continued to describe Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, death, and burial, followed by His resurrection on the third day.

In the Apostolic letters of the New Testament, we are told that the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the basis for the forgiveness of sins, and for our ultimate victory over death, for our Lord will come to receive unto Himself, those who have trusted in Him.

I submit to you now, that in the face of the sudden death of Fran Dahlberg there is more than enough reason to worship God. You will only be able to do that when you, like Job, have placed your trust in God Who is both great and good, and Who sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross in your place, Who paid the penalty for your sin, and to rise again, for your salvation.

Now, today, if you never have, is the time to repent of your sin, place your faith, and trust in the great and good God, through our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.

If you are a Christian, but have slid back into sin, now, today, is the time to restore your fellowship with God with repentance and a renewed faith in God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.