"The moment the word 'why' crosses your lips, you are doing theology."
—When Life & Beliefs Collide                

Monday, February 19, 2007

Feeling Better Yet?

After the death of a loved one—or any other sorrow or loss—there is the expectation in the minds of many Christians that the sorrower should put their grief aside and move on with their life. Our troubles are like hurdles placed in our path to test our spiritual fortitude. It’s a sign of spiritual maturity (so we tell ourselves) to rise above the pain or at least to conquer it at some point. The goal is to surmount successfully these miserable hurdles and get on to the smooth stretch on the other side. Someone who months or years later still feels depressed, still talks a lot about their loss, or whose eyes still well up with tears at the mention of their loved one, just doesn’t know how to let go.

As much as others expect it of us, no one wishes to walk away from grief more than the person who is grieving. And we are hard on ourselves when our broken hearts don’t heal. After the death of his beloved wife, Joy, to cancer, a broken C. S. Lewis admitted it was hard to get beyond his grief. In his poignantly personal book, A Grief Observed, he exposes the fallacy of this kind of thinking.

“To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he’s had his leg off it is quite another. After that operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce,continuous pain will stop. Presently he’ll get his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has ‘got over it.’ But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man. . . . At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again.”

The intriguing thing about Lewis, and other suffers like Job and Naomi, is that the lingering pain is actually purposeful—actually opens a conversation with God (heated and intense at times to be sure), but one that wouldn’t occur otherwise. They’re asking questions about God that their pain provokes, and they’re looking at Him through their pain. Forever after a major part of them was always missing, and there was a distinctive limp to how they walked. Their lives were shaped and deepened and defined by their losses and the wrestlings with God that ensued.

If we’re not careful, we can use Scripture or one or two key theological precepts to short circuit that conversation. God’s sovereignty over our circumstances or over the number of our days doesn’t blunt hard questions about God, but rather provokes them. Why bother questioning God if He was wringing His hands over the weather on Mt. Hood? Why be upset with Him if He wasn’t around or He was helpless to protect the three climbers from their deaths? No, God’s power, presence, and love are the very reasons we are troubled when He doesn’t intervene to spare us from painful losses, and we are swamped in grief.

Christian philosopher, Nicholas Wolterstorff, shared Lewis’ perspective when his son died in a mountain climbing accident. “The world has a hole in it now,” Wolterstorff lamented, “I shall look at the world through tears. Perhaps I shall see things that dry‑eyed I could not see.”

Are we feeling better yet? No. Not really. For God and we have work to do. According to Lewis, there will always be a limp. According to Wolterstorff, there will be growth and we will come to know God better. In the meantime, there are questions to be asked and wrestling to be done. But we have every hope that through our tears, we will see things that dry-eyed we could not see.
[Note: This post also appeared on the MtHoodClimbersBlog]