“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”
In many areas of life the ideal is to combine the theoretical with the practical. This is true when it comes to thinking about, writing about, and speaking about the issues of pain, suffering and evil – especially from a biblical perspective. You want to be able to combine biblical, theological and philosophical thoughts with pastoral and experiential ones.
Here I want to discuss two people who have tried to do this: one very amateurishly, and one superlatively. I refer to myself and C. S. Lewis. I have for a very long time been interested in Christian apologetics in general and theodicy in particular. The latter has to do with seeking to show that a loving and wise God is NOT fully incompatible with pain and evil, with grief and suffering.
Of course very large libraries of books already penned on all this exist. On my site I have over 800 articles on apologetics and over 100 on theodicy. It is hoped that many of them combine the academic and intellectual with the emotional and pastoral.
But when one goes through some really hardcore suffering, such as I have had with my wife’s 18-month cancer battle and then death, it is hoped that what one says and writes during and after such struggles more or less matches with what was written prior to them.
As to someone far superior to me on all this, I revert back to the great C. S. Lewis (1898-1963). He of course was one of the greatest Christian apologists of last century (following his conversion from atheism). Two notable books of his fully deal with suffering and evil:
The Problem of Pain (1940)
A Grief Observed (1961)
The former is a very learned and important discussion of the issues, while the latter describes his much more raw reactions to the death of his wife, Joy Davidman. She too died from cancer, on 13 July, 1960. That second volume appeared soon after her passing.
Yes, one can certainly notice differences between the two volumes – how can there not be? But his basic views on the matters more or less did not change – but they become much more emotionally charged, and very hard and real questions were asked. His faith wavered as well at times.
I would hope that everyone reading this piece would have read these two remarkable books. I have discussed both over the years, including in this article: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2020/07/26/c-s-lewis-and-the-problem-of-pain/
For the remainder of this piece I just want to share a lengthy quote from his 1961 volume. I will just feature some of what is found in his first chapter. Here is what he said:
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.
There are moments, most unexpectedly, when something inside me tries to assure me that I don’t really mind so much, not so very much, after all. Love is not the whole of a man’s life. I was happy before I ever met H. I’ve plenty of what are called ‘resources’. People get over these things. Come, I shan’t do so badly. One is ashamed to listen to this voice but it seems for a little to be making out a good case. Then comes a sudden jab of red-hot memory and all this ‘commonsense’ vanishes like an ant in the mouth of a furnace.
On the rebound one passes into tears and pathos. Maudlin tears. I almost prefer the moments of agony. These are at least clean and
honest. But the bath of self-pity, the wallow, the loathsome sticky-sweet pleasure of indulging it — that disgusts me. And even while I’m doing it I know it leads me to misrepresent H. herself. Give that mood its head and in a few minutes I shall have substituted for the real woman a mere doll to be blubbered over.