Monday, September 29, 2008

Evil, Suffering, and A Grief Observed

On this day in 1961 C.S. Lewis published A Grief Observed under the pseudonym N.W. Clerk ("I know not whom / scholar"). It is a diary recollecting his experiences following the death of his wife, Joy Gresham, to cancer. A line from the book reads, "Cancer, and cancer, and cancer. My mother, my father, my wife. I wonder who is next in the queue."

T.S. Elliot, who reviewed the manuscript prior to publication, recognized it as a work by Lewis, but others actually gave Lewis copies of A Grief Observed in the hopes it would help him cope with the loss of his wife.

Some have argued that the book contains fictional elements rather than a true account of the experiences of Lewis and Joy. In my assessment, the book contains Lewis's real struggles with grief, recounting his relationship with his wife rather than fictional aspects.

There's also a myth that Lewis lost his faith after the death of his wife. His faith was certainly shaken, but not destroyed (see his final book Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer for evidence of Lewis's continuing Christian faith).

Even within the pages of A Grief Observed Lewis came to realize the difference between his emotional shouting at God and his reasoning through the matter, ultimately acknowledging that God is not a torturer, but more like a surgeon who sometimes causes or allows pain, but for our benefit not our detriment.

The unofficial companion volume to A Grief Observed is The Problem of Pain (1940), wherein Lewis addresses the problem of evil and suffering from an intellectual perspective rather than the emotional approach of A Grief Observed.

Each book highlights how to approach the problem of evil and suffering depending on the situation. It is one thing to grapple with the matter philosophically in a sort of detached intellectual sense, but it is quite another to address the problem on an emotional level when suffering or ministering to the suffering.

The issue of evil and suffering is one of the greatest challenges to Christianity. As a result, I address two chapters in my book Conversations with C.S. Lewis to the matter. The first takes a more intellectual approach, following Lewis in The Problem of Pain, while the second addresses the emotional aspects, as communicated by Lewis in A Grief Observed.

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