A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

“I never knew that grief felt so much like fear.”

In A Grief Observed Lewis shares his thoughts and emotions with regard to the death of his wife, Joy Davidson, and it is perhaps one of the most powerful books on suffering that I’ve ever read.  As a reader, you are drawn into his grief and, contrary to what the title suggests, you can feel and experience Lewis’ anguish right alongside him, at times almost against your will.  Lewis is pain personified, and it’s raw and it’s shocking.

In his book, The Problem of Pain, Lewis deals with suffering from an aspect of reason and pragmatism, but in A Grief Observed, he is a broken man, on one hand calling out for sense and understanding to apply to a situation that is beyond comprehension, and on the other, resisting examining his situation. Lewis’ faith was shaken but not broken.  He does not deny God, yet he does ask what kind of God is He?  What type of God would allow something like this to happen?  He asks hard questions, makes brutally honest statements, and you wonder if this man is on his way to losing his faith.

“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.”

Yet why can’t we ask hard questions of our Maker?  Why can’t we storm and rage against the injustices of life?  Lewis kicked and stormed against the door of Heaven and instead he found an opening into his own soul.

“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 who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.”

After long endeavouring to remember his wife’s countenance, it is only when he stops struggling to see Joy, that her face suddenly returns to his mind. Lewis finally realizes that we need to seek God for Himself — for who He is —- and not for what we can get from Him.

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”

Madeleine L’Engle writes in her introduction to the book:  “I am grateful to Lewis for having the courage to yell, to doubt, to kick at God in angry violence. This is part of a healthy grief which is not often encouraged.  It is helpful indeed that C.S. Lewis, who has been such a successful apologist for Christianity, should have the courage to admit doubt about what he has so superbly proclaimed.  It gives us permission to admit our own doubts, our own anger and anguishes, and to know that they are part of the soul’s growth.”

courtesy of Dawn Huczek
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C.S. Lewis Project

12 thoughts on “A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

  1. It's certainly hard at the beginning because Lewis was entirely honest in his feelings. Yet by the end you have really experienced a process and Lewis comes out as a person who is changed in a positive way. So many modern books tend to wallow in the grief, so I appreciated that when you were finished, you could take something positive and uplifting away. So yes, not an easy read, but a rewarding one!

  2. I read this a long time ago, but I always remember the first quotation you used in your post. It's gone a long way in helping me deal with my grief and the grief of others. Wonderful post!

  3. Thanks, Dale. The first review I did was eaten by Blogger before I could post it, so after re-writing it and it not being as good as the first, I was sincerely wondering if I should publish it at all. It's nice to know that it's appreciated! 🙂

  4. This must have been a tough book to read. It sounds very good, definitely a must-read, but I fear I may have to build myself up to it 🙂

  5. I read it in the summer on vacation, which was probably a good choice. It's quite a short read so not too overwhelming on that score. Since the writing was directly from Lewis' own notebooks as he worked through Joy's death, the writing is very raw and striking. Lewis originally published it under a pseudonym and his true identity wasn't know until after his death.

  6. Oh!! You cruel friend ….I WILL have to read this. Jokes apart, this may be tough, but it also sounds very powerful..it's like those words written by Lewis has a mesmerizing effect. I am both awed and touched by his rage….I have to explore this one.

  7. I really thought that it was lovely that Lewis found a way out of grief. While the book was sad, it was uplifting too. And I love the way he feels that he can question his faith. I wish more of us were as brave.

    And hopefully in cruel, I'll be kind and you'll like it too! 🙂

  8. I read this book many years ago and remember being disturbed by it. It is really raw and honest. I was new to believing then and C.S. Lewis had been an important part of deciding to really place my faith in the truth of Christ. I need to read it again from a more mature point of view. I suspect when people are going through real grief and don't want platitudes and sugar coating this book can be a true companion.

  9. Your last sentence is so true. Lewis wrote this in the process of grief, not looking back upon it. I think that's what makes the book so effective and so helpful to those who are going through grief themselves.

    • Thanks, Marian! It is definitely worth a read. It’s not as raw or, dare I say, impactful as A Grief Observed but I think it’s a worthy exercise to be able to experience pain from the outside as well as the inside. Take care, my friend!

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