By Dr. Paul M. Gould

In my last post, I shared two books on suffering that have been meaningful to me. Gerald Sittser’s A Grace Disguised and Jack Deere’s Even in Our Darkness have encouraged me to persevere through suffering. God is an ever-present reality who lovingly sustains us through pain. In this post, I add two more books, written by university professors, that have helped me learn to lament.

The third book is Doug Groothuis’s Walking Through Twilight (IVP, 2017). Doug, a professor of philosophy from Denver Seminary, offers a philosopher’s lament as his wife succumbs to dementia. The book is raw, honest, and profound. It is also the most theologically rich of the four books. The title of chapter two, “The Year of Learning Things I Did Not Want to Know,” stopped me in my tracks. “Lord,” I prayed, “none of us want to walk through suffering. But you are there too. What do you want to teach me that I did not want to know?” Suffering rattles us out of our stupor. It forces us to look with fresh eyes into our hearts and to seek solace in God. It helps us learn, as Doug puts it, “that God brings good out of even the most horrible suffering.” [1] This book has taught me how to lament well. Doug defines lament as the place “where our deep sadness meets the world’s deepest wounds.” [2] We lament because objective goodness—in the world, in our lives, within ourselves—has been violated. We lament, as “aching visionaries” [3] because we believe there is goodness in the world, and so we are never, because of God, without hope.

Finally, I recommend to you C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed. The death of his wife, Joy Gresham, unmoored Lewis. He journals about the phenomenology or feel of grief. While each individual experience is unique, grief feels “like fear.” [4] It is like “a bomber circling round and dropping its bombs each time the circle brings it overhead.” [5] I’ve heard others describe grief like the waves on a beach: at times the waves are calm and measured. At other times, they are overwhelming and ferocious. Reading the bulk of A Grief Observed in one sitting helped me see the life-cycle of grief, at least for Lewis, probably for many of us. He moves from doubt, anger, and shame to a quiet and unwavering trust in God, the “great iconoclast” who shatters in us false images of himself and the world he lovingly sustains. [6] God is good, even in our darkest moments. God is present, even when we cry to him and find silence. God is love, even when we don’t understand. This divine love, in the end, is enough for Lewis. It is enough for me too. 

In a fallen world, we will experience suffering and pain. It’s not a question of if but when. These books have inspired and encouraged me to endure through my own time of grief. Still, my life is still relatively pain-free. Others have had and do experience much deeper loss and pain. I share these books to help each of us avoid, on one hand, pessimism (and the sin of despair), and on the other hand, unfettered optimism (and the sin of ignorance and folly). Christian hope is the middle ground we are after. And hope is real because a perfectly loving God exists. May we learn to walk in hope as we trust in the God of hope who fills us, even in our times of sorrow, with joy and peace (Romans 15:13).

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[1] Doug Groothuis, Walking Through Twilight (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2017), 19. 

[2] Ibid., 55–56. 

[3] Ibid. 57. This phrase is from the philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff, who also wrote a book called Lament for a Son, when his son died in a climbing accident.

[4] C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (New York: HarperOne, 1994), 1.

[5] Ibid., 41.

[6] Ibid., 66.