This past week in my “C. S. Lewis on Life, Death, and Eternity” class at church, I and the other 35 participants who joined me either in person or via Zoom, immersed ourselves in Lewis’s painfully personal account of how he reacted to the death of his wife, Joy. What began as some jottings—almost stream-of-consciousness writing—in a notebook eventually did find its way into print as A Grief Observed.
Some find this little book disconcerting because it reveals the struggle Lewis faced as he attempted to find spiritual balance in his grief. Others say the opposite: it shows that a solid Christian—indeed, even an apologist for the faith—can go through rough patches in life. In a sense, it humanizes Lewis for many. As he works his way through his grief, the accusations he throws at God begin to mellow and he ultimately comes to the realization that the reason God seems so far away in these circumstances might really be due to our unwillingness to receive what He offers.
Near the beginning of the book, he questions the nature of the God he has explained and defended all his life. Has he been wrong about Him?
This leads Lewis to question not only God, but the very nature of his faith: how real is it? If the death of a loved one can shake it to its very core, was it genuine to begin with? After all, everyone in life faces the deaths of those close to them; this is nothing new; he even knew ahead of time that the pains of life were not something from which Christians are exempt. That’s why he ponders this:
What about that bolted door he wrote about? As he nears the end of his struggle to understand, he begins to see that door in a new light. Maybe God is not to blame after all?
He also begins to get his priorities straight, realizing that his focus has been skewed. His primary concern had been himself, which is never what the Christian life entails.
At the very end, Lewis recounts his final moments with Joy: “She said not to me but to the chaplain, ‘I am at peace with God.’ She smiled, but not at me.”
That comment evokes the image that Joy was now seeing her Savior as she entered into glory. In all my previous readings of the book I ended there, but Lewis added a Latin phrase afterward, and knowing that someone would undoubtedly ask me what it said, I made sure to look it up (after all, a teacher must be prepared for questions like that). Here’s what I found.
That quote from Dante about Beatrice is a confirmation that Lewis found a resolution to his spiritual struggle. Assurance that a loved one is now in the presence of the Lord brings His peace. The final three years of Lewis’s life are evidence that his faith remained strong, and that will be part of what I share in the final session of this course.