I’ve recently finished reading A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. I was quite surprised by how quickly I was able to get through its 76 pages plus Foreword and Introduction. Usually Lewis requires one to re-read numerous paragraphs to fully grasp just exactly what it is he is trying to say. I’ve often found Lewis to be quite intellectually challenging, though always worth the effort. But this book was different; it was more emotional than intellectual; nonetheless it was well worth reading.
Lewis wrote this book, though not intending it to be a book exactly, shortly after his wife Joy Davidman died of cancer. It consists of his journaled thoughts and feelings in working through his grief over his great loss and the impact it had on his faith. Though his faith remained intact, and was perhaps even strengthened by his grief, it was shaken to its core by this experience.
In the midst of Lewis’ rantings at God and doubts about his faith he shares some very profound thoughts about the nature of God, faith, and the inevitable trials we all face in this life. Regarding the trials of life, he wrote:
But of course one must take ‘sent to try us’ the right way. 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. A Grief, pg. 52.
This reminded me of the story of Job. God allowed Satan to test Job, to put him through trials of losing his possessions and family, as well as an attack on his health. Job 1-2. God allows this to prove to Satan that Job will not lose his faith and will not curse God; knowing all the time exactly how Job would respond.
When we begin to forget the core of our faith or fail to notice a weakness in our thinking about faith or God, it is then that God will allow trials in our lives; not as an experiment to find out how we will respond, but as a means of reminding us of the power of our faith or of pointing out a hole in our faith fence that needs to be mended lest the enemy sneak in unannounced to destroy us completely.
As Lewis began to stand firmly on his faith in God once again, and to see the weaknesses in his own understanding of God, he pondered whether he was “sidling back to God” simply as a means to once again see his beloved Joy some day in Heaven. It is at this juncture in Lewis’ though processes that I came to this wonderful quote:
But then of course I know perfectly well that He can’t be used as a road. If you’re approaching Him not as the goal but as a road, not as the end but as a means, you’re not really approaching Him at all. That’s what was really wrong with all those popular pictures of happy reunions ‘on the further shore'; not the simple-minded and very earthly images, but the fact that they make an End of what we can get only as a by-product of the true End. A Grief, pg. 68.
We must seek God and a relationship with Him for its own sake, not for whatever else we can get from it, from Him.
It seems to me that the same can be cited as the problem with hellfire and brimstone preaching. It calls one to seek God not for His own sake, but merely as a means to avoiding a most unpleasant situation eternally.
There are many books that speculate as to what both Heaven and Hell will be like. But to me, the best description of Heaven is to be in the presence of God; the best description of Hell is to be separated from Him; all other details of either place are superfluous.
Perhaps it is precisely when we forget that the aim of our faith must be God Himself that He sends a trial of loss, so that we may see that we have placed some inferior desire ahead of our desire for Him alone, but that if we turn back to Him we will weather the loss and be whole again. Without the trial we might miss out on the wonder of the only relationship we truly cannot live without.
You see, God is more concerned with our spiritual well-being and the strength of our relationship with Him (the most essential thing in our life), than He is with our comfort. In Lewis’ case, it was the loss of his beloved wife that allowed him to fully grasp this truth. For another whose health and physical prowess are their desired ends and where they place their faith, the loss necessary to reveal their need for God might involve a major illness or injury. If one has focused on their career and find their worth in their occupational success, the loss that leads them back to God might be prolonged unemployment.
Is there something that is keeping you from seeking God for His own sake? Will you heed the subtle messages sent by God to draw you to Him, or will it require a major loss or trial to set you in a right relationship with Him? Lewis, in spite of his intellectual and even real faith in God, found that His profound loss brought him closer to his Creator. Sometimes that is what is required.