A Grief Observed Summary: A Startingly Letter To God
When C.S. Lewis penned A Grief Observed the premise was less propositional, less a philosophical exploration or academic explication of concepts, and more a man’s wrestling match with God, a hip-out-of-joint memoir as it were.
After all, Lewis wrote primarily to cope with the guilt yet, as with all emotional suffering, invariably penned a letter to God, a memo which lasted only as long as his notebooks did.
The premise which Lewis’s appears to grapple with can be summed up in his own words,
The book records this shattering process. I will provide a simple outline of the four brief chapters and attempt to highlight the progression through my analysis of the text.
- The Locked Door
- The Cosmic Sadist
- The Open Door
- The Mystery Behind The Door
The Locked Door
In his darkest hour, Lewis notes, “Where is God…go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is in vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.” The prima facie evidence suggests Lewis is not here doubting the existence of God but instead is doubting His goodness.
He continues, “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’” (p18)
He draws these conclusions not from theological speculation but from unbearable emotional pain. His argument is not an intellectual one but an emotive one.
Lewis is not really saying that God is evil, what he is really saying is,
It’s clear that the problem of evil Lewis is battling here is the profound and devastating religious problem of evil.
The Cosmic Sadist
Thus, his grief precipitates not a lack of belief but a new belief, that of the Cosmic Sadist. Regarding beliefs specifically, Lewis notes,
Two doctrines, in particular, caught me off guard with C.S. Lewis’s writing. First, the doctrine of conditional salvation – Lewis appeared to subscribe to the teaching that salvation is still an option after death thereby adhering to some form of purgatory.
Moreover, he also seemed to advocate for praying to the dead, which is not controversial but I still view which suspicion.
It becomes obvious, however, that these views also appear to be tethered to his grief. In an attempt to keep things as they were, he seems willing to adhere to views that can actualize them – but does appear to do so apprehensively.
Are we not all guilty of this?
As suggested in the above quotation, it seems these doctrines and the basic schematics of his religious beliefs are coming to light.
He concludes in a fit of rage that God is simply a bad God.
However, he quickly argues against this by mentioning this belief is far too anthropomorphic and leaves little room for mystery, which would indubitably exist if an eternal, incomprehensible Being existed.
The Open Door
Lewis begins this section defending God, though no less hurt he is cleaning serious insight. He writes,
“The terrible thing is that a perfectly good God is in this matter hardly less formidable than a Cosmic Sadist. The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed—might grow tired of his vile sport—might have a temporary fit of mercy, as alcoholics have fits of sobriety.
The Mystery Behind The Door
By the tail end of the book, Lewis argues for God’s goodness, or perhaps lack thereof. He comes dangerously close to agnosticism or, perhaps more accurately a Barthian transcendence. He comments,
He, therefore, appeals to religious experience as a defense for God’s goodness but posit that His goodness, His nature, is ultimately so other than that a mere creature could not possibly understand.
I struggled to identify with the depths of his sorrow but it did give me the perspective I otherwise could not have comprehended. Though some of the doctrine he proposes his skeptical, the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses, if but for anything, to see that the grieving need space to wrestle with God and simply support through this process.