Reflections from C.S. Lewis: “A Grief Observed”

Snowy mountains with clouds

I recently finished C.S. Lewis’ brief work, “A Grief Observed.” Lewis originally published the book anonymously; it describes his heartache and confusion after the death of his wife, whom he had been married to for only 3 years.

Like in so many of his writings, Lewis is able to articulate the feelings that many of us have had and his insights are lucidly expressed. Below are three passages that bring up perhaps some of the most important concepts about illness and spirituality.

1.     Anger at God

“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.” – C.S. Lewis. A Grief Observed, pg 6

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Why We Wrestle with God – A Commentary on Genesis 32:22-32

beach at dawn

Genesis 32 is quite simply one of the most perplexing stories in the entire Bible. This narrative, in which Jacob wrestles with a spiritual being (presumably God) throughout the night and is given the new name ‘Israel,’ is both hard to interpret and yet a monumentally important text in the Jewish and Christian faith.

Jacob’s new name of Israel literally means ‘he struggles with God’. And according to the text, Jacob is said to have ‘struggled with God…and overcome.’

But what of course does that mean? Does Jacob defeat God, or at least wear him out, in some sense?

Rabbi Joseph Teluskin, a Jewish scholar writes,

‘It is no small matter that Israel, the name for both the Jewish people and the modern Jewish state, implies neither submission to God nor pure faith, but means wrestling with God (and with men).’ (Jewish Literacy, pg 22)

While the Bible presents numerous examples that God desires an honest dialogue with humans and is not put off by our anger or arguing (see the Psalms, the books of the prophets, and Jesus’ parables, for just a few examples), there are too many things about the story of Jacob wrestling with God that simply don’t make sense for this simple explanation to be valid.

I recently came across one of the most insightful commentaries I’ve ever read on this passage. It points out what I think is the key to understanding this story.

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The Best Robe – the Parable of the Prodigal Son

light through forest

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him….Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ (Luke 15:22-24, the Parable of the Prodigal Son)

It’s common to hear in Christian circles the saying that Jesus would have come to earth and died for just one sinner. It’s meant to encourage each of us to know that Jesus would have sacrificed himself ‘just for me,’ but I had always found it difficult to accept.

It’s not that I didn’t intellectually assent to the statement; in fact, I believe it to be true. It’s just that it never felt real. It would never stir my emotions. I had a hard time really sensing that God would love me so deeply.

Then I read the parable of the prodigal son in a new way. In fact, really just one part of it has changed the way I see my relationship with God.

I’ve been meditating on the robe.

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What Seems Like Failure

blue sky over tall mountains

The books of the Old Testament prophets can be so challenging to read that it’s easy to overlook the big concepts and the larger historical events that these books reference.

I’ve been reading through the Old Testament books of Amos and Hosea lately and one of the most fascinating things to me about these men is that although they devoted their lives trying to save the people of northern Israel, they ultimately failed.

What does it mean that God called Amos and Hosea to spend their entire lives doing something that was met with utter failure?
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