Richards Column: Honest to God
I rewatched the film Shadowlands last week, it focuses on a portion of C. S. Lewis’ life. The movie reminded me of the author’s incredible contribution to Christian thought in the mid-20th century. According to Lewis’ 1955 memoir, Surprised by Joy, he was baptized in the church of Ireland as a boy but during adolescence, abandoned his faith. Partially through the influence of close friend and fellow-author J. R. R. Tolkien, Lewis rekindled his faith and became a committed Christian.
Lewis’ faith had an incredible impact upon his work. He wrote numerous Christian classics, including the Chronicles of Narnia. His radio broadcasts about faith during World War II helped him become a respected Christian leader. His ability to defend and clarify Christianity gained him considerable fame.
Shadowlands is about Lewis’ relationship with gifted American author, Joy Davidman Gresham. She grew up in a Jewish atheist home and eventually became a Communist before converting to Christianity. As a new believer, Gresham read several of Lewis’ books and wrote to him with questions. A pen pal relationship developed and the two became close friends. According to Lewis’ brother, what initially drew them together was their brilliant minds and uncommon sense of humor. It was not until Gresham separated from her abusive alcoholic husband that she and Lewis finally met when her and her two sons, David and Douglas visited England.
During her visit, their friendship deepened and, on April 23, 1956, they married in a civil marriage contract so she could continue living in England though they did not live as a married couple.
Shortly afterward, Gresham developed intense pain in her hip. Doctors diagnosed terminal bone cancer. During her illness Lewis came to realize how much he cared for her and the two were married in a Christian ceremony preformed in her hospital room at Churchill Hospital on March 21, 1957.
To everyone’s delight and surprise Joy’s cancer went into remission and the happy couple and her children lived together as a family until 1960, when her cancer returned. She died July 13, 1960.
Lewis was overwhelming with grief. He recorded his thoughts in a journal. He eventually turned his jumbled thoughts into the book, A Grief Observed. However, his experience was so personal, he chose not to publish it under his name, but as, N. W. Clerk. Friends suggested Lewis read it without realizing he was the author. His secret did not come out until after his death.
Lewis became very disillusioned but clung to his faith. Old Testament hero Job expressed both faith and frustration when he wrote, “God might kill me, but I have no other hope. I am going to argue my case with him.” (Job 13:15, NLT) It is normal to struggle during loss. Both Lewis and Job teach us we can take our honest questions to God. While not magical, praying through loss helps us reconnect with the God who loves us and regain our perspective in the process.