Paraclete Press, 1999.
It is the stuff of every parent’s nightmare: the shrill scream, the loud screeching brakes, the heart pounding as you run out the door, expecting the worst. Every day, somewhere around the world, a child is hit by a car.
It happened to our family earlier this year. But our son got off lightly. As I waited with him in the emergency room, after the ambulance dropped us off, I thought, “Why us?” Not, Why did our son get hit?, but, Why did he come out relatively unscathed when so many do not?
Some people have questioned why I should have such thoughts. But such thoughts continue. Why was my son spared? Why do so many others not make it? Even as I told my son in hospital that the angels must have really been watching over him, I wondered, What do parents think about angelic protection when their child is killed instead?
The same God. The same angels. The same circumstances. But such different outcomes. Of course my musings are not new. These questions have been around for as long as mankind has been around. And for as long as suffering has been around. Over two and a half millennia ago Job was asking hard questions about suffering. And people still do today.
While my son was out of his cast and crutches in around 6 weeks, some children do not have the opportunity to recover. Six-year-old John-Paul Floyd was one such boy. He died almost instantly after being hit by an out of control car. He and his family were all devout Christians. Yet this tragedy changed the family forever. And the questions pour out of the soul, along with the grief, like a flood.
This book is the attempt of one father to come to terms with the anguish, the heart-break, the devastation, and the questions that arise in such circumstances. Other books have attempted the same. The great English apologist C.S. Lewis wrote a book entitled The Problem of Pain, exploring these difficult questions. It is interesting to compare it with a book he wrote later, after his wife died of cancer. His A Grief Observed does not so much refute what he wrote earlier, but in many ways goes far beyond it.
A theoretical and theological reflection of suffering is one thing. A first-hand personal account is another. A Grief Unveiled is of the second type. Not that theological and biblical reflection is absent. But this is the very personal and very moving account of how one father copes with the worst pain imaginable, moments after the event, hours after, days after, months after, and years after. What does the journey of grief look like from the inside? This volume is an unforgettable account of one long and painful trip through grief.
For anyone who has experienced any comparable tragedy, the book will echo similar thoughts and emotions, and will bring forth many tears. The book does not over-sentimentalize, but neither does it over-spiritualize. It is brutally honest and totally real.
Anyone who suffers will resonate with these moving chapters. Yet it is not just a book about sorrow, grief and pain. It is also a book about hope, joy and victory. It is the story of a radiant faith; a faith that takes a terrible hammering, but a faith that survives and grows and triumphs. But it is triumphant faith because it has as its object a triumphant God. Indeed, God is the real subject of this book in many ways. It is only because of the great love, grace and mercy of God that the Floyds can make it through the valley of the shadow of death.
The opening chapters are the most painful. Descriptions of the accident. Cradling a dying boy. The nervous wait at the hospital. The bad news from the doctor. Watching a lifeless boy in a casket, bandages over the eyes, because the organs were donated. The burial. The days immediately thereafter.
The grief seems unbearable. But with time comes some relief. The hole in the soul is always there. It will never disappear. But the intense pain and grief slowly, and surely, begin to subside. And through it all, one believer’s relationship with his God is sorely tested, but in the end, vindicated. And with it comes the spiritual understanding that comes with the suffering, the realization that the God we serve is a suffering God.
God the Father knows all about suffering. He too lost a son in tragic circumstances. And Mary, the mother of Jesus, also knows the heartbreak of losing a beloved son. But as Floyd makes quite clear, Good Friday is followed by Easter Sunday. John-Paul is not dead, but alive, waiting for the glorious reunion that will one day take place. The promise of the resurrection is the believer’s hope. And the resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee that we too will one day be raised.
But it works both ways. There can be no Easter without Calvary. Suffering is the path chosen by Christ, and it is the path his followers must also accept. The hard questions may never fully be answered. But the ultimate answer to the problem of suffering and evil is not a proposition but a person. Jesus, who is acquainted with grief and familiar with sorrow, is the only one who can offer comfort and hope to those who suffer.
If God can take the most horrible and painful event in human history, the cross, and turn it into the most glorious and blessed of events, then there is hope for us as well. Suffering can be redeemed. It can make us more like the one who knows all about suffering.
This book is a testament to the way the death of one man two thousand years ago becomes the basis of hope for everyone today. This powerful story will help those who are suffering to make it through. And it will help all of us to get our priorities a little more straight, and help us refocus our attention on what is truly important and of value in life.