Nicholas Wolterstorff is a Christian who taught philosophical theology for many years at Yale. He and his wife have six children, but he lost an adult son. His son Eric, who was twenty-five at the time, died in a mountain climbing accident. Wolterstorff chronicled the grief he experienced through his loss in a journal. This is a man who had devoted his life to the understanding, meaning, and reality of life’s mysteries, and he suddenly, strikingly, lost a son. In a single moment, all his intellectual categories for making sense of the existence of evil and pain were demolished. He published his journal years later as a book entitled Lament for a Son. The book opens with his recollection of the moment the dreaded phone call came:
The call came at 3:30 on that Sunday afternoon, a bright sunny day. We had just sent his younger brother off to the plane to be with him for the summer .The phone rings, “Hello.”
“Is this Eric’s father?”
“Mr. Wolterstorff, I must give you some bad news.”
“Eric has been climbing in the mountains and has had an accident.”
“Eric has had a serious accident.”
“Yes, go on.”
“Mr. Wolterstorff, I must tell you, Eric is dead. Mr. Wolterstorff, are you there? You must come at once! Mr. Wolterstorff, Eric is dead.”
For three seconds I felt the peace of resignation; arms extended, limp son in hand, peacefully offering him to someone—Someone. Then the pain—cold, burning pain.
Wolterstorff’s harrowing account explodes the tempting notion that if we only grasped God’s will more clearly, if we only knew something we don’t know now, the wound would hurt less. But the Gospel is not ultimately a defense from pain and suffering, rather it is the message of God’s rescue through pain. In fact, it allows us to drop our defenses, to escape not from pain but from the prison of How and Why, to the freedom of Who. The answer to our pain isn’t finally found in a syllogism but in a Savior—a suffering Savior.
We are not responsible for finding the right formula to combat or unlock our suffering. The good news of the Gospel does not consist of theological assertions or some elaborate religious how-to manual. The good news is Jesus Himself, the Man of Sorrows, the crucified God who meets us in our grief.5 Comments