The Comfort Of Who

rouaultNicholas 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.”

“Mr. Wolterstorff?”
“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.

  • BlueCollaz says:

    Just lost a friend to hiking. Had an anuyerism on the trail. He was not a Christian. Thanks for this pastor, Christ is our refuge in grief. I hope I can be a comfort as he has comforted me. I also want to reach my many unsaved friends, but I feel so clumsy with it.

  • Matt says:

    I lost my father to lung cancer a few years ago. When I heard about his death on the phone I also sensed this relief, like offering my dad to the arms of God. I can relate to the cold pain that Wolfterstorff is describes. It’s the coldness of death and how rips apart the relational connection you had with the person. I think it’s also important that we own that feeling, not trying to deny it, because it honors the deceased and you are able to admit that you love this person very much. Even Jesus owned his grief in tears for his friend Lazarus.

  • Rich Finaldi says:

    SO True Tullian , the old adage that “God will not give you more then you can handle” saying is a straight lie from the pit of Hell, Another deception from the Liar to set us up when life throws a curve ball , OR a fast ball at our heads to attempt to get us once again to doubt God. In fact God’s will allow more then you can handle at times but the Promise! is to bring you through it. Just like those boys in the fire in the book of Daniel ;)

  • Under Stress says:

    I have lost my wife to homosexuality. Talk about pain!!! How can I deal with this?

  • Grief almost seems like a being in itself. And it is not until you are experiencing it that you begin to understand that the words you have spoken to others in the past when they have grieved that have been words of love, but vague and almost disconnected from the experience of grief. It is only when we go through grief that we realize there is a whole other kind of soul breaking that can happen. But we are not without hope as Christians and so our encounter with grief will always lack the dimension of hopelessness. Can we ever understand the grief of those who have no hope? Thank you for sharing this excerpt from one of my favorite books ever. Dear friend ‘Under Stress’ What I imagine of what you are going through is ‘Fear’ but the grief you are feeling right now much be soul ripping in a way that only you can feel. But beyond your feelings may you find the confidence that what you feel God knows and what God knows He can also heal. May you go through this season cradled in the arms of a loving Father.

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