Christian Grief: Wolterstorff’s Lament for a Son

I’ve been reading through Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Lament for a Son.  This book is not a book about grief, it is a book of grief.  When Wolterstorff’s son Eric died at the age of 25, grief and faith spurred him to pen the many musings that are found in this short book.  Thus this is a book wherein Wolterstorff grieves in print as one who does indeed have hope.  This is an educated book, thus the words he uses may not be the words others who grieve might use, but his words so beautifully illustrate how one can grieve while doing so in a thoughtful, intentional, biblical and a reformed manner.  Not every detail will resonate with readers of this blog, but many (indeed most) will.  Here’s an excerpt that I found especially moving:

Elements of the gospel which I had always thought would console did not.  They did something else, something important, but not that.  It did not console me to be reminded of the hope of the resurrection.  If I had forgotten that hope, then it would indeed have brought light into my life to be reminded of it.  But I did not think of death as a bottomless pit.  I did not grieve as one who has no hope.  Yet Eric is gone, here and now he is gone; now I cannot talk with him, now I cannot see him, now I cannot hug him, now I cannot hear of his plans for the future.  That is my sorrow.  A friend said, “Remember, he’s in good hands.”  I was deeply moved.  But that reality does not put Eric back in my hands now.  That’s my grief.  For that grief, what consolation can there be other than having him back?

In our day we have come to see again some dimensions of the Bible overlooked for centuries.  We have come to see its affirmation of the goodness of creation.  God made us embodied historical creatures and affirmed the goodness of that.  We are not to yearn for timeless disembodiment.

But this makes death all the more difficult to live with.  When death is no longer seen as a release from this miserable materiality into our rightful immateriality, when death is seen rather as the slicing off of what God declared to be, and what all of us feel to be, of great worth, then death is – well, not friend but enemy.  Though I shall indeed recall that death is being overcome, my grief is that death still stalks this world and one day knifed down my Eric.

Nothing fills the void of his absence.  He’s not replaceable.  We can’t go out and get another just like him.

Pgs. 31-32.

I’m finding myself recommending this book to anyone who is grieving when they ask for something to read, not in place of books of grief like that of Paul Tripp, but in addition to them.  Though Wolterstorff’s words are not inspired scripture like the cries of the psalmists, they do seem to articulate what many feel in a way they cannot do themselves.  Grief is a complex thing.  Hopefully this book will benefit those who face its complexity.


2 thoughts on “Christian Grief: Wolterstorff’s Lament for a Son”

  1. Andrew, thanks for this recommendation. I’ve heard various reports on Wolterstorff’s interaction with the doctrine of impassibility in this work. What was your take on this?


    1. That point is the main one to which I was referring with my remark about some details not resonating with folks around here. The archetype/ectype distinction really helps to clean that sort of thing up … I wish it was more present in NW’s book. He’ll quote certain passages which describe the Lord as having certain emotions, but by not being careful to describe *how* these things are being predicated of God, he does bring these references down to the creaturely plain.

      The nice thing is that it doesn’t show up everywhere. When it does, it’s a bit awkward, but thankfully he found comfort in many other places than the supposed suffering of God.


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