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Book Review: “Lament for a Son”

Lament for a Son is a chronicle of Nicholas Wolterstorff’s journey through the loss of his 25-year-old son Eric in a mountain-climbing accident. Dr. Wolterstorff is a professor of philosophical theology at Yale Divinity School, but as he writes in this journal-style lament, first and foremost he is a father who has buried a son.

Reading this short little book burst a dam of emotions and tears that have been locked up inside and ever-so-slowly leaking out. He pours out his heart so eloquently, yet as you read each page, you see him taking one step forward, then another.

A few entries midway through the book captured the particular agony of a parent who loses a child.

“And now he’s gone. That future which I embraced to myself has been destroyed. He slipped out of my arms. For twenty-five years I guarded and sustained and encouraged him with these hands of mine, helping him to grow and become a man of his own. Then he slipped out and was smashed.” 

“Was he special? Did I love him more — more than his sister and brothers? When they see my tears, do they think I loved him more?

I visualize the appallingly cruel choice with which Hitler’s henchmen faced Jewish parents: select one of your children for salvation or let all perish. What would I have done? If a parent loved one of her children more, she would pick that one — or would she avoid picking that one, out of blended love and guilt?

I think I would have been immobilized. I love them equally though differently. None is special; or rather, each is special. Each has an inscape in which I delight. I celebrate them all and love them each.

has picked him out, not love. Death has made him special. He is special in my grieving. When I give thanks, I mention all five; when I lament, I mention only him. Wounded love is special love, special in its wound. Now I think of him every day; before, I did not. Of the five, only he has a grave.”

“An image haunts me: proceeding across a battlefield, my father now dead, I am up front to draw the fire. I look back, and one of those I was to protect has fallen.”

By the end, he is considering God’s glory reflected through our suffering and finding hope in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It greatly encouraged me to see that this is a progression. At first the grief and loss are so great that it is all-consuming. But gradually, the fog lifts a little and your heart and mind are slowly able to grasp a bigger picture.

“Made in the image of God: That is how the biblical writers describe us. To be human is to be an icon of God. This glory is one we cannot lose. It can be increased or diminished, though; our imaging can be closer or farther, more glorious or less. Authentic life is to image God ever more closely by becoming like Jesus Christ, the express image of the Father. 

In what respects do we mirror God? In our knowledge. In our love. In our justice. In our sociality. In our creativity. These are the answers the Christian tradition offers us.

One answer rarely finds its way onto the list: in our suffering. Perhaps the thought is too appalling. Do we also mirror God in suffering? Are we to mirror him ever more closely in suffering? Was it meant that we should be icons in suffering? Is it our glory to suffer?”

“I wonder how it’s all going to go when God raises him and the rest of us from the dead? …I don’t see how he’s going to bring it off. But I suppose if he can create he can re-create.

I wonder if it’s all true? I wonder if he’s really going to do it?

Will I hear Eric say someday, really now I mean: “Hey Dad, I’m back”?

“But remember, I made all this, and raised my Son from the dead, so…”

OK. So goodbye, Eric, goodbye, goodbye, until we see.”

I highly recommend this book if you desire greater empathy for those who are grieving. This glimpse into the soul of the grieving-and-trusting will greatly help you comfort the sorrowful around you. This book has been a balm to my aching heart. It would make a great gift for a friend who is suffering loss (though I would wait a month or two to send it to them).

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