Today’s Book Review comes from guest contributor Dean Chia, PhD student at Westminster Theological Seminary, who owns and blogs at Brutus Facticus. Today we step back from exegesis to cover a book that reveals the grief of loss and the faithfulness of God. This work is somewhat unusual for our blog, but some might argue we do not really understand Scripture until we are able to apply it, and this work would help greatly to apply all that Scripture says about pain, suffering, and God’s goodness in the midst of trial. Dean reviews Elizabeth Groves’ Grief Undone: A Journey with God and Cancer (New Growth Press, 2015).
One certain truth in life that everyone must face, especially pastors and counselors, is the grim reality of death. Many have either grieved personally or have walked alongside friends who grieve the loss of a loved one. Death does not choose selectively but comes for us all. It is dark, terrifying, serious, horrible, and inescapable.
On one hand, no one can ever fully prepare for it prior to experiencing its devastating power in one’s life, whether it be family or one’s own keen sense of mortality. That said, there is much wisdom to be found in the Word of God and in the experiences of His people, and one would be wise to listen to elder saints who have walked through the valley of the shadow of death and have not found their Shepherd wanting, but fully worthy of trust and adoration. Much wisdom can be found in the lives of wise and mature Christians whom God called along this painful path down which no one intentionally chooses to walk.
Grief Undone: A Journey with God and Cancer is such a resource for those who have wrestled, are wrestling, or will wrestle with death and the pain and grief that comes with it. The author, Libbie Groves, my Hebrew teacher at Westminster Seminary, is a generous guide who invites the reader to journey with her as she shares her family’s journey before, during, and through the cancer diagnosis of her husband, Al Groves, a former professor of Old Testament at Westminster. In this chronicle of the final days of a family fighting with melanoma, accepting its reality, and living life after it, Libbie shows both how real her family’s grief and suffering is, and how real her gracious heavenly Father is. We see here a story of a family belonging to God who struggle and grow in their trust and hope in their sovereign Lord, both in his gracious care and in his unyielding mercy. The Groves family teaches us not only in word but also in deed what it means to become a people who can rejoice always, even in the midst of suffering and endless tears.
This book is written in part to comfort the afflicted and to help those comforting the afflicted see a picture of the world from the perspective of the afflicted, that all may learn to mourn with those who mourn and encourage one another in faithful obedience and trust in the Lord. The book is 208 pp. long and is broken into 89 chapters, organized roughly chronologically into the following sections: “Life Before”; “Winter ’06”; “Spring ’06”; “Summer ’06”; “Fall ’06”; “Winter ’06-’07”; “Life After”; and “Looking Back.” Eighty-nine chapters in a book barely over 200 pages means that the chapters are very short and average slightly more than two pages in length. Libbie writes in the Introduction, “I have intentionally kept most of the chapters short, knowing that some of you who read this may be in the midst of grief” (2).
One of the many strengths of this book is its wisdom, humor, and encouragement. One strength is seen when Libbie shares the truths she has experienced as a Christian who had to navigate between stabbing pains of grief and overwhelming joy that cannot be suppressed. For example,
Suffering is real, and painful, and life-changing, and we shouldn’t minimize that. The good news of Jesus’s triumph over death and sin is real, and hope-filled, and life-changing, and we shouldn’t minimize that either. We have to hold both truths in our hands at the same time and walk a line between them without falling off on either side (161).
Life with grief is bittersweet, and the sweeter something is, the more bitter it is to experience it without your loved one (181).
These amazing quotations are a dime a dozen (but they certainly don’t come cheap at all!). What a resource this book has been and will be for any who read it.
In conclusion, buy it. We will all have loved ones die; we will all mourn with friends whose loved ones have died. We too will also die. Dealing with this grief is difficult, and it requires wisdom. So why not read this book and listen to the wise words of a woman who is willing to share her experiences and interpret them in light of God’s Word? Her experiences are painful and require walking through the valley of the shadow of death, but such walking is without fear. For death has lost its sting, and our Lord is a Good Shepherd who in his mercy and love undoes grief and fills it with inexplicable joy.