Tuesday, April 21, 2009
The Tears of God
I came to Fr. Benedict Groeschel's latest book, The Tears of God, with a bias. I don't think I shall ever recover from the depth and incisive rhetoric of David B. Hart's Doors of the Sea, his examination and refutation of Christian attempts to rationalize human suffering and catastrophe. Nothing, I assumed, could top that.
But my bias was soon overcome, for Groeschel has neither written a theological examination of suffering nor attempted to explain philosophically the Christian world view on the non-being of evil. Instead, he has written a book for those who are experiencing catastrophe themselves or are close to those experiencing it. Since we will all suffer at some point, he also explicitly recommends it for those preparing their hearts for that moment.
He has written the book as one entirely immersed in that point of view which Hart so perfectly articulates.: "We Christians are not obliged (and perhaps not even allowed) to look upon [catastrophe] and to attempt to console ourselves or others with vacuous cant about the ultimate meaning or purpose residing in all misery. Ours is, after all, a religion of salvation. Our faith is in a God who has come to resuce his creation from ... the empitness and waste of death [and] the forces ... that shatter liing souls (Hart, 101)." In perfect unison with Hart, Groeschel gives experiential witness to the fact that God himself has willingly suffered catastrophe and to the fact that this matters in our lives.
The Tears of God is eminently practical (Groeschel is a trained psychologist), leading the reader through the experience of catastrophe and the steps of sorrow that follow. He uses anecdotes from the attacks on the World Trade Center, the genocide in Rwanda, and--most predominantly--survivors of the Shoah and World War II to illustrate his points. More than illustrations, however, these living examples of grief offer hope to those of us suffering now. They have "come through the fire" and cleaved to the cross of Christ. In their relationship with a God who suffers with them, they find the strength to continue and even rebuild lives that were seemingly destroyed.
Groeschel urges his readers to meditate on heaven, especially as described in Revelation 21 and 22: "I read these chapters very often because that's where I'm going, and I await the coming of the Lord." His simple faith and (oddly enough) forceful humility on this point is particularly moving, considering our cultural tendency to suppress the thought of death or the end times. Groeschel, in contrast, finds them most comforting in times of great pain.
In the second half of the book, Groeschel's voice disappears. He has collected (and in some cases written) prayers for times of catastrophe--for murder victims, suicides, those who themselves have caused catastrophes, the seriously ill, imminent death, natural disaster victims. He also includes an anthology of Scripture quotations and some spiritual essays for private reading.
The overall result is a brief, but insightful, handbook for those who suffer. It takes only a few hours to read Groeschel's own thoughts, but the reader may return repeatedly to the prayers and meditations. It is a beautiful resource, a love letter to those who share in Christ's unending Passion.
This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Tears of God.