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By Nicholas Wolterstorff / Eerdmans / 1987
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Well-known Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff has authored many books that have contributed significantly to several disciplines. But in Lament for a Son, he writes not as a scholar but as a loving father grieving the loss of his son.
With a moving honesty and intensity Wolterstorff explores all the facets of his experience of this irreversible loss, using brief vignettes. Though he grieves “not as one who has no hope,” he finds no comfort in the pious-sounding phrases that would diminish the malevolence of death.
The book is in one sense a narrative account of events—from the numbing telephone call on a sunny Sunday afternoon that tells of 25-year-old Eric’s death in a mountain climbing accident, to a graveside visit a year later. But the book is far more than narrative. Every event is an occasion for remembering, for meditating, for Job-like anguish in the struggle to accept and understand.
A profoundly faith-affirming book, Lament for a Son gives eloquent expression to a grief that is at once unique and universal—a grief for an individual, irreplaceable person. Though it is an intensely personal book, Wolterstorff decided to publish it, he says, “in the hope that it will be of help to some of those who find themselves with us in the company of mourners.”
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Lament for a Son is a simple, honest, and poignant expression of one man’s grief, but it is more. By sharing the depths of his grief, not in trite phrases but honestly, Nicholas Wolterstorff helps open the floodgates for those who cannot articulate their pain. . . . This little book is a true gift to those who grieve and those who, in love, reach out to comfort. Wolterstorff’s words are, indeed, ‘salve on our wounds.’ Thank God he did not remain silent.
—Henri J. M. Nouwen, author, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming
Wolterstorff inquires as Job inquired. He is honest and utterly resistant to the cheap answers about death: finally, to any answers about death at all. . . . He looks, without foolish giddiness or delusion, but in faith, to the day that death and this death shall be overcome—and he takes his place beside all who suffer . . .
—Walter Wangerin Jr., senior research professor, department of English, Valparaiso University
Read him, and again I say unto you, please read him.
—Martin E. Marty, Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity, University of Chicago Divinity School
This book is destined to become a classic. . . . It is a book of questions in the face of death, searching for how to go on, living without a loved one. . . . He expresses both the evil of death and the face of God in and through death. It is a poem to life that expresses the numbness of death, the isolation of grief, the silence and yet suffering of God, finding meaning in the suffering. This is a book to read over and over and over.
—Journal of Psychology & Christianity
For the gift of this personal meditation, the Christian community should offer profound gratitude. Perhaps once or twice a year—in a good year—one reads a book so compelling, so essential, that one wishes to advise all friends, ‘Here, please read this book. It’s wonderful.’ Simple and profound, Lament for a Son is such a book.
Nicholas Wolsterstorff is Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology at Yale University and senior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. Before coming to Yale he was professor of philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for 30 years.