This past week I read an incredible book on grief. [Don’t worry, I read a lot of books and only a few are on grief!] But I was attracted to this one because the writer, Elizabeth Alexander, is a poet I like. Plus, Michelle Obama picked it as her favorite book of the year when it came out so I just had to read it…okay… that has absolutely nothing to do with me reading it, but it will probably get my daughter to read it.
The book is called The Light of the World, which is a title with strong Christian connotations, but Alexander is not a Christian. She is of a spiritual bent, but that is it. I wrote a full review of the book another blog I write about books I read. You can read the full review on that blog, but what interests me here is why two of the best books on grief that I’ve read are by atheists or agnostics? Shouldn’t Christians have the market cornered on this?
Besides Alexander’s book, I especially enjoy the novelist’s Julian Barnes’ Levels of Life. Perhaps since they don’t have any hope of a eternal reunion, the atheists or agnostics do a better job of focusing on their current situation. We Christians can be so focused on the afterlife and the eventual reconnection with our loved ones that we don’t focus on our current situation. In addition, as I discussed in an earlier blog, Christians often feel some guilt with grief since it can be implied that they don’t believe in God’s promises or their faith is not strong enough.
Another advantage the atheists/agnostics have is they don’t have to wrestle with how a loving God allows us to suffer (since there is not a good answer to that). Although people always say being a Christian makes life easier, I find it much harder since we live with unanswered questions. But Jesus never said it would be easy to follow him, so I expect it to be harder. And the same is in grief.
Many people lose faith when a loved one dies — you have to work at it. The atheists/agnostics don’t have to worry about their faith so they just focus on their life. And then write clear-eyed explorations of death and grief that benefit all of us. Not we just need a Christian voice with an artistic eye that can give us this type of insight. If you have suggestions, please comment — I always love book recommendations.