Douglas Groothuis, Walking Through Twilight: A Wife’s Illness – A Philosopher’s Lament (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2017)
In his memoir, Walking Through Twilight: A Wife’s Illness – A Philosopher’s Lament, Douglas Groothuis combines several things often lacking in books written on suffering and God. There are good books out there on a theology of suffering and there are moving tales of the personal experience of suffering, but rarely can an author integrate the personal story, faithful lament, theological and philosophical reflection, and make wonderful use of the biblical account. Dr. Groothuis’ work is filled with sorrow, honesty, wisdom, and surprising grace.
Through the book he weaves the story of his beloved wife’s descent into a rare form of dementia, primary progressive aphasia, into a reflection on lament and relationship with God. There is plenty of brutal honesty here as we look in on the mind of a brilliant woman falling apart. Most of the chapters are biographical – thus the label of “memoir” – and a few of the chapters are more philosophical in their form. Altogether, they comprise a powerfully well-rounded account of a man who loves Christ, dealing thoughtfully and prayerfully with one of the more complicated and painful things a husband could face.
In a book like this it would be unsurprising if an author used a handful of well-worn biblical passages to proof-text things he or she wanted to say, but Dr. Groothuis avoids that trap. Their situation and his desire to lament well drives him into Scripture for wisdom and guidance. As a result, you and I have our eyes and hearts open to a fuller understanding of Scripture and how God works. Walking Through Twilight makes wonderful use of Ecclesiastes, a difficult book to interpret on a good day, as well as just about every other form of literature in the Bible. This is a book that reinforces the Protestant commitment that Scripture guides us and not the other way around.
Among many other things, Dr. Groothuis provides clear and experienced guidance on how to talk to and love people suffering unremitting pain. Christians (though not exclusively) are well-known for simple and trite answers to difficult situations. His advice guides us into loving friendship, silence, and the simple comfort of saying, “I hate this for you.”
By in large the Evangelical and Protestant world is tempted to ignore the most difficult realities of life, sometimes going to the extreme of placing guilt at the feet of the sufferer. We need more works like this to help us develop what one friend of mine likes to call, a “theology of the cross.” When we suffer we look to the cross and our Savior. Dr. Groothuis writes, “If we are tempted to look elsewhere for meaning and hope in this suffering, we must return to the earnest confession of Peter: ‘Where else can we go?’ Like Peter, I know too much to go back” (pg. 50).
Scripture never averts its eyes from the pain of life, and neither should we. This book is a gift to us.
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