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A Review of Walking Through Twilight. By Doug Groothuis.

Dec 6, 2017

IVP, 2017.

There is nothing new about pain and suffering, and why God’s people have to endure so much of it. Job wrestled with these matters three millennia ago, and we still do today. There are no easy answers, but there are always plenty of questions.

Suffering comes in many forms, but some of the most difficult has to do with dealing with a loved one as they go through deep pain and suffering. When a family member for example goes through such periods, there is a doubling of the grief: their pain and your pain as you struggle through it together.

Many books have been written by those who have gone through such heart-crushing and soul-numbing suffering, and I have reviewed many of them here. This new volume is well worth adding to the collection. It is more a series of thoughts, reflections and insights than any sort of systematic treatise.

It concerns a seminary professor whose beloved wife has been struck down with a form of dementia. Doug met Becky in 1983. They fell in love and married a year later. She was a terrific soul mate, especially intellectually. She could help keep this philosophy professor and apologist on his intellectual toes.

She edited his books and sharpened him mentally and spiritually. But over the past four or five years Doug’s wife has developed a form of dementia, throwing both their worlds upside down. Now she can do little of what they both had enjoyed doing together.

She used to be an author and speaker in her own right, but now she cannot read, write or do the simplest of tasks, such as putting on her shoes. And her condition is worsening, with no cure for her ailment. So now Doug seeks to continue his teaching, writing and speaking activities, but is also a fulltime caregiver.

Others come in and help, but the main responsibility falls on him. It is hard – very hard – on both of them. With a half a decade of this, some of his thoughts and meditations are now in book form – somewhat therapeutic for him, and hopefully of real help to others.

While we each suffer separately, we also all share a common humanity, so the comfort and insights one gets in intense suffering can be offered to others, and be of some use. In all this there are of course no easy answers. Glib responses and clichés – even really “spiritual” ones – help no one here.

For the Christian, one can only hope to be drawn closer to Christ, known as the Suffering Servant. Groothuis reminds us that the word ‘excruciating’ means to take on a cross: “It was invented as a reflection on the passion of Jesus. If we take the cross of Christ, we can become a bit more like Christ, more aware of others’ suffering, and more willing to listen and help.”

During such suffering, life really does become radically different. For the believer, the laments of Scripture take on new meaning for example. The words of past sufferers now become so real, even palpable. Life is now looked at in a whole new light.

Impending death is said to wonderfully concentrate the mind, and persistent suffering sure can help us reacquaint ourselves with reality. All the games and trivial pursuits fade away as we come to grips with the pain and grief. And the response can be twofold – we either become bitter or better.

Many believers of course simply give up, turn their backs on God, accuse him of all manner of things, and spend the rest of their lives in anger and bitterness. Suicide also becomes an option for such folks. They have lost any sense of hope because they have given up on the only one who can provide hope.

Doug was tempted by the former option of bitterness: he had to deal with anger, even with bouts of hatred toward God. But like the apostle Peter he had to ask, ‘Who can we turn to but you?’ And as an apologist, philosopher and ethicist, he already had plenty of all the right answers stored away.

But getting what is in one’s head into one’s soul during these deeply dark times is the real issue. That is something all Christians must learn. We all have so much head knowledge, but how much of it is real, experiential knowledge? Indeed, did we ever have a real and vital faith prior to suffering?

Such times of testing certainly bring these matters to the fore. For me, this volume was helpful on so many levels, in large measure because I identify with the author in so many areas. I have most of his books and have enjoyed them thoroughly.

I have even chatted with him on the social media a bit. We are roughly the same age, and I too love what he loves. I also very much relish apologetics, philosophy, ethics, reading, writing and teaching. I too married a gal who impressed me – among other things – because of her intellect.

Believe it or not, she actually reads MORE than I do. She too often helps edit my work. She too has done all the financial work at home. So I sometimes selfishly wonder how I would cope if she moves on – I would not even know how to pay the bills.

She did have a hip replacement a while back, so I came to know a bit about being a caregiver. And as we both age, we both will be called upon to do this much more. But that was a temporary situation. The dementia Becky has is not curable, and things will not get better.

Thus despite plenty of prayer, fasting, visits to specialists and Christian carers, and everything else one does in these situations, Doug is now resigned to the fact that she is not going to improve. He notes how Catherine Marshall spoke about the need for a “prayer of relinquishment”.

“The act of giving up,” he writes, “frees up possibilities, even though you must accept the unacceptable.” He reminds us that the supreme act of surrender and relinquishment was when Jesus offered up his life to the Father:

The man who cast out demons with a word, who caused the cripple to dance with joy, who made the blind man see, who gave the widow back her dead son, this man must die – not after a long life, as with Moses, but in his earthly prime. Jesus submitted when he could have escaped. Yes, I gave up any hope for Becky’s healing or for any amelioration of her disease. I would have to manage her decline, day by darkening day. But God has not given up on us, although that often seemed true.

This hope must sustain the burdened soul. And burdened these souls are, in the case of Doug and Becky Groothuis. The release is not quickly coming. It can be for some. For example, “David lost his son quickly. There is nothing quick about the decline demanded by dementia. Time slows down as the misery speeds up.”

In the meantime, Doug must heed what Paul said in Colossians 4:17: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.” Thus he will still write, and teach, and preach. But he will also keep being the caregiver Becky needs him to be, until….

Writing down what one is going through is never pleasant, but we can all be grateful that Doug did this. It can help the one who is suffering, but hopefully it can provide comfort and relief for others as well. It has provided that to me, and I believe it will do so for many others.

Thanks Doug. Bless you and Becky.

[1292 words]

11 Responses to A Review of Walking Through Twilight. By Doug Groothuis.

  • I have been following Doug and Becky’s progress too, drawing so much hope and inspiration from Doug’s example in the face of suffering. Love his books too. But thanks, Bill, for your own words which aptly sum up the theme of my own walk for the past 3-4 years –
    ‘But getting what is in one’s head into one’s soul during these deeply dark times is the real issue. That is something all Christians must learn. We all have so much head knowledge, but how much of it is real, experiential knowledge? Indeed, did we ever have a real and vital faith prior to suffering?’
    I find that applying ‘head-knowledge’ into ‘experiential knowledge’ and practice’ is a long, lonely, painful and sobering journey.

  • Thanks so much for this message, it helps me as my dear husband is slowly showing signs of dementia. Knowing our Lord is with us throughout this leg of life’s journey together is a great comfort.

  • Bill: Thank you for your kind comments, love, and insights. Doug

  • Thanks Doug. Keep standing strong. We will keep praying for you guys.

  • Yes, we do wrestle with this, and there are no easy answers.

    My wife has a long term severe disability and needs to use a wheelchair most of the time.
    Other Christian friends of ours have problems with mental stability, and others again with all kinds of things that have neither responded to medical care or faith. Same as all of us!
    One of our friends who, with her husband has been a missionary for many decades, and a pastors in Australia, and has seen resurrections from the dead, along with many other divine healings, and miraculous interventions; is now suffering herself with early dementia and is physically weak as well. I spoke with her husband just Tuesday, about how they were going, and about the expectation for healing that we so easily……. No easy answers.

    Coming with a Pentecostal view of healing makes it even more difficult.
    There is an undercurrent about “lack of faith”, or “unconfessed sin”, if someone is not healed.
    The whole idea about “giving up”, or accepting the sickness/illness/disability as from God, is antithetical to the concept that “healing is in the atonement”, and that healing is obtained in exactly the same way, and on exactly the same terms, as forgiveness of sins.

    Yet, what else can one do, but to be accepting, and to be at peace with God.
    It is possible that being at peace with God in the midst of the terrible, shows as much faith and character, and indeed Christian grace, maturity, and victory, as fighting against the terrible, with all of ones spiritual gumption. A key of course, is to know what God wants us to do. That factor alone, can add to the trouble. Questions arise then about my ability to hear God, and/or about my ability to be obedient, faithful, etc etc.

    There are no easy answers here, and even our understanding of Eternal Truth as proclaimed in the scriptures, may add to the problem rather than relieve it. Somewhere, sometime, we must come to God with the biggest faith, and the biggest hope. That faith and hope, attaches much more to the eternal than the mortal, much more to the Kingdom that is not of this world, than the Kingdom that is in this world. Finally we must believe that “unto Him are all things”.
    It is then that we may begin to hope to handle those things which are impossible.

  • Thanks Bruce. Yes you are fully correct to say there are no easy answers. And yes, some Christian groups will not be happy with the idea of a prayer of relinquishment, etc. I have dealt with such folks often. While not wishing to belabor all this here, let me just deal with one of the points you mention – I have dealt with it elsewhere in more detail:

    billmuehlenberg.com/2012/04/29/is-physical-healing-in-the-atonement/

  • An endearing review, Bill. Thanks for writing this for my friend, as I know first-hand how he’s suffered with his beloved.

  • A topic I’d rather not have to personalise – I’d rather it stay as head knowledge only. But who knows. And then I don’t think I ever understood forgiveness until it was painfully necessary to forgive.
    On a lighter side, considering that my wife often acts as an editorial consultant for me, and I can never understand how my clear succinct text could ever be misinterpreted or improved, nevertheless it finishes up better after her editorial input. So I had fun mentally punctuating one of your sentences and note that both versions apply for me:

    She, too often, helps edit my work.
    She too, often helps edit my work.

  • Thanks Bill for the links, very good.
    I reckon one of the enemies favorite tactics is to get someone to excitedly exaggerate the truth, just a little mind you. Result – grief and disolution.

  • Thanks very much for your article, Bill. I really needed to read this, this morning!!! Our dog, who looks almost identical to the one pictured, broke one of his front legs, on Monday, while in the care of friends. The extra effort required to carry him outside to go to the toilet(13kgs) and to keep him in a padded cage, for the next 6 weeks, has toppled my cart and has also challenged “getting what is in my head into my soul”. I work part time and also care for my husband, who has chronic pain (and many other health issues) resulting from a car accident we were both in, 19 years ago. After going through a red light absent- mindedly on Wednesday and backing into a post in our new car yesterday, I realise I need to step back from work,( which God has graciously allowed to be finished in one week) and let Him show me how to do life with this new ‘burden’ (restriction).
    I am thankful that my relationship with the Lord has definitely grown and deepened as He has provided for us( with a young family at that time) over the years since the car accident. Just this year God has been helping me understand how when I get to the end of myself, His grace is something real and supernatural that is given to me when I simply ask God for it.
    The prayer of relinquishment is also helpful to me in regards my husband and his worsening health and one of our daughters, who has a condition called EDS.
    Thank you again Bill and blessings and prayers to you and your wife. Also to Doug and Becky.

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