I read this book for one of my classes in college. I hated it at first. It was so sappy and romantic and really not my thing at all. But then he started talking about God, and it got interesting. Then his wife died and it was heart-wrenching. And as he wrote about grieving her he also talked about the idea of a severe mercy.
“It was death—Davy’s death—that was the severe mercy. There is no doubt at all that Lewis is saying precisely that. That death, so full of suffering for us both, suffering that still overwhelmed my life, was yet a severe mercy. A mercy as severe as death, a severity as merciful as love.”
He explains his realization that he was jealous of God. His love for his wife was greater than his love for God, but her love for God had grown greater than her love for him. Lewis explained to him that an early death preserved their love for each other, and released him from his jealousy in order to make right his relationship with God.
C.S. Lewis believes that natural love has to die, one way or another. In another book he explains that the natural loves, when worshiped before God, become a kind of evil. For example, mothers who love their children to the point of not allowing them to grow up, because they will not be without them. In A Severe Mercy he states, “I sometimes wonder whether bereavement is not, at bottom, the easiest and least perilous of the ways in which men lose the happiness of youthful love. For I believe it must always be lost in some way: every merely natural love has to be crucified before it can achieve resurrection and the happy old couples have come through a difficult death and re-birth. But far more have missed the re-birth.”
The concept of a severe mercy is that God loves us so much he will put us through any kind of pain necessary to achieve our best good. In this story that mercy was death, in my childhood it was divorce. Twice.
I know that sounds horrible. I have so many scars and so much pain in my heart from those wounds, but I can see now how God was working through it all to shape me. Each divorce drastically changed the course of my life and brought me to God. Through that turmoil I met the people who taught me some of my deepest values. I learned important lessons about what kind of person I want to be. I learned empathy and compassion and not to compare pain. He brought me to Bible camp, where I finally found Him, and learned so much about him from so many people. My experiences at camp led me to Bible college, where I met my husband. He has helped me so much. And God gave us our son. Being his mom has saved my life. So many days the only reason I kept going, kept fighting, was for him. His needs–his autism and his peanut allergy (of all things)–brought us to our church, where God keeps speaking to me, healing me, and shaping me. God showed me this today—the severe mercies in my own life—and it actually helped to finally understand my seemingly needless pain as a part of His plan for my best good. It wasn’t what I wanted. He knew what I needed. He could have left me alone with my family, instead He chose to break me and make me His. A severe mercy.