By Matt Dabbs
Trusting the God of Sorrow and Joy
by Beverly Dowdy
The Wind That Destroys and Heals
Released April 2003, Shaw Books,
imprint of Waterbrook Press.
JoJo Floss (Susan Sarandon) in Moonlight Mile throws a book in the fire. A friend had sent it after the death of her daughter.
Words rarely work well in severe suffering. In The Wind that Destroys and Heals: Trusting the God of Sorrow and Joy, Stephen Broyles reflects on consolation that seemed to trivialize the death of his wife. She died of breast cancer one Christmas day, leaving him with two children to “confront the perplexities of mortality and faith.” Broyles’s The Wind that Destroys and Heals could be on the hearth next to C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed and Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy. All three of these writers have been through the fires of grief and doubt.
Indeed, what Broyles brings in this volume, whose size belies its might, is a Psalter of sorts for the man or woman wrestling with inexplicable evil. Broyles’s book enjoins the reader to wrestle with him. He refers to journals recorded in the years following his wife Betty’s death as his “barbaric yawp against the illness and its effect on their lives.” The book itself, far from being a yawp, is a masterful weaving of theology, philosophy, story and heartstrings. In a subtle exposition of Psalms, Job and the resurrection, Broyles effectively uses his rich insight into the biblical text, stories and his eye for the extraordinary in every day life, to blanket his readers with the comfort that he has received.
Broyles grew up in a “world full of psalms” –psalms painted on plaques and recited at school, such as, “Delight thyself in the LORD and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” As he opens readers to the voice of lament in the Psalms he explains:
I have never seen a decorative ceramic banner that reads, “Thou hast put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and the deep.” … I have never seen a Sunday-school button with this wish for the wicked: “Let them be like the snail which dissolves into slime.” …The fierce Psalms are in fact easier to find than the gentle ones, because there are so many more of them. They make up a major element in the Psalms for which fierce is exactly the right word.
The Wind That Destroys and Heals walks readers through a turbulent array of questions bereft of clear, simple answers. What can be discerned with clarity is that Job’s seven sons and three daughters die in a windstorm and Job’s hope revives upon meeting God in the whirlwind.
“… the wisdom of God is greater than the irrationality of evil….That is the mystery revealed in the whirlwind. That is what allows the believer to flee into the arms of the God who does nothing. That is what allows the wind that destroys also to heal.”
The powerful understanding from the study of Job for Broyles was “that Job trusted God even when his world fell apart. And God trusted Job to remain faithful and to live without answers.”
Among contemporary writers on the subject of good, evil and doubt, I applaud the eloquence and earnestness of writers like Harold Kushner (When Bad Things Happen to Good People). However, for me something is missing. Broyles’s book speaks appreciatively of the Hebrew belief system’s emphasis on the experience of the here and now. He encourages his readers to embrace the glory of now. But there’s more— “The resurrection of the body on the last day and the eternal enjoyment of the presence of God.”
Broyles leads us to the Garden of Gethsemane and then allows us to see the pattern of descent and ascent in the death and resurrection of Christ.
At certain points this book reads like a novel. We’re acquainted with Stephen, Betty, John and Stephanie Broyles through vignettes of the days surrounding Betty’s death. Other times it is full of theologizing, which can be forgiven, because Broyles is theologian and teacher by profession. However, if you appreciate C.S. Lewis and Sheldon VanAuken, you will not toss this in the fireplace. I shared an early manuscript of The Wind That Destroys and Heals with a widowed friend of mine several years ago. She appreciated the book a great deal then. A few months ago, she experienced one of those days in which grief seemed to overwhelm her. Reading the book through for the second time she said The Wind that Destroys and Heals covered her grief like a blanket on a cold night.If JoJo Floss gets a copy of this one, maybe she’ll leave it on the hearth until she is ready to hope again.
Beverly Choate Dowdy is a native of suburban Detroit, a graduate of Harding University with a degree in Social Science, a teacher and debate coach at Greater Atlanta Christian School. She teaches Bible classes in her church in Marietta, Georgia, and speaks at spiritual retreats. She is married to Ken Dowdy and the mother to Chris, 22, and Trevor, 18.
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