|The sorrows of fathers and sons by John Piper|
The sorrows of fathers and sons
Thoughts from the lives of C.S. Lewis and Robert Louis Stevenson
by John Piper
Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island, was born in 1850 and raised in a Christian home in Scotland. His father was a civil engineer and brought up his only child to know and believe the Bible and the Shorter Catechism.
When Robert went to EdinburghUniversity, he left this childhood faith and never returned. He formed a club that had as one of its mottos, “Ignore everything that our parents taught us.” His father found this written on a piece of paper and was informed by Robert that he no longer believed in the Christian faith.
The father, in an overstatement that carries the weight of sorrow, not the precision of truth, said, “You have rendered my whole life a failure.”
Robert wrote to an unbelieving friend, “It was really pathetic to hear my father praying pointedly for me today at family worship, and to think the poor man’s supplications were addressed to nothing better able to hear and answer than the chandelier.”
The path would not be altered, nor the father’s sorrow. In the end, Robert pursued a married woman. She divorced her husband to marry him. Depression was not cured by alcohol. They sailed to the SamoanIslands in the South Seas, where Robert died suddenly at age 44 of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1894.
He wrote that “the sods cover us, and the worm that never dies, the conscience sleeps well at last, [and life is a] pilgrimage from nothing to nowhere.”
A son is not a father’s only life-investment, but there is none like it, and when it fails, there is no sorrow like this sorrow.
* * *
Four years after the death of Robert Louis Stevenson, another literary giant, C. S. Lewis, was born. His story of unbelief has a happier ending, but his relationship with his father was especially painful for his father Albert.
His mother Florence had died of cancer when Lewis was 9. His father did not remarry. There were ample defects on both sides—father and son. But the wounding of the son was more conscious and almost brutal.
By the time Lewis was 20 in 1919, he was, to his father’s dismay, an avowed atheist.
Albert wrote in his journal about the breakdown in his relationship with his younger son, and one explosive encounter in particular when he discovered that the young man had lied to him about his bank account:
Albert dared mention this pain a few months later in a letter to his son, and received back a remorseless response in which the son explained how his previous bluntness was beneficial:
Some truth there, but no contrition.
Amazingly, both Stevenson’s and Lewis’s fathers kept on sending stipends to their sons through the years of rejection.
Six years after his father’s death, Lewis wrote to a friend to catch him up on the last decade: “My father is dead. ... I have deep regrets about all my relations with my father (but thank God they were best at the end).
Perhaps sending money through the broken years was the right thing to do. Perhaps not. What it shows is not approval, nor that the sorrow had disappeared. Rather, it reveals a kind of bond between fathers and sons that is the foundation of pain, not its removal.
Biographical sources – Iain Murray, The Undercover Revolution: How Fiction Changed Britain (2009); and Alan Jacobs, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis (2006).
By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: www.desiringGod.org