category: Campus News

Book by C-N Religion Faculty Plumbs Grief, Offers Wisdom from Experience

There are few things more daunting to a parent than the prospect of giving care to coworkers, friends or fellow church members whose souls are torn asunder by the death of a child. One thing absolutely more daunting is the bracingly cold fear one feels when he or she tries to imagine how close friends must be dealing with such despair.

Personal experience suggests one finds a way to stop the imagination, sever the thought process and move quickly on to something else. A new book issued by Carson-Newman’s School of Religion examines grief from the perspective of those who minister, but also, and perhaps more importantly, from the perspective of those who have needed ministry in such dark days.

Assaulted by Grief: Finding God in the Broken Places (Mossy Creek Press) was written, “in an honest effort to face the great angst which challenges us all as mortals,” says C-N senior visiting professor of religion Dr. Jerry Borchert. “Those who have walked through the Valley of the Shadow of death with a loved one know that it is a heart wrenching experience, the results of which are not integrated into our lives quickly.”

The tome includes clinical pastoral responses for those who find themselves ministering to families suffering from such loss. “It features a collection of theological possibilities drawn from the biblical texts that engage those who find themselves in the broken places or those who reach out to others floundering in the vortex of life’s ultimate losses,” said School of Religion Dean Dr. David Crutchley.

While the work includes a bibliography as a suggested reading list for caregivers and those grieving, the single greatest value of the book may be found in its candor about the reality of suffering. Six chapters feature the expertise of those who, if they had been asked, would have chosen not to be experts – parents who have looked into the abyss, or, as Crutchley says, “…walked the trail of personal tears and lost their own flesh and blood through tragedy.”

Unfathomable loss covered in the book takes many forms, including but not limited to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, automobile accidents and even homicide. Such pain often leaves siblings and others lacking the attention of suffering parents who are spent and left wasted by holes they cannot fill.

Coedited by Crutchley and Borchert, Assaulted by Grief includes chapters by C-N faculty members Dr. Wayne Ballard and Dr. Don Garner. Other chapters were written by retired faculty members Carolyn and Dr. Bill Blevins, who each present perspectives on what they learned about themselves, loss and the legal system in the wake of their daughter’s murder. C-N President Randall O’Brien provides a study in pastoral theology from Job, while senior visiting professor Dr. Harold Bryson discusses God’s presence during times of anguish.

Produced through a partnership between the School of Religion and C-N’s J. Harold Smith Center for Pastor Training, the book includes a chapter “coauthored” over the span of 30 years. Dr. Don Smith, a psychologist who now directs the Radio Bible Hour, incorporates a clinical consideration of grief with his late father’s 1981 recounting of the loss of a four-year child in the early 1940s. Smith notes that although his father had always mourned for Sunny, his final weeks of life seemed to include “anticipatory joy” that he would again see his long departed son.

The broadcaster says he was pleased by the opportunity for RBH to participate in the effort. Of his fellow authors who were willing to be publicly vulnerable, Smith commended, “Their writings are acts of personal and spiritual bravery. I know this experience had to be painful; it would have opened wounds that are perhaps never fully healed in this life.”

The book is available through Mossy Creek Press ( or through online retailers, including

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