A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken Book Review


by Heather Bock

I hope you don’t think I find every book I read amazing. I admit I must sound like that when I write reviews here. After all, I really loved Parenting by Paul David Tripp, The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp, and I’ve found a lot of value in the other books I’ve read and reviewed, too. The truth is I recently read a fiction book that I did not love at all, but as it’s probably not likely my readers would pick that book up anyway, why waste your time telling you why you shouldn’t bother? Someday I might unfavorably review a popular book, but it’s been a while since I’ve read a popular book I didn’t like–before I started reviewing anyway. Maybe I’ll go back to one I didn’t like just to balance out all my positive reviews.

In the meantime, however, I wanted to introduce you to one of my favorite non-fiction books of all time, a book I’ve read several times, but a book with which most people are not familiar. It’s A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken, an autobiographical love story both between a man and a woman and between the couple and God. As I did a little search to find a better picture of the couple in the book than what is in on the cover, I found that this book might be in the process of being made into a movie, so it might become well-known again soon!

Sheldon “Van” Vanauken met Jean “Davy” Davis in the 1930s when they were in college. It wasn’t long before they fell deeply in love, a pagan love, as Van called it. They eloped and built what they called a “Shining Barrier against creeping separateness,” losing their own selves and any selfishness into each other completely. They wanted to be as close as is possible to be, sharing interests, time, and points of view. Whatever decision they had to make was made upon what they called the “Appeal to Love,” meaning, “What will be best for our love?”

Then after both started investigating Christianity, with Van writing letters to C. S. Lewis with his questions about it, Davy became a Christian, falling completely in love with Jesus. This did not diminish her love for Van, but it shifted her focus from him alone to God. Van soon followed, diving into faith, too, but soon Davy’s all-encompassing passion for Christ made Van think she was going too far. It took her away from him more than he wanted. All of a sudden the “Appeal to Love” became the “Appeal to God.” His jealousy over her relationship with God began to not only drive them apart but also drive him away from God.

I don’t mind telling you the next part in the story because it is revealed in the first chapter. Davy came down with a mystery illness that had a deadly effect on her liver, and after a time of illness, she passed away, sending Van into immense grief. He found, however, that he couldn’t abandon God, and he also found that Davy’s death was a severe mercy to him, drawing him to God in a way he never would have done without it.

This beautifully written book taught me what a healthy relationship with my husband should be in light of our relationship with God. It showed me clearly how God sometimes uses the severe mercy of death in an unexpected way to bring someone to a deeper relationship with Him. I loved the wisdom of C. S. Lewis sprinkled throughout the book as he discipled Van by letter. This book has been on my shelf for a long time, but it still remains one of the most impactful ones I have ever read. I hope you’ll take the time to read it and enjoy it as I did.

The Broken Way Book Study Guide and DVD and Skype Session with Ann Voskamp Giveaway


I’m in the middle of a drawing for Ann Voskamp’s The Broken Way six session book study guide and DVD with six eighteen to twenty minute sessions. You could use it with a small group or even donate it to your church.

In addition, if you win the study guide and plan to do it with a small group, tell me and I get to enter your name in to another drawing to win one Skype session with Ann Voskamp herself!

To enter the drawing, subscribe to my blog:

  • Click the button “follow” in the above right column under my picture and type in your email address.

To earn more entries, or if you’re already following my blog,

  • Share my book review of The Broken Way or this post via social media. Each share to a different social media venue earns you one entry (up to three).
  • Let me know in a comment where you’ve shared.
  • Notify me of your name.

Giveaways are open to residents of the continental U.S. and Canada only.

I will announce the winner next Wednesday, so look for it! If I don’t hear from the winner within a week, I will draw another name. Thank you!


5 thoughts on “A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken Book Review

    1. I don’t mind too much writing a negative review (unless it’s for a friend’s book), but I just haven’t come across bad ones recently, except for that little known fiction one I mentioned. 🙂


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