David Crumm's Reviews > The Other Side of Suffering: The Father of JonBenet Ramsey Tells the Story of His Journey from Grief to Grace

The Other Side of Suffering by John Ramsey
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Apr 09, 12

Read in April, 2012

Spiritual Truths Behind the Media’s JonBenet Ramsey Tale

Here’s one more shocker about the Ramsey murder case: Just when John Ramsey thought he had suffered more tragedies than Job, his deepening Christian faith led him to spend several months serving the poor in India. That’s where he really saw the nature of suffering first hand. It’s all part of his powerful new memoir that, as a journalist who has watched this story unfold for decades, is clearly the most important insight we’ve seen in this otherwise unrelenting tragedy.

Yes, this story ranks with the trials of Job. But this new book is not a wallowing in self-pity, as much as Ramsey would be justified in doing so. Rather, The Other Side of Suffering now stands as must-read testimony for anyone who is seriously interested in coping with grief and personal injustice, for anyone interested in spiritual formation and for anyone wanting to learn more about peacemaking.

First, let’s be clear about the facts: The question of the Ramseys’ innocence now is carved in granite. New DNA science has ruled them out. Police have publicly apologized to them. Oprah has hosted an exonerating special broadcast. There is no question: Rather than horrific parents who killed their own child, the Ramseys truly were innocents trapped in a tale like Hitchcock’s “Wrong Man.”

So, what does John Ramsey have to say about coping with grief? Well, this family was deeply touched by tragedy, even more than most Americans realized. Earlier, in 1992, the older daughter Beth was killed in an auto accident at age 22. We know from books like Guide for Grief by Rodger Murchison that the untimely death of a child is enough to tear apart a healthy family. The Ramseys were barely coping with Beth’s death when JonBenet was murdered.

Then, Patsy—the spiritual core of the family, this new book explains—faced a second battle with ovarian cancer. Patsy was a remarkable woman and a person of deep faith. Patsy’s reliance on the Bible and prayer (especially readings from the Psalms) is moving for anyone coping with grief. Patsy finally died of her cancer in 2006 at age 49, about two years before the complete exoneration of the Ramseys finally splashed across the news media. Think you’re dealing with the loss, the rage, the hopelessness of grief? Read this new book and you’ll find a wise, battle-scarred companion who has been there before you, and survived.

What does John Ramsey have to say about spiritual formation? He is clear throughout the book that he is neither a theologian nor a pastor. He’s a business executive, a father, a husband, a man trapped in a tragedy; and he admits that he discovered in the depths of his grief that his Christian faith was “immature,” to use his term. By every civic measure of religious commitment, John Ramsey looked like a pillar of the church. In fact, his faith was far too shallow to sustain him. Throughout this new book, we glean spiritual insights along with Ramsey from writers as diverse as C.S. Lewis and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Ramsey never boasts. For years to come, people will read The Other Side of Suffering as an inspiring case study of a man and his wife who took the tough, step-by-step journey to deepen their faith and finally to lay a new and solid spiritual foundation.

What about peacemaking? This is probably the most surprising revelation in the new book and has largely been ignored by other news media covering The Other Side of Suffering. But, at one point in this unfolding drama, Patsy Ramsey was doing a live radio interview and was asked if she wanted to see JonBenet’s murderer sentenced to death. Immediately and honestly, Patsy replied: No. She had seen enough death. This turning point in the drama also involves John Ramsey, who began to wonder what yet another death would mean, even if JonBenet’s murderer finally is captured. At this point in the book, Ramsey writes about what he learned from the Amish after the Nickel Mines tragedy, for example. (I would recommend Don Kraybill’s The Amish Way if you care to read about that larger story.) What John Ramsey describes from his own experience is the kind of real-life story of a change in heart that Daniel Buttry profiles in a book like Blessed Are the Peacemakers. The new memoir by John Ramsey is neither a manifesto on pacifism nor a political argument about capital punishment, but it does stand as moving testimony from a family radically transformed by grace into seeing the nature of punishment and violence in new terms. Peacemakers will be reading this book for many years.
Finally, you may not immediately think of this book for small-group discussion in your congregation but I highly recommend it for that purpose. The topic is sure to draw a curious crowd and John Ramsey’s story honestly and compellingly moves us toward faith and hope.


Mere Christianity
Gift from the Sea
The Amish Way: Patient Faith in a Perilous World
Blessed Are the Peacemakers
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Debra Kelley The Ramseys' innocence is not 'carved in granite'. I agree John Ramsey has been through hell-with the loss of his first daughter as well as the loss of his second which was perpetrated at the hands of his beloved wife. However, this book proves to me beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Ramsey is a master manipulator and knows how to garner sympathy around him. Too bad he's not man enough to tell the truth about JonBenet.


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