I just finished C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. It was fantastic. The story is basically a dream where a man in hell and some fellow passengers board a bus to the foothills of heaven. They meet residents of heaven who plead with them to repent, though their pleas often fall on deaf ears. Lewis’ imagination is amazing. Here are three thoughts coming out of the book.
1. Heaven is more real than earth. Not less.
Lewis goes out of his way to tell the reader that he is not speculating what heaven or hell is really like. This is not some kind of “I spent 30 minutes in the afterlife and let me tell you what I saw.” It’s fantasy. When you get that, you come to appreciate Lewis’ imagination in this allegorical tale.
For example, Lewis’ description of hell is like a grey town. It’s never morning. It’s never night. It’s just always rainy and grey. It’s ever expanding as the inhabitants can’t stand one another and move further and further away from each other. There’s no society. No community. Instead, millions of miles of empty streets separate one resident from the next. It’s lonely and would take forever to find the next person. Not that anyone there would want to.
By contrast, heaven is painfully vivid. Painfully because heaven is more real than anything on earth or in hell. This description jumped out at me. In the past, I’ve thought of heaven as this wispy, translucent, ghost-like place. Yet Lewis describes it as more real than earth, not less. More physical. More solid. In fact, it’s the passengers on the bus who Lewis calls “ghosts.” You can see right through them. They are not solid enough yet for heaven. The grass feels like bricks to their thin feet. The rain feels like bullets to their frail bodies. Should they repent and choose to journey past the foothills into deep heaven, they will only become more real, not less. I loved that. What awaits the Christian is not an eternity floating lightly on wispy clouds but a reality more thick than anything we’ve ever known.
2. The ghosts are in Hell because they want to be there.
Various saints of the better country plead with the passengers on the bus to accompany them into the mountains of heaven. Yet one by one, for scores of different reasons, the invitations are declined. For example, one ghost is offended that a friend from earth, a repentant murderer, is in heaven while he is in hell. He wants no part of a place where that could happen. Here’s an excerpt:
“I always done my best and I never done nothing wrong. And what I don’t see is why I should be put below a bloody murderer like you…I only want my rights. I’m not asking for anybody’s bleeding charity…If they choose to let in a bloody murderer all because he makes a poor mouth at the last moment, that’s their look out. I don’t want charity. I’m a decent man and if I had my rights I’d have been here long ago and you can tell them I said so…I’d rather be damned than go along with you. I came here to get my rights, see? Not to go sniveling along on charity tied onto your apron strings. If they’re too fine to have me without you, I’ll go home…I didn’t come here to be treated like a dog. I’ll go home. That’s what I’ll do. Damn and blast the whole pack of you…”
For Lewis, no one is in hell because God cruelly cast them there. He says it like this.
Never fear. There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.
3. Why don’t I read more?
I’m jealous of book-lovers. For me, reading doesn’t come easy. There’s other things I’d rather be doing. When I do it, it takes a lot of effort and most of the time it’s because I have to and not because I want to. But when I’m done I wonder why I don’t do it more. For all my fellow lousy readers at Seven Mile Road, I get it. The remote is so much easier. But like all good things that don’t come easy, the effort is so worth it.