The Great Divorce; A Profound Novel for the Ages
The Great Divorce, by C.S Lewis, is where the Magic School Bus meets the Twilight Zone. You can find this short story in the literature and religion section of your bookstore, but the science fiction section would also be fitting. The description of human nature was resplendent. The parables so obvious, such expected behavior, but in a light that makes you shudder. Have you ever read something that makes you pause, ponder, and then look around with your mouth hanging open and your eyes bulging because you’ve been punched with such literary profoundness? That was me, reading this book. I probably looked like a crazy person.
Warning: Indefinite spoilers ahead
A group of Grey Town dwellers catch a bus. Then the bus flies (literally) away and eventually parks itself on Heaven’s front steps. Turns out these dwellers are ghosts and Grey Town is the cusp of Hell. Spirits that know each Grey Town dweller come to visit and invite them to make the same decision they already had which was to accept inexplicable and unending joy, and become a permanent resident of Heaven. Each dweller had their own baggage from their life on earth and in Grey Town that made them blind to what was being offered. They each chose vanity, and self-deception; to cling to grudges, and jealousies; to remain in fear and shame that had been their constant companion. They chose to ignore the eternal consequences of their insufferable pettiness.
There were more quotable quotes in this book than any other book I’ve ever read.
“… if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell” Wow. Profound starting with the prologue. Souvenirs of Hell? Think fear, shame, regret, anger, jealousy, bitterness…
“We know nothing of religion here, we think only of Christ” pg 42. That is what eternity is about! A relationship with Christ… not religious rules and burdensome tradition.
My mind was blown that this story was written in 1946 and described so many in this generation greatly defined by entitlements. With a young man, having been unhappy with his education at five universities and being allotted a handsome allowance, which was never enough. He eventually decided that capitalism enslaves its workers and he chose a life of recognition and appreciation instead. Uh-huh.
“… learning to want God for His own sake” pg 99. Natalie Grant has a new song out, called More Than Anything. She sings about wanting the Healer more than the healing, the Giver more than the giving, and Jesus more than anything. Sometimes the blessings of God distract from the relationship of God. In the book, the concept was depicted with a mother wanting her son more than anything. The Great Divorce Project did a fantastic job of putting this scene on film… Check it out HERE!
On page 72, Lewis discusses why people say NO to Heaven… “There is always something they insist on keeping even at the price of misery… Ye see it easily enough in a spoiled child that would sooner miss its play and its supper than say it was sorry and be friends… in adult life it has a hundred fine names- Achilles’ wrath and Coriolanus’ grandeur, Revenge and Injured Merit and Self-Respect and Tragic Greatness and Proper Pride”. Reading the story, you see clearly, the correct choice, the more fulfilling answer is to choose heaven, but these visitors are so wrapped up in petty grudges, and uncontrolled pride, they are blind to the obvious.
“EVERY DISEASE THAT SUBMITS TO A CURE SHALL BE CURED; BUT WE WILL NOT CALL BLUE YELLOW TO PLEASE THOSE WHO INSIST ON STILL HAVING JAUNDICE, NOR MAKE A MIDDEN OF THE WORLD’S GARDEN FOR THE SAKE OF SOME WHO CANNOT ABIDE THE SMELL OF ROSES” pg 137. Deep, and against everything society is trying to push on us right now.
In one scene, there is a ghostly guest with a reptile. The reptile represents lust or sin. An angel asked to kill it, demonstrating God’s gift of free will (He will never force you to choose goodness). After much hesitation, the ghost gives permission to kill the reptile. As the reptile is dying, the ghost becomes solid, representing strength. The ‘killed’ reptile becomes an amazing stallion. The ghost jumps on and rides joyously into the mountains. Our sin, our shame, our fear, whatever holds us back in life… once we give it to God, it becomes a joy, an accomplishment, a beautiful stallion that we can ride into the sunset. Priscilla Shirer, a Christian speaker and author said it perfectly… “God can take your mistakes and turn them into a miracle”.
A bitter husband found his wife. She was excited to see him and apologized for everything she’d done wrong in their lives. He was bitter and for most of the conversation, had a tragedian speak for him. He had the opportunity to spend eternity with his wife whom he clearly loved, but he couldn’t let go of the hurt that had been caused. So he disappeared, consumed with his anger, and bitterness.
One heavenly character had no earthly fame, no glory, no recognition, but she loved and always spoke life into others. She was honored in Heaven with her own parade. What’s more important… temporary earthly praise, or eternal heavenly praise?
The Great Divorce challenged me in several ways. I used the dictionary countless times… jocund is ‘marked by high spirits’, ‘via dolorosa’ is a painfully difficult route or passage or series of experiences, ‘insuperable’ is incapable of being overcome, ‘vituperation’ is sustained and bitter railings and condemnation. The read was not necessarily a stop-light kind of read… it took focus. It also challenged me to think deeply about my belief system and how I live my life. Am I living with souvenirs of Hell? Am I living for eternal Heavenly praise, or temporary earthly appreciation. Is my goal a relationship with the God of creation, or is it to acquire His blessings?
On page 58, upon considering to stay in Heaven, the main character got scared, thought maybe it was all a cruel joke. “Terror whispered, ‘This is no place for you'”. That whisper you hear, you’re not good enough… or maybe the whisper you hear is that you can take care of yourself, you don’t need God… that is the devil, those are lies. You had no control when God was fashioning you in your mother’s womb, nor will you have control when the earth is done with your body.
In closing… “When, in our whole lives, did we honestly face, in solitude, the one question on which all turned: whether after all the supernatural might not in fact occur? When did we put up one moment’s real resistance to the loss of our faith?… We were afraid of crude salvationism, afraid of a breach with the spirit of the age, afraid of ridicule, afraid (above all) of real spiritual fears and hopes… Having allowed oneself to drift, unresisting, unpraying, accepting every half-conscious solicitation from our desires, we reached a point where we no longer believed the Faith. Just the same way, a jealous man, drifting and unresisting, reaches a point at which he believes lies about his best friend; A drunkard reaches a point at which (for the moment) he actually believes that another glass will do him no harm. The beliefs are sincere in the sense that they do occur as psychological events in the man’s mind. If that’s what you mean by sincerity they are sincere, and so were ours. But errors which are sincere in that sense are not innocent.”
Every day you choose temporal or eternal… make it an educated and conscious decision. And read The Great Divorce 🙂