“The Great Divorce” – C.S. Lewis

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.

C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

I remember, as a child, trying to get my brain around the idea of heaven. I long assumed that the description I heard at church was wrong, because it sounded painfully boring: just a lot of standing around, listening and singing. Like a really long Sunday night church service-mostly like Sunday morning, but better music and I didn’t have to dress up.

I remember the picture I developed in my head. It was basically a boy’s dream bedroom: super comfy bed, with a TV at the foot of the bed with a Nintendo and all the games I wanted. There was a mini fridge filled with Mountain Dew on the side, along with all the Doritos I could want. Above my bed hung my beloved Shaquille O’Neal Orland Magic poster. And, for some reason, I had a lamp by my bed, because I guess I thought that was important…?

The problem was, even that struck me as something that I would (eventually, after a lot of Dew, Doritos and Super Mario Bros) get bored with.

For a long time I struggled coming up with a concrete picture of heaven. I could talk about concepts and ideas, but I wanted pictures in my head. C.S. Lewis gave me 2 great ones: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle, and The Great Divorce.

“What are we born for?”

“For infinite happiness,” said the Spirit. “You can step out into it at any moment.”

C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

The Great Divorce is the story of a bus filled with inhabitants of hell going on a visit to the outskirts of heaven and interacting with some of its inhabitants. Hell is displayed as a very dreary and empty city—the inhabitants have a natural dislike for each other, so they keep building and moving apart so they can live alone in their misery while pretending to be civil. Heaven, on the other hand, is bright and natural. An interesting twist is that the inhabitants of hell find heaven to be “too much.” They are, in essence, ghosts: they aren’t really real, they’re almost not even there. Heaven, by comparison, is so real that even the blades of grass feel sharp to the ghosts.

Just to be clear, both this book and The Last Battle are examples of allegory. They are stories meant to emphasize and bring out ideas, but they can be overextended. I do not believe and will not accept that the Bible teaches that there is an opportunity for inhabitants of hell to visit heaven and choose to stay there, but that is the offer made in The Great Divorce. The shocking revelation is that none of them want to be there.

Earth, I think, will not be found by anyone to be in the end a very distinct place. I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to you have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself.

C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

The crux of the story is the idea of choice. We all choose what we will do: what we will have for supper, who we will marry, whether or not we will eat the whole package of Oreos.

In the story, the opening quote in this post is key-God gave people a choice: either we say to God, “Thy will be done,” or we demand that God say to us, “thy will be done.” So, those who are in hell chose it, on purpose, and no amount of talk or encouragement will make them choose differently.

Throughout the story Lewis introduces us to different “ghosts” and to different “spirits” from heaven that visit them and try to get them to stay. In those conversations I find a lot of myself and my own struggles revealed: selfishness, thinking too highly of myself, self-reliance. All of those things keep us from submitting to God and grabbing hold of the joy that is offered by Him.

Once you were a child. Once you knew what inquiry was for. There was a time when you asked questions because you wanted answers, and were glad when you had found them.

Become that child again: even now.

C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

There are some stories that just resonate with a person. This is one for me. It’s short, but it’s powerful and speaks to something inside all of us: many (all?) of us struggle at times with the concept of what heaven will be. But we cannot grasp the glory, the truth, the weight of heaven, especially in contrast to the emptiness, the loneliness, and the despair of hell.

Even as a Calvinist, I end with this: I pray that we all choose the infinite happiness.

They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why…the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven, : and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.”

And both will speak truly.”

C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

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