Episode 22 – Book Study : The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis ( Part 1)

William Blake’s the marriage of heaven and hell. Lewis doesn’t pit himself against Blake, rather against the attempt to marry heaven and hell, good and evil. He writes of the divorce of heaven and hell. He writes that there is a modern belief (bearing in mind he’s writing in the 1940’s) that reality doesn’t present us with an unavoidable either/or, but that in due course a way of embracing both alternatives can be found. Some how, evil can become good, without a rejection of what is evil. Lewis responds to this with a number of witty one liners:

“You cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys. We live in a world where every road eventually forks into two – where we must choose.

To put the sum right, one must go back to find the error and working it afresh, never by simply going on – time does not heal evil. “

Chapter 1 – 6

Chapter 1 – HELL

Our journey starts in hell. It’s presented not as a fiery furnace, rather as a grey town, where it is always evening, never night. The time of evening where it’s dark enough to obscure vision but not so dark that street lamps and shop lights pop out from the night. A town which is dingy and where no matter how far or long you walk, better parts of town are never discovered. It is the town of hopelessness. 

  • Hell is a place where both the journey and the destination are obscured. No one knows why or where they are travelling. 

When the bus arrives to pick up the passengers, it clearly something different! Its bright and radiant and the bus driver is ‘full of light’!  They’re about to go somewhere amazing. They’re about to experience Heaven.

Chapter 3

The translucent people and the solid people.

The first thing our narrator realises is that he is translucent, as are the other ghosts. And that in Heaven everything is so real that it is painful for the translucent to experience it. They can change nothing in Heaven, they’re not even able to bend a leaf! 

Hell vs Heaven

Hell is the town of hopelessness, Heaven is reality. Full stop. It is more real than the world we presently occupy — Lewis communicates this by making everything sharp to the transparent ghosts.

Chapter 4 – PRIDE

A conversation ensues between a big ghost, and a light spirit. In the conversation we hear that the light spirit has actually murdered someone but seems to be the one guiding the Big ghost, the ghost is entirely confused as to why the spirit is even here, and feels that is unfair, and begins to dialogue about wanting his rights. That he is owed more because he didn’t something like commit a murder  – ‘I just want my rights’ – striking that an entitlement remains. A judgment of the kind of life he has lived, and he, himself, has deemed it good and therefore he should be owed more. When in reality, Heaven is not a place we can enter into by our own work or merit. It’s only possible by God’s providence. In a sense, as adopted brothers and sisters of Christ, we become heirs to God’s kingdom, but it is only because God has chosen us for Himself, it’s still not something we are ‘owed’ because of something we did. 

Later on the spirit reveals that committing murder wasn’t the worst thing he had done.

‘I murdered you in my heart, that is why I’ve been sent to you, to ask for your forgiveness’

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, page 29

The bitterness that comes from the ghost in return is so cold and so hurt. He wants nothing to do with him, he just wants what he believes is owed to him, which he believes ought to be more than what was owed to the murderer.  

Chapter 5PRIDE

One of Padre’s favourites. An Anglican bishop, one of the occupants of hell, who has come to visit heaven, encounters one of his colleagues – a bright spirit who tries to convince him to desire heaven and let go of hell. This is a conversation between an intelligent yet stupid man (The Bishop), and an intelligent wise man (His colleague).

Bishop the opportunity for repentance. And to this offer the Bishop puts up lie after lie and his colleague just continually smacks them down again and again. Heaven is the land where lies are subject to a smackdown of epic proportions. Where, when, and how do we try and cheat God? Its an absurd idea, yet it happens frequently enough, where we try and reason away our sins and vices, as though God is convinced by our argument. 

The other interesting thing that Lewis points to is ‘sins of intellect.’ Essentially sins of pride by which we will not allow our hearts to be moved by truth. Orthodox faith is actually an essential part of relationship with God. And that makes sense. If we willingly tell lies about someone we’re supposedly friends with for the sake of social convenience then we have ceased to remain in friendship with that person. 

The challenge toward to humility the Bishop receives is that Heaven is the land of answers not of questions. There is no scope for his talents in Heaven – forgiveness for not using them well, this is the land of God!

You know the old saying – ‘the destination doesn’t matter its the journey’. The Bishop uses it to try and justify his apostate position. The Bright spirit just smacks it down – if that were true then there would be no hope in our travelling! 


The Ghost who wants to bring heaven into hell

One Ghost sees an apple, and despite everything in Heaven being so heavy for the transparent ghosts, he manages to pick one up! He wants to take it back to hell. But a voice booms! There is no room for it in hell! Learn to it eat it in Heaven. 

We can think of a ‘have my cake and eat it too’ morality which is common today. We can’t mix good and evil and hope to keep the good. We actually have to choose — opposite of cafeteria christianity. What is demonstrated here is not only a pride which refuses to let go of evil, but also a shame, which makes one think that there is no possible alternative to the hell that’s presently being experienced.

That’s Chapters 1 to 6 covered!

Read chapters 7-11 for next week’s Podcast.

Free Audio book – https://hqaudiobooks.com/c-s-lewis-the-great-divorce-audiobook/

Book study reflective questions + video questions

TBG (Truth, Beauty, Goodness)

SB – Voces8 

SC – cups of tea – 

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