C.S. Lewis has to be one of my most favorite authors of all time. His works have been pivotal in my life causing me to think outside the box with regards to faith and helping me understand the reasonableness of that faith and come to grips with my own fears and doubts. His words of allegory and story have gripped many through his Chronicles of Narnia series and the chilling fictional letters of demons in Screwtape Letters still convict the modern readers. But a far more influential book in my life has to be Lewis’, The Great Divorce.
In it, C.S. Lewis paints a story about a bunch of people who are awaiting a bus in the dismal town of hell that will take them to the plains of heaven. Once arriving in a world more real then our own, these people find that the grass hurts their feet, and that they appear as shadowy ghosts and that the inhabitants of heaven are so bright and jovial that many of these ghostly visitors refuse to give up their selfish grudges, twisted loves, self righteousness and bitterness from their past to enjoy eternal joy. Here are some of my favorite quotes and thoughts from the book…
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. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.
In the course of the book, a painter arrives in heaven and desires to paint what he sees. The heavenly being states there will be no need for that since, ‘When you painted on earth—at least in your earlier days—it was because you caught glimpses of Heaven in the earthly landscape. The success of your painting was that it enabled others to see the glimpses too. But here you are having the thing itself. It is from here that the messages came. There is not good telling us about this country, for we see it already. In fact we see it better than you.’
Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from the thing he tells, to love of the telling, till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only what they say about Him. For it doesn’t stop being interested in paint, you know. They sink lower—become interested in their own personalities and then nothing but their own reputations.
When asked whether there are any famous men in heaven, one of the heavenly beings replies, ‘They are all famous. They are all known, remembered, recognized by the only Mind that can give perfect judgment.’
Well, in good time, the poor creature died and came here: and there was no power in the universe would have prevented him staying and going on to the mountains. But do ye think that did him any good? This country was no use to him at all. Everyone here had “survived” already. Nobody took the least interest in the question. There was nothing more to prove. His occupation was clean gone. Of course if he would only have admitted that he’d mistaken the means for the end and had a good laugh at himself he could have begun all over again like a little child and entered into joy. But he would not do that. He cared nothing about joy.
‘…That will come later. It’s only the little germ of a desire for God that we need to start the process…don’t you see you are not beginning at all as long as you are in that state of mind? You’re treating God only as a means to Michael. But the whole thickening treatment consists in learning to want God for His own sake.’
‘Human beings can’t make one another really happy for long. And secondly, for your sake. He wanted your merely instinctive love for your child to turn into something better. He wanted you to love Michael as He understands love. You cannot love a fellow-creature fully till you love God…’
‘…no natural feelings are high or low, holy or unholy, in themselves. They are all holy when God’s hand is on the rein. They all go bad when they set up on their own and make themselves into false gods.’
‘But of course!’ said the Spirit, shining with love and mirth so that my eyes were dazzled. ‘That’s what we all find when we reach this country. We’ve all been wrong! That’s the great joke. There’s no need to go on pretending one was right! After that we begin living.’
‘But you and I must be clear. There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him. And the higher and mightier it is in the natural order, the more demoniac it will be if it rebels. It’s not out of bad mice or bad fleas you make demons but out of bad archangels. The false religion of lust is baser that the false religion of mother-love or patriotism or art: but lust is less likely to make into religion…”
‘Nothing, not even the best and noblest, can go on as it now is. Nothing, not even what is lowest and most bestial, will not be raised again if it submits to death. It is sown a natural body, it raised a spiritual body.
‘Only in a poor sort of way,’ she answered. ‘I have asked you to forgive me. There was a little real love in it. But what we called love down there was mostly the craving to be loved. In the main I loved you for my own sake: because I needed you.’
‘The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven…’
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 will 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, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, 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.