Saturday, January 30, 2010

Week 4 - C.S. Lewis: The Great Divorce - Answers Part 1

Of all the investigations I have done so far, this one has by far been the most challenging. C.S. Lewis has always been a champion and role model of mine when explaining the Christian faith. I know that he doesn't haphazardly write; he puts great amounts of effort writing, rewriting and editing making sure that every word choice and every phrase says exactly what he intends to say. In addition, there is many verses that contrast between Heaven and Hell. With the exception of the four gospels - one of my weaker areas in the Bible - there is little to be found. Jesus, without a doubt, has the most insight Christ-Followers have regarding the doctrine and details of both Heaven and Hell. With that disclaimer, here is my best shot and picking apart and analyzing the 9th chapter of The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.

A brief synopsis of the first eight chapters goes a bit like this. The narrator, presumed to be the ghost of C.S. Lewis is taking a trip from Grey-Town, a symbolic Hell/Purgatory for those who have died, to visit the outermost lands of Heaven - namely the Valley of the Shadow of Life. The terrain itself is difficult to navigate for the ghosts because, technically, aren't supposed to be there. For example, the grass doesn't bend under your feet and other objects such as leaves and water droplets have an absurd amount of weight. During this time, the ghost of Lewis has been observing other ghosts' interactions with the environment and the Spirits of Heaven. Thus far, the ghost of Lewis has determined that when a ghost of Grey-Town willingly takes the journey to approach God in the mountains, then all is made right. (Basically, it is the act of honest repentance of our wrongdoings and the need for a Savior.) To his dismay, the ghost of Lewis has witnessed all his fellow ghosts thus far deny this passage into the depths of Heaven for a variety of reasons: entitlement, intellect, conspiracy theories (Heaven and Hell are no different), greed, or the unwillingness to be transparent with themselves or others. Finally, chapter nine begins...

And the Ghost of Lewis is encounters his personal heavenly Spirit - George MacDonald. (For more about him, click his name.) After some introductions, the Ghost of Lewis shares with his host a series of questions with the heart of it being, "Is there is a way out of Hell into Heaven?" The answer is a matter of perspective. Through a series of paragraphs that I am too dense to be able to break apart in detail, he gives this answer: "Those who end up staying in Grey-Town, then it is like Grey-Town is a Hell. Those who choose Heaven, then Grey-Town will be like the very beginning of Heaven." That's confusing, and I think I rather stick with what C.S. writes in the preface:

I think Earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, a region in Hell; and Earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the very beginning a part of Heaven itself

And I like the way C.S. Lewis describes this. Although we are quick to think of Hell being a place of fire, brimstone and physical torture, he clears this common misconception. Although addressed in Chapter 1, it seems as though Lewis believes that Hell is a place of loneliness, separation and the absence of anything holy. Grey-Town is a physically dark place having the characteristics of the latter. That is other choice we have when not submitting to God's Word in the Bible. I also like this because it truly shows how Earth is that "bus-station" where there are only one of two destinations for any of us to take and everyone thinks they are going in the right direction when they step foot on that bus. Perspective - as noted earlier - is the key to understanding what someone believes in, especially when we are speaking about Heaven and Hell. This perspective shapes on what we think about the Earth's beautiful sights, sounds and wonders as well as natural disasters, human monstrosities and the physical and mental poverty of our fellow human beings.

To strengthen the point, I present this passage:

"Then those people are right who say that Heaven and Hell are only states of mind?"
"Hush," [the Spirit] said sternly, "Do not blaspheme. Hell is a state of mind - ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakable remains."

Although perspective drives our minds, the message is clear that not all perspectives are created equal. Truth is truth and truth surely exists. Heaven is the real perspective that everyone should be aiming for. Anything else is a perversion or corruption of that reality.

This section on Heaven and Hell, in general, ends with the idea of choice. The ghost of Lewis is unsettled by the idea that none of the ghosts - including himself - have a choice in choosing the depths of Heaven over the lifestyles of Grey-Town. Indeed, we must sympathize with this question; these ghosts are being directly confronted with their greatest sin (thus their greatest corrected comfort) and being asked to let it go. And everyone has at least that "one thing" that doesn't belong in Heaven. The Spirit understands the ghosts distress and responds with a quote from Milton that explains how people mostly chose when confronted with this choice, "Better to reign in Hell, then to serve in Heaven." Jesus has an expression for this too and its found in Matthew 7:12-14: "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." Even though we think differently, Jesus is not an idiot; he knows we are going to fail in finding the narrow gate. That is why must continuing seek him through prayer and petition. If we seek, then surely we will find.

The topics shifts slightly when the ghost of Lewis asks that if these Spirits of Heaven are so full of love, why don't they go into Grey-Town to save those who don't seek God. The reply, "It would be no use to come further even if it were possible. The sane would do no good if they made themselves mad to help madmen," doesn't completely satisfy me, although I understand where C.S. Lewis is going with this. From the brief discussion we had about choice earlier I think better reveals the answer to this question. The Spirits of Heaven are accessible to those who have the mind enough to visit them - as citizens of Grey-Town apparently have the ability to do. (I'm unsure if this is sound doctrine if Grey-Town is supposed to be representative of Hell - but it is canon if Grey-Town is Earth.) The ghosts of Grey-Town must travel into Heaven as to honor the free will that God gave them. If Spirits of Heaven were to walk on the streets of Grey-Town trying to get them to come back with them to Heaven, then its a violation of free will. In addition, convince those who are unwilling would be a maddening process, as the Spirit says. (Aside: the Spirits of Heaven tell us multiple times they have gone so far as to leave the deepest parts of Heaven to interact with the fortunate few who are unsettled about their eternal destination and the fewer who choose Heaven over their comfortable sins.

But what does that mean to us? Well thankfully, I actually found a parallel to this in Scripture, and what I think, is my best find this week. Compare the idea that C.S. Lewis is going for to this (Luke 16:19-31). According to the Gospel of Luke, we have plenty of opportunities, plenty of guides and plenty of signs to make a decision for Christ. Any angelic/spiritual interference would either dispose of the person's free will, or wouldn't be taken seriously at all. Amazing.

I am going to stop here for two reasons. One reason is that this post has the potential to become monstrously long. Secondly, if I stop here, I will have established a good stopping point in regards to transitioning the material. The second half of the chapter has a different tone than the first half. Additionally, I would like to spend this next week refining my ideas and better supporting them with examples from the Bible.

If you have any questions, comments or disagreements with what I have wrote so far, I would love to hear them. Post them in the comments section (click Voices) or e-mail them to me directly.

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