The Great Divorce is one of C.S. Lewis’ shortest books. I finished reading it in one afternoon, since it’s only one hundred pages long. Still, this small book packs a lot of stuff in to it to think about.
Lewis, in this book, thinks about what it would be like if people from Hell were given the chance to take a bus ride to Heaven, and that people from heaven would come to meet them and convince them to remain in heaven. He relates conversation between the Ghosts (human spirits from Hell) and the Solid People (humans from heaven) with the Solid People trying to convince the Ghosts to remain. Often the solid people were people that the ghosts had known in their life and had a relationship with.
Throughout the book, Lewis, a ghost, guided by George MacDonald, a solid person, overhears many conversations between ghosts and their guides. Many of them show how stubborn humans are and what they must lay down to enter heaven. Most of the ghosts were unwilling to lay down something like pride to enter heaven.
For example, one ghost, a painter, wanted to see people of prestige in heaven. He could not understand that there was no prestige in heaven and that all fame went to Him. The painter would rather be somebody in hell than not be well known in heaven.
Another ghost from hell was a theological teacher. In discussing with his solid guide about this, he even points out with pride that there is a theological club in Hell and that he must lead his flock down there. This clearly points to pastors and leaders that miss the main theme in Christianity but still stubbornly continue to believe they are believers, in the case of this man, even in Hell!
There are many conversations that Lewis overhears, and then George MacDonald tells him that the entire thing is a dream, that these people may have already made these decisions or may make them in the future. He tells Lewis that this was all so that he could tell the people on earth about Heaven and Hell.
I don’t know if Lewis had a dream or not, but I do know he wrote the book to be thought about. My first reaction to the book was dubious. How can C.S. Lewis present souls an opportunity to get out of Hell? That’s treating Hell more like purgatory, something that you can get out of if you want to. But then I thought that maybe where Lewis was going with the book was not to say that souls actually could get out of hell, but to exemplify human stubbornness and reasons that people ‘refuse’ to enter Heaven.
That made sense, but Lewis still held strange ideas about heaven and hell. For example, he believes that Hell is only a state of mind, and being in the Gray City (his idea of hell) is only by choice, that all people could come to heaven if they wished. This sounds a lot like universalism (the belief that all people will be saved) which to me is in conflict with predestination (the belief that those who will be saved are chosen by God beforehand).
In addition, C.S. Lewis says that if you are in heaven, gradually your entire life will come to be as if you had lived in heaven all the time, and if you are in hell, your entire life will seem as if you had lived in hell for eternity. Lewis says that in Heaven, there is no connection with time, so your entire life is touched by where you ‘end up’. This is an interesting concept, but I find nothing about it in the Bible.
All in all, the Great Divorce is very interesting to read if only to get you thinking about these things. I don’t think C.S. Lewis wrote this book to get a lot of people in discussions about his views of heaven and hell, but rather to show us his views and to get us thinking about what we believe. It’s something the Bible says little about but we should eagerly expect the day we go to heaven. What do you think about Lewis’ book and what are your views on heaven? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to have a discussion about this.
Published on 1 June, 2010. Last updated on