I’ve begun my reading for my upcoming Fiction of C.S. Lewis class, and decided to start with one of the two books that I hadn’t read before which is The Great Divorce. It’s a short “theological fantasy” in which Lewis, as himself, boards a bus which takes its passengers to the outskirts of heaven.
He and his fellow passengers arrive in a forested meadow-land at the foot of a great mountain range where the promise of dawn continually teases. From there Lewis watches as the other travellers encounter friends and family from their past who have come to guide them up into the mountain and into the Dawn. It gives Lewis the opportunity to explore some really interesting scenarios: like a mother being upset that her son who died as a child was not sent to welcome her when her brother comes instead; or a man who is so intellectually astute that he is incapable of putting aside his curiosity in order to recognize God as Truth. A lot of it is about how we need to put away our preoccupation with Self and instead choose to seek after God. When we do this, we actually find ourselves, for He begins to show us how to recognize ourselves in the larger context of His love and forgiveness.
This was one of my favourite scenes. One of the Bright Ones offers one of the Ghosts of hell to take the journey toward Heaven:
“Will you come with me to the mountains?…”
… “I am perfectly ready to consider it. Of course I should require some assurances… I should want a guarantee that you are taking me to a place where I shall find a wider sphere of usefulness—and scope for the talents that God has given me—and an atmosphere of free inquiry—in short, all that one means by civilisation and—er—the spiritual life.”
“No,” said the other. “I can promise you none of these things. No sphere of usefulness: you are not needed there at al. No scope for your talents: only forgiveness for having perverted them. No atmosphere of inquiry, for I will bring you to a land not of questions but of answers, and you shall see the face of God.”
“Ah, but we must all interpret those beautiful words in our own way!…” (C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, 39-40).
He really doesn’t get it. What I love about this is how Lewis reveals how self-absorbed we can be. The man still wants to be known, respected, and worth something—but he wants it based on what he thinks he can accomplish. It’s inherently self-pleasing. It’s not that the desire to be understood or useful is wrong. It’s how we seek to satisfy those longings that is often misguided: who do we look to tell us we’re useful, valuable, or correct? This man looks to his own accomplishments and his ability to contribute to society to find his worth. God doesn’t want that: He wants us to recognize our worth in Him. For He truly knows us: intimately and deeply; and in Him we find our worth, for in Him we are whole, healed, and restored. Loved.
I want to learn again how to be curious for finding the good answers, not as something that I use in order to try and make myself look good.
"Show me how you work, God; School me in your ways. Take me by the hand; lead me down the path of truth." Psalm 25:4-5a (The Message)
C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York, Harper Collins, 1973).