Sunday, June 28, 2015

An excerpt from C.S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce"






 I highly recommend this little book; it is a thoughtful analogy which presents the ideas of Heaven and Hell, for those who are not “religious”or maybe as good advice for those that are.

You can find the book here on Amazon or other on-line or local booksellers.

We will enter the story with the conversation between the ghostly narrator of the story and one of the Solid People, who calls himself George MacDonald; formerly an author admired by the narrator.

“‘but if they come here they can really stay?’ 

 ‘Aye. Ye’ll have heard that the emperor Trajan did.’
‘But I don’t understand. Is judgment not final? Is there really a way out of Hell into Heaven?’

‘It depends on the way ye’re using the words. If they leave that grey town behind it will not have been Hell. To any that leaves it, it is Purgatory. And perhaps ye had better not call this country Heaven. Not Deep Heaven, ye understand.’ (Here he smiled at me.) ‘Ye can call it the Valley of the Shadow of Life. And yet to those who stay here it will have been Heaven from the first. And ye can call those sad streets in the town yonder the Valley of the Shadow of Death: but to those who remain there they will have been Hell even from the Beginning.’

I suppose he saw that I looked puzzled, for presently he spoke again.

‘Son,’ he said, ‘ye cannot in your present state understand eternity: when Anodos looked through the door of the Timeless he brought no message back. But ye can get some likeness of it if ye say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. Not only this valley but all their earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. Not only the twilight in that town, but all their life on Earth too, will then be seen by the damned to have been Hell. That is what mortals misunderstand. 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 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 this forgiven sins and remembered sorrow 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.’

‘Is that not very hard, Sir?’

‘I mean, that is the real sense of what they will say. In the actual language of the Lost, the words will be different, no doubt. One will say he has always served his country right or wrong; and another that he has sacrificed everything to his Art; and some that they’ve never been taken in, and some that, thank God, they’ve always looked after Number One, and nearly all, that, at least they’ve been true to themselves.’

‘And the Saved?’

‘Ah, the Saved…what happens to them is best described as the opposite of a mirage. What seemed, when they entered it, to be the vale of misery turns out, when they look back, to have been a well; and where present experience saw only salt deserts, memory truthfully records that the pools were full of water.’

‘Then those people are right who say that Heaven and Hell are only states of mind?’

‘Hush,’ he 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 unshakeable remains.’
[…]
‘Milton was right,’ said my Teacher. ‘The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words “Better to reign in Hell that serve in Heaven.” There is always something they insist on keeping even at the price of misery. There is always something they prefer to joy—that is, to reality. Ye see it easily enough in a spoiled child that would sooner miss its play and its supper that say it was sorry and be friends. Ye call it the Sulks. But in adult life it has a hundred fine names—Achilles’ wrath and Coriolanus’ grandeur, Revenge and Injured Merit and Self-Respect and Tragic Greatness and Proper Pride.’

‘Then is no one lost through the undignified vices, Sir? Through mere sensuality?’

‘Some are, no doubt. The sensualist, I’ll allow ye, begins by pursuing a real pleasure, though a small one. His sin is the less. But the time comes on when, though the pleasure becomes less and less and the craving fiercer and fiercer, and though he knows that joy can never come that way, yet he prefers to joy the mere fondling of unappeasable lust and would not have it taken from him. He’d fight to the death to keep it. He’d like well to be able to scratch; but even when he can scratch no more he’d rather itch than not…Ye’ll understand, there are innumerable forms of this choice. Sometimes forms that one hardly thought of at all on Earth.’
[…]
‘There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God Himself…as if the good Lord had nothing to do but exist! There have been some who were so occupied in spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ. Man! Ye see it in smaller matters. Did ye never know a lover of books that with all his first editions and signed copies had lost the power to read them? Or an organizer of charities that had lost all love for the poor? It is the subtlest of all the snares.'

Moved by a desire to change the subject, I asked why the Solid People, since they were full of love, did not go down into Hell to rescue the Ghosts…One would have expected a more militant charity.

‘Ye will understand that better, perhaps before ye go,’ said he. ‘In the meantime, I must tell ye they have come further for the sake of the Ghosts than ye can understand…The sane would do no good if they made themselves mad to help madmen.’

‘But what of the poor Ghosts who never get into the omnibus at all?’

“Everyone who wishes it does. Never fear. 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.’”


C.S. Lewis The Great Divorce ( copyright 1946, C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd) excerpt from The Coplete C.S.Lewis Signature Classics (2002, New York, Harper Collins) pp 338-340