The Great Divorce
I. The Scenario
A. A number of shades in Hell are standing in line, waiting for a bus, which will in turn take them up to the heavenly regions. They are met by various heavenly spirits, and the book regards the conversations between the potentially damned and the blessed.
B. The conclusion of the book reveals the whole thing under the cover of a dream. Lewis is not dogmatically claiming to be describing heaven in detail for us, but rather just pointing in the direction of heaven. This pointing is primarily done through the revealing of attitudes.
A. Recall from Surprised by Joy the profound impact which George MacDonald had on Lewis through his books. It was through MacDonald that Lewis had first tasted holiness.
B. But MacDonald had his problems. One of them was that he was a universalist — he believed that at the last day, all would be repentant and every last person would be saved. Notice which book Lewis puts him in — defending the reality of damnation.
III. The Realities
A. The book points to the reality of heaven. As in the Narnia stories, heaven is seen as solid when compared to our existence here. Think of this the next time you consider the resurrection appearances of Christ. Was Christ the ghost, or was everything else ghostly?
B. While Lewis points to the unreality of the shade town, this merely accentuates the reality, for the damned, of the coming darkness. Hell is not hell yet, but it will be real enough for them when it comes.
C. Lewis points as well to the reality of grace. One of the heavenly spirits is a murderer, and the shade he is speaking with doesn’t think it quite fair. Of course it is not fair, which is precisely the point.
IV. Divine Perspective
A. Lewis points to the transformation of our creaturehood when he describes the breaking of the lizard’s neck (lust) only to have that creature resurrected into a magnificent creature for the forgiven sinner to ride.
B. One great scene is the moment when the great lady arrives. Lewis thinks it may be Mary, the mother of the Lord, but it turns out simply to be a woman who fed stray cats out her back door. Heaven reveals every glass of water given in Jesus’ name, and what we describe as spiritual greatness may not be recognized as such when we come to the resurrection.
V. The Problem of Hell
A. A popular caricature of hell exists in the minds of many Christians. To the extent they think about it at all, they think of it as God’s torture chamber. Because this does not seem to fit with what they know about the character of God, they in turn don’t think about hell very much.
B. Lewis addresses this problem in an interesting fashion. Notice the size of hell — it doesn’t have to be very big. All it needs to contain is little rotting souls. Lewis argues elsewhere (Problem of Pain) that the damned are nothing but residue of human, retaining consciousness, but no longer bearing the image of God.
C. Symbolism and reality. The Bible describes this final state in various ways — lake of fire, outer darkness, etc. Good reasons exists for taking these descriptions symbolically. But what are we doing when we do this? A symbol is always less than what it symbolizes.