Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Book Review - The Great Divorce

One thing I'm going to try to do this year on my blog is to give at least a cursory review of a book once I actually finish it. Since I've usually got 6 (or more) books on the go at any given time, there's usually a little while in between each time I finish a book, and sometimes I don't read the whole thing before I'm "finished" with it.

Well, I just finished reading CS Lewis' The Great Divorce for the second time. It may be my favourite Lewis book. It's somewhat of a hard book to review because it's so short and it's a work of fiction. If you're not familiar at all, it follows a man who finds himself in what he later realizes is Hell, before boarding a "bus" and traveling on to Heaven. It's a little odd at first as you spent the first half or so trying to get your bearings, much as the character is. He eventually is taken under the wing of George MacDonald, who he refers to as his Teacher. This is about the midway point of the book and things start to make sense from this point. This Teacher begins to walk the man around and shed light onto the experiences he has had in the "Grey Town" (aka Hell, or purgatory, depending on your perspective) and the interactions between the "Ghosts" and the "Solid People" that transpire around him. This excerpt from their first discussion is a truly interesting concept:

"'Son,' he said, 'ye cannot in your present state understand eternity...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...the good man's past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows 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 thigns, 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." (p. 69)

What I really appreciate about Lewis depiction of Heaven and Hell in this book is that it's a picture - not a photocopy, but more of an impression that opens up the door to new possible conceptions of life after death - which is grounded in Scripture.

If you're interested in exploring life & death in a new way, that is very accessible, I'd highly recommend this. It's a relatively short read at 146 pages and I saw it as cheap as $3.89 used on Amazon ($9.20 new). I'd recommend borrowing it from the Library, but it's the kind of book I like to have on hand because it's got so many great quotes. I'll finish with this one from the tail end (pp 138-139):

"'Do you mean then that Hell-all that infinite empty town-is down in some little crack like this?'
'Yes. All Hell is smaller than one atom of
this world, the Real World. Look at yon butterfly. if it swallowed all Hell, Hell would not be big enough to do it any harm or to have any taste.'
'It seems big enough when you're in it, Sir.'
'and yet all loneliness, angers, hatreds, envies and itchings that it contains, of rolled into one single experience and put into the scale against the least moment of joy that is felt by the least in Heaven, would have no weight that could be registered at all.
'For a damned soul is nearly nothing: it is shrunk, shut up in itself. Good beats upon the damned incessantly as sound waves beat upon the ears of the deaf, but they cannot receive it. Their fists are clenched, their teeth are clenched, their eyes fast shut. First they will not, in the end they cannot, open their hands for gifts, or their mouth for food, or their eyes to see.'
'Then no one can ever reach them?'
'Only the Greatest of all can make Himself small enough to enter Hell...

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