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A Literary Perspective

In my favorite C.S. Lewis book - The Great Divorce - he presents a fantastical journey from hell to heaven, emphasizing both the glory and Love of the Father.

For those of you unfamiliar with the work, what happens is essentially this: our narrator wakes up in a grey town, hops on a bus because, well, there's a queue and what do the British do but queue well? The bus goes up and up and eventually emerges out of a tiny crack in the soil in this broad sweeping green country. Those on the bus discover that they are not solid as they thought they were, but instead mere 'ghosts.' They then meet the 'solid people,' those residents of the green country beyond the mountain (heaven), and discover that they must learn how to be solid, or return to the grey towns (hell). Being solid means giving up portions of one's self, learning how to love in the proper ways (Lewis has an entire other book dedicated to that subject that I also strongly recommend: The Four Loves). And that's essentially the plot - they walk around and meet the solid people and learn various lessons about becoming solid, or to put it in non-allegorical terms, becoming a functioning member of God's Kingdom in Heaven.

Alright, now that you are somewhat oriented, I'd like to discuss on particular image from the book that's been popping into my head a lot in recent months. Usually, it's the chapter on intellectual sin that sticks out to me - the two ghosts spent so much time discussing God's nature when they were alive that they never got to know God Himself. That should stick out to most theologians and those who discuss God in the classroom a lot.

But lately, as I said, a completely different image has been on my mind. There is a chapter toward the end of the book about a "solid" lady who is described as possessing such beauty and love that the narrator tells us: "Only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face." The narrator wonders if it could be Eve, or Mary, or one of the great women of Christian tradition, but no, she is merely Sarah Smith of Golders Green. An unknown in her time on Earth, she has become greatly glorified in Heaven, but not in a self-aggrandizing manner. She (and all the solid Spirits, as they are called) all point in their glory to the source of such wonder, to the source of Love, the Father Himself who is bringing the Dawn.

At this point, I think it'd be best if I let the description Lewis gives her speak for itself: "Every young man or boy that met her became her son--even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter. ... There are those that steal other people's children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives. ... And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them."

This is the model I want to imitate - it is a saint of heaven in whom the love of Christ has manifested itself so abundantly and so greatly that, while she was unknown in her lifetime, she has found glory and abundance in the love of the Father through Christ.

Should we be seeking this glory?

Yes, but not for ourselves. That is the paradox of the Gospel - any time we begin to think of ourselves as somehow a source of love, we begin to turn away from that true source of love. This is something Lewis touched on again and again. In order to love rightly and truly in abundance, we cannot detach ourselves from that source.

I believe that Lewis concludes his short novel with this image of a saint who loves so rightly and so freely as a reminder to us that though we may not have a soapbox to stand on and preach God's Word, we may not be able to go to Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park and shout the Gospel out, we may not even have the chance to stand up in church and talk about God's love, we can still be a great force for the Gospel. Little, unknown, Sarah Smith, loved everyone and everything around her in such a way that they became family, that they were inspired to become better 'lovers' themselves.

Galatians 3:2-4, The Message Translation:

"Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God's Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren't smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up!"


  1. Ah, I need to revisit that book. Such great imagery. I remember discussing back when I read this book, though, if the Grey Towns were hell or actually purgatory. Your thoughts? Like I's been awhile, so I forget all the imagery. I just thought I remembered purgatory somewhere in the equation.

    This discourse reminds me of a certain other discussion we are having on a certain other blog. Seems fitting. Connected?

  2. I think it's Lewis' companion (the Scottish guy, who is quite clearly George MacDonald) comments in the book, I believe, that if one makes the journey to become a solid spirit, then the grey town is purgatory. If one chooses to return to the grey town, then it is hell. Its distinction depends on your relationship to it.

    :) It's one of my favorites. I re-read it a lot.

    And which discourse are you referring to? We have several at the moment.


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