The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. New York: HarperCollins 2001 (orig. 1946). 146 p., $13.00
I decided to spend this calm Sunday afternoon reading one of my favorite books by C.S. Lewis. The experience was very rewarding and a good reminder of why I love Lewis so much. The Great Divorce is an analogy that looks at the eternal consequences of our choices. Much like The Screwtape Letters, the setting of this book provides a twist to traditional theology that enables the reader to better grasp abstract principles. Lewis accompanies a busload of people from hell on a field trip of sorts to the outskirts of heaven. The unfortunate souls are given a chance to stay in heaven if they so choose. But the author recounts how many of their vices, needs, and choices inhibit them from making the choice to stay in heaven. The majority return back to hell, content with their eternal allotment.
The genius of the book is how Lewis shows that agency remains supreme, even in the eternities. We choose to be happy, we choose heaven, we choose hell. The difference is not so much in our actions: great sinners on Earth will be found in Heaven. Rather, the difference between heaven and hell is our willingness to accept our fallibility. Humility and the willingness to accept "bleeding charity," as one of the characters phrases it, is the key. We have to choose to surrender agency to God. Lewis' guide in heaven states it succinctly:
"Never fear. There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to Gody, '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."
The works of C.S. Lewis are accessible to all, regardless of sect or creed. With brilliant imagery and clear language, he uncovers the basic principles of Christianity and encourages self-introspection so that we may be better Christians. And he is humble in his encouragement, thereby putting his own words into practice.