The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis – A Review

I have been quoting C.S. Lewis for a couple days now. Tonight I finished his book The Great Divorce. It has been a great book, and I would like to spend my next couple of posts discussing it.

First of all it is important to note what Lewis himself said about the book:

I beg my readers to remember that this is a fantasy. It has of course – or I intended it to have – a moral. But the transmortal conditions are solely an imaginative supposal: they are not even a guess or a speculation at what may actually await us. The last thing I wish is to arouse factual curiosity about the detail of the after-world.

In other words, this is not meant to be a story depicting theological reality. It is a fantasy novel which tells a moral tale. Its purpose is not to teach a theological doctrine of purgatory or something like that, but rather tackles the philosophical issue of universalism. (This, I am aware, is also a theologically and biblically relevant issue.)

Secondly, the point of this moral tale is also set forth by Lewis in the preface, (and I quoted it a couple days ago here . The point of the story is to show that it is a fallacy to say that all roads lead to God. To use his illustration, the world is not a circle, where all the radii point to the middle, but a path that branches of again and again, and at each branch one must make a choice. The tale is therefore not theological, but philosophical.

The narrator (assumed to be Lewis) tells a story of a bus ride from hell to heaven. When the people on the bus get to heaven, they get to choose whether they would like to stay, or whether they would like to return to hell instead. Some of the “ghosts” run back almost as soon as they see the splendor of heaven. Others journey for some ways, encountering the “real spirits” of people they knew (or, in the case of the narrator, would have liked to know) while alive. These spirits encourage the ghosts to give up their various lusts and selfish ambitions in order to fully embrace heaven. All but two of the ghosts refuse to do this and choose to go back to hell instead.

In each of the encounters between ghost and spirit, a different issue of sin is addressed. Many refuse to accept that they acted in a sinful way at all. Some see heaven as “their right,” but will not turn to God to receive the heaven he has offered them. Some don’t see anything wrong with staying in hell, and would even rather take their loved ones back to hell than to stay with them in heaven.

Each of these cases is not only interesting, but very real. I would like to explore these a bit further in next week’s posts.

Posts In This Series

A Review
The Intellect
The Arts
The One That Stayed
The Rest Who Went Back


2 Responses to The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis – A Review

  1. simone says:

    I am writing a Thesis paper that is due at the end of today about C.S. LEwis’s experience as an atheist and how that relates to “The Great Divorce.” Have you considered this?

  2. I have not explored The Great Divorce in light of Lewis’ former atheism. What sort of ideas go along those lines?

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