Saturday, July 24, 2010

Review - The Great Divorce

The Great DivorceIn the preface, Lewis suggests that this book is a sort of response to Blake's "Marriage of Heaven and Hell." Now, I haven't read that particular book, so I can't say how adequate this particular response is, but overall, I really enjoyed the themes, presentations and thoughts brought out in this book.

The basic premise is that Lewis finds himself in a strange gray town where he boards a bus with a number of other passengers. After a somewhat strange trip, he finds himself in a beautiful, but strange location. He follows some of the other passengers as they explore the new land and are met by the inhabitants. TO "spoil" the premise a bit, the "gray town" represents HELL and the shining land at the end of the bus ride represents HEAVEN. The passengers are ghosts who have taken a trip from Hell to Heaven...and as they are greeted by the brilliant beings in Heaven, we learn that the inhabitants from Hell are given the option of staying in Heaven. Naturally there are some rules in order to stay (they must give up remaining vices, pride, animosity and embrace the everpresent and all important love of God).

The book is broken into a series of vignettes as the narrator watches the behavior of the visitors from Hell and their interactions with Heaven and with the angels they find there.

At first, the narrator wanders alone through Heaven but after a time he encounters an angel who engages him in conversation. The remaining chapters then reminded me a bit of the interaction between Dante and Virgil while Dante wandered through the various levels of Hell/Inferno and made observations on the inhabitants there.

This book is another great example of Lewis's thoughtfulness and insight into religion, heaven, hell, God's love and other elements of Christianity. It's not as scholarly as "The Four Loves" and isn't as allegorical as his Narnia series. It's more akin to his work with Screwtape and shares many similarities. We are again shown examples of how the human mind gets caught up with pride, offense, lust, greed and other elements that hold us back from attaining our eternal potential. Where Screwtape is very tongue in cheek and has the humorous voice of a devil, Divorce is humorous at times but also has a certain sadness in its poignancy. In Screwtape we were distanced from the actual temptation and fall of humanity. Here we get to see individual humans who have fallen from Grace and (sadly) hold fast to their fallen state even while sitting on the borders of Heaven itself.

I really enjoyed this book. It had a lot of very thoughtful segments and passages. I found real examples in each of the character sketches he presented. There are a few points of religion on which I vary quite significantly from Lewis's proposal, but from a high level, I found this exploration very intriguing, well crafted and (although certainly a fiction) of the general feeling and spirit of the concepts of Heaven and Hell.

I want to share one particular passage really stuck with me in pointing out the importance of our own agency and choice:

"There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, '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."

In God's plan for us, He truly wants us ALL to return to Heaven to partake of His presence, but He will not force us. The choice is always ours. But He cannot modify the laws that dictate who may and may not enter Heaven and His presence. If we choose the path that takes us away from Heaven, that is our choice. He will present us opportunities again and again to repent of our choices and choose His path. But in the end, it is a matter of choices and the consequences of those choices.

I found this book very thoughtful, insightful and inspirational. It shows great insight into the human mind with relation to the eternal. It also does a great job of illustrating how our own failings may hold us back even if we don't acknowledge them.

Well worth reading.

4.5 stars out of 5

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1 comment:

logankstewart said...

It's been a while since I read this, but I enjoyed it quite a bit when I did. Great review.