Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Reflections: The Great Divorce

C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce is a brilliant little book. Although a work of fiction, which I did not realize originally, the book acts more as a commentary on theological ideas than it does as a narrative. Regardless, the commentary itself is so compelling and illuminating the lacking narrative is easily overlooked.

Latter-day Saints have a belief, based mostly upon a scripture found in The Book of Mormon, which explains what happens to the spirits of men and women after they die. It reads in part:

". . . for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world." (Alma 34:34)

The Great Divorce is the great delineation of that doctrine. Obviously C.S. Lewis was not a Latter-day Saint and didn't write his book with that scripture in mind; however, his insights into the afterlife and the very dilemma posited by The Book of Mormon is supremely striking. The Great Divorce explores not only what the afterlife might look like but what we might be like. What follows is a series of conversations between the ghosts of men and women and the exalted spirits who have obtained a heavenly home. The exalted spirits attempt to use all of their powers of reason, feeling, and pleading to convince the recalcitrant ghosts of what is needed to also obtain that heavenly home, which includes not only the forsaking of the common and egregious sins and errors of mankind but also the corrupted virtues, such as selfish "love" for a husband or child. This is a book and a warning for believersthose presumably seeking to live a gospel-centered life. All the classic justifications are hereprideful intellectualism, self-righteousness, and others.

C.S. Lewis is unparalleled, in my opinion, in making the eternal feel local and personal. Yet, I never feel that Lewis is pandering or treating consequential ideas sloppily. In fact, as approachable as Lewis is, his writing does require attention and effort. Albeit, the subsequent enlightenment of reading Lewis is well worth the mental exercise required to obtain it. The Great Divorce is perfectly readable for most readers but is not childish or without challenge.

As mentioned, The Great Divorce is a brilliant little book. It's lacking narrative can be forgiven because it's not terribly interested in narrative completeness. This book is a platform for Lewis to comment on the state of the souls of men after their death, and it is a brilliant commentary indeed.

Notable Quote:
"Having allowed oneself to drift, unresisting, unpraying, accepting every half-conscious solicitation from our desires, we reached a point where we no longer believed in Faith.  Just in the same way, a jealous man, drifting and unresisting, reaches a point at which he believes lies about his best friend: a drunkard reaches a point at which (for the moment) he actually believes that another glass will do him no harm.  The beliefs are sincere in the sense that they do occur as psychological events in the man's mind.  If that's what you mean by sincerity they are sincere, and so were ours.  But errors which are sincere in that sense are not innocent."
Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: Mere Christianity
Reflections: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Reflections: Faith Precedes the Miracle

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