Jacob Aitken's Reviews > The Great Divorce

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
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Aug 04, 2011

(or how to obtain infinite joy by abandoning your-self)

This book is truly one of Lewis’ masterpieces. Lewis tells a parable of a bus ride from heaven to hell in order to show us why people choose hell. Lewis is not saying that somebody, once in hell, have a chance for “do-overs.” Lewis is showing us why some people, even suffering in hell, when (hypothetically) offered a chance to get out, would still choose hell over heaven.

In this book Lewis comes very close to the ancient Eastern view of the eschaton suggested by St. Gregory of Nyssa. All men are raised up on the last day (1 Corinthians 15), and all men will experience God: some will experience his divine energies as light and life; others as fire and loss. Of course, Lewis doesn’t explicitly say that, but he does note, quite rightly I think, that hell is God saying to us, “Thy will be done,” and heaven is our saying to God, “Thy will be done.”

Lewis lists a number of scenarios where men and women are offered eternal joy but refuse it because they cannot let go of their-selfves. The self has become an idol, but it is a subtle idol. It can be self-respect, our understandings of the world, love, and the market.

There is a particularly interesting scene where a man meets up with his wife and through his refusal to accept God’s love, he becomes smaller and smaller, until he is unable to be seen. This fits in with the ancient view of sin and evil as a privation of being. Hell is not a real fire pit that God dug with a real metal shovel. Hell is a shadow of reality (which implies eternal loss; Lewis is not a universalist).

Lewis offers a disturbing halt on hyper free-market economic reasoning. An angel tells one ghost that there is no longer a difference between meum and teum. Communion is not the competition of goods and services, but the expression of love for the Other. It is abandoning self for the sake of the Other (be it God or my neighbor).

The book is a masterpiece. It makes one long for heaven and eternal joy.
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