The Great Divorce ★★★★☆

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Title: The Great Divorce
Series: ———-
Author: C.S. Lewis
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Allegory
Pages: 113
Words: 30K


The narrator gets on a bus with a large group of people, many of whom end up never even making it onto the bus. The bus flies to another country which seems to be some sort of hinterlands of Heaven. The narrator overhears many conversations between the occupants of the bus and people come from the main land of Heaven to help them. Most of what he overhears are reasons why the bus occupants don’t want to really go to heaven and why it just makes more sense for them to get back on the bus and go back to the grey town, even though rumors of a final night time fast approaching keep cropping up.

The narrator awakes as C.S. Lewis and he makes it clear no one should use this story as a guide to the afterlife.

My Thoughts:

This is technically a re-read, as I read this in Bibleschool in the late 90’s. While I wasn’t writing reviews or even keeping track of what books I read back then (that didn’t start until April of 2000), this book stuck in my head, mainly because of the disagreement I had with Lewis about the subject matter. That was important because it was the first time I really had a disagreement with Lewis, before this I’d pretty much vacuumed up everything he said. So I knew going into this re-read that I was still going to have that disagreement. While that was the case, I was also able to better appreciate the many other points he made during this short little novel, hence the 4 stars.

So the disagreement mainly centers around 2 things. First, the immortality of the soul and soul sleep. While this wasn’t an issue back in the 90’s, my views have changed over the years and I’ve come into the 7th Day Adventist viewpoint, so that’s something Lewis (and Protestantism in general) and I disagree on. I don’t believe in the immortality of the soul and I believe that when you die you sleep, in some form or other, until the Final Judgement. Lewis believes differently, hence the very idea of the book. Secondly, Lewis seems to be proposing some sort of pseudo-purgatory with the Grey Town and the ability of the occupants of the bus to leave it and go to Heaven. He does directly address this issue and claims that isn’t what he’s doing, but it is really hard to accept any other interpretation. While God is outside of Time, humanity ONLY has its lifetime to make a choice of whether to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and go to heaven or to reject Jesus Christ and go to hell.

To put it plainly, once you die, that is it. You have run out of time to make a choice. While it sounds nice to talk about God being outside of time, blah, blah, blah, the Bible seems pretty clear on the issue of having to make your choice of whether to follow God or not in this life and having that choice in this life alone. Obviously, there are other interpretations and I’m not worried that someone who is a committed Christian is going to suddenly go off the rails and think they can somehow get right with God after they die. What I worry about with the purgatory style doctrine is that puts off the necessity of making a decision NOW. If they’re wrong, then it is too late and they’re going to hell. I’m playing super fast and loose here, but I don’t think this is the place to have a Scripture session about why I think so and backing everything up with specific chapter and verse from the Bible. That type of talk is for someone who is already interested in the issue and has questions, not for a bleeding book review, hahahahaa.

With those issues out of the way, which while I talked about them a bit, were much smaller in my mind this time around, I was really able to focus on the rest of the book. Lewis does a fantastic job of showing a wide variety of reasons why people CHOOSE to not go to Heaven. He makes a real push to show that people are not kept out of Heaven who are clamoring to get it, but that people voluntarily choose not to go in because of Reason A, B or C. God and sin cannot co-exist and hence Heaven must be a place where there is no sin. If people won’t give up their sin, they have in fact chosen their sin over heaven. While that sounds simplistic, it is that easy to spell out.

I didn’t take notes on the various conversations recorded, so I’m not going to go through and talk about each one, but Lewis does an admirable job of showing in layman’s terms, why people hold on to certain things even to their own detriment. He is also able to show the underlying narrative and self-deceptions that people twist themselves into to justify their rejection of God, Jesus and the inability of sin and God co-existing. It wasn’t new or “eye opening”, but it was a timely reminder to me.

I think I will end this by saying that God is Good, God is Great and in the end, every knee will bow to His Sovereignty and acknowledge His Very Rightness. That is really awkwardly phrased but it seems to properly convey the end of the matter.


11 thoughts on “The Great Divorce ★★★★☆

    1. I guess the idea behind the book is in reference to a poem by William Blake called the Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

      I have not read that poem, but my guess is that Blake makes claims about them all coming together in the end or other such ideas that are clearly contradicted in the Bible.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Interesting premise, and definitely an interesting argument. I think in the end everyone probably has their own ideas and beliefs of what happens when you die. It’s the last great mystery so to speak, but whatever will happen I do believe that this life certainly isn’t it the final stage. As to what will be the next stage? Only time will tell😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, the Great Divorce is … great. The character portraits are terrific, like a series of little biographies. The picture of the spiritual world as being more solid than the physical is revolutionary, and super helpful for a very visual person like me. The portrayal of heaven as an endless landscape to be explored is also much more appealing than the usual “sitting on a cloud” stereotype. And, most stirring are the constant calls throughout the book to step out of your own issues and just let go of your pride and step into joy.

    I haven’t made a deep study of the idea of soul sleep, but it sounds biblical to me. I can think of about three verses off the top of my head that seem to support it. Of course, the whole idea of what is the exact experience a person has at death, after death, and then later in the New Heavens and the New Earth is probably far beyond our ability to imagine at this point. I haven’t seen many Christian writers attempt to even portray it metaphorically. Lewis does a great job.

    About whether the idea of purgatory, or a chance to choose after death, might cause people to postpone wrestling with spiritual realities now … well, on the one hand, any excuse will do when we want to postpone. Lewis has made the point elsewhere (in his nonfiction) that we are meant to choose now, because once the Lord returns, the conditions will be such that we are not really choosing, just responding to an inevitability. You could apply this idea to conditions after we die, too, but who knows?

    I do think Lewis does a good job of showing how, when you get down to it, even after death people’s character is not magically changed. They are still the same person they were before. So if you really start drilling down, to say “I’ll live as I want now and then repent at the last minute” is not really giving yourself a chance, regardless of whether “the last minute” is on your deathbed, or in purgatory after death. You won’t be able to suddenly switch your loyalties. It’s notable how few of the damned souls in The Great Divorce actually do change their minds. I always understood the concept of purgatory to be for souls who were already saved, but needed the remainder of their sin purged away. Like a really intense boot camp for heaven. In which case, we would welcome it.

    Liked by 1 person

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