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The Great Divorce Paperback – Deckle Edge, April 21, 2015
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C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce is a classic Christian allegorical tale about a bus ride from hell to heaven. An extraordinary meditation upon good and evil, grace and judgment, Lewis’s revolutionary idea in the The Great Divorce is that the gates of Hell are locked from the inside. Using his extraordinary descriptive powers, Lewis’ The Great Divorce will change the way we think about good and evil.
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In The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis again employs his formidable talent for fable and allegory. The writer finds himself in Hell boarding a bus bound for Heaven. The amazing opportunity is that anyone who wants to stay in Heaven, can. This is the starting point for an extraordinary meditation upon good and evil, grace and judgment. Lewis's revolutionary idea is the discovery that the gates of Hell are locked from the inside. In Lewis's own words, "If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell."
- Publisher : HarperOne; Revised ed. edition (April 21, 2015)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 160 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0060652950
- ISBN-13 : 978-0060652951
- Reading age : 18 years and up
- Item Weight : 4.9 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.31 x 0.36 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #6,995 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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I honestly admit this to people all the time: my greatest struggle out of all Christian doctrines is the doctrine of everlasting torment in hell. It’s just so difficult to swallow when you really think about what it means. I have literally wept over Revelation 14:9-10. Now, I do believe it because Jesus so clearly taught it, and his apostles followed clearly in his footsteps. I don’t think one can seriously consider the biblical texts and walk away a Universalist (like Rob Bell has recently), or an Annihilationist (like John Stott surprisingly did at the end of the his life). I am not tempted toward Universalism, but I see the appeal of Annihilationism. But once again, the Bible simply will not have it. Even Stott’s arguments fall flat. Eternal, conscious torment is the biblical doctrine.
I say all that because that makes me approach this book with an even bigger hesitancy. I think the doctrine of hell is so serious and frightening. Again, what the Bible teaches is quite clear and solemn. And so, I think that the human mind is understandably prone to try to minimize what Jesus and his apostles taught. And I think that Lewis in this book did that a bit.
Now, Lewis wasn’t teaching Universalism or Annihilationism, but I do think his description of hell was less like Jesus’ or his apostles’. For example, after reading this book, I don’t know how you can understand Lewis’ hell as a place of ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ I don’t see how you can square Lewis’ picture of hell being like a weary town to the apostle John’s description of it being a place where “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night.”
I recognize that Lewis made it very clear that his book was an analogy, even a dream as he made clear at the end of his book. But still, I think he romanticized hell and tried to take the biblical bite and seriousness out of it. And it isn’t mainly that this is ‘wrong’ or ‘misdoctrine’, I think it is quite hurtful.
Lewis I know talks like this in his other writings. He often makes hell a place where people want to be, because they won’t accept divine love, because they are so consumed with themselves. And I actually agree with him here. We see this in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The man didn’t want to leave, and he never repents of his wrongs. However, what Lewis misses is the torment that they still face there. In Lewis’ description of hell, he often then makes it sound like their life is then very similar to what it was here, just with them being totally self-consumed. And I think this description isn’t as biblical. Once again, in the rich man and Lazarus parable, the rich man didn’t want to leave, and he wasn’t repentant, yes, *and* he also was in pain and suffering. He wanted at any cost to tell his relatives to not come to the same place. Lewis misses this last point in his description of hell usually.
That all being said, I do think when Lewis talked about heaven, he was fascinating and helpful as he usually is. His ideas of joy, solidity, and brightness all were intriguing. His God-centered emphasis on heaven was spot on. And his picturing of humanity glorified was beautiful. It is for these that this book is a 3 or even 4 star.
But in the end, the book isn’t helpful overall because of his blunting of hell. And this can be very detrimental to the faith of Christians. His insights about human self-centeredness and idolatry were great. But I think he pictures hell way too lightly. It simply can’t square with the biblical teaching. And I think his view of hell—even with it being just an analogy and dream—can lead one away from the weeping and prayerfulness that should occur when one considers the true, biblical teaching of eternal conscious torment.
To sum it all up, Lewis’ picture of hell makes you think, “Wow. People would be much happier and glorious in heaven, and it doesn’t sound fun to live in hell. But hell doesn’t sound so so bad as many Christian have said in the past. It sounds so self-focused, and without deep joy, but it isn’t *that* terrifying.” While on the other hand, the biblical doctrine of hell and eternal, conscious torment makes you think, “Wow. People would be much happier and glorious in heaven, and it sounds terrifying to be in hell forever. Eternal, conscious torment, like in Revelation 14:9-10, sounds so awful I can hardly bear it. But since it is true, I will weep, I will pray. I want no one to go there.” For this distinction, it is hard for me to recommend Lewis’ book or any of his views on hell. He is clever on the selfishness and idolatry of man, but he blunts the tragic and terrifying truth of hell.
By Seth Crosby on March 18, 2017
The departure point is a huge, empty grey city that keeps spreading its borders because quarrelsome people only need to imagine a new house, and it's theirs. Some folk are happy to stay there, since they don't recognise it as a type of hell.
For those who do jump on the bus, their choice to settle in heaven depends on their willingness to give up whatever holds the greatest grip on their hearts. It's really all about our idols, and the passengers are filled with all sorts of attitudes and hang-ups which they're loath to relinquish. There's always something they insist on clutching tight, even at the price of misery.
There's 'Ikey' the businessman, who's determined to take plunder from the heavenly realm back down to the grey city, where he thinks he'll make a killing. He only manages to lift one tiny fallen apple through the sheer force of his will.
There's a pathetic society woman whose earthly finery, which she was so proud of, appeared like rags in heaven. She was devastated, because she felt it was her whole identity, which she'd devoted her life to maintaining.
There's a learned man who believes that the grey hell city could really be heaven, for its 'continual hope of morning and field for indefinite progress.' He's an ex-bishop who has written a book. In fact, libraries on earth turn out to be some of the most haunted places, filled with the ghosts of authors who keep wondering if people are still reading their books.
The plight of creative people in this story is interesting. One artist was stressed because he saw no need to paint anymore, since everything was so annoyingly perfect. It's Lewis' warning to creative folk of the trap of being sucked in to pay more attention to their own work and reputation, rather than what it's all about. 'Every poet, musician and artist, but for grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells to the love of telling.' Wow, I guess our world does have a way of honouring the conduit, until it's hard for them to stay humble.
One fascinating person in the new land is Sarah Smith of Golders Green, a lady of 'unbearable beauty and grace' with a procession in her honour. The narrator is anxious to learn her identity, but she turns out to be nobody he would have ever heard of. Just a humble person faithfully doing small things in her supposedly ordinary life. But people are regarded differently in heaven to how they ever were on earth. Great news for anyone who's ever felt overworked, unnoticed and under-appreciated.
The narrator, who presumably represents Lewis himself, gets to meet his hero, George MacDonald, who becomes his guide around heaven. I knew Lewis was a fanboy of MacDonald's (see my review of Phantastes) but what a tribute this is, as he tries to find words to tell him all his writing has meant to him, since his teens.
Overall, it's a great read for anyone who'd like a bite-sized, but meaty bit of C.S. Lewis, for it's short enough to read in one day. It leaves me with the impression that I would've liked being a witness when Lewis actually did meet MacDonald.
Here are some quotes.
'What can be called 'the Sulks' in children, has 100 different names in adults, such as injured merit, self-respect, tragic greatness and proper pride.'
'There are only two kinds of people. Those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, "Thy will be done."'
'Joy on earth is defenceless against those who would rather be miserable. But in heaven, our light can swallow up your darkness, but your darkness can't affect our life.'
By Davis on April 24, 2017
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There are three small textual errors in the Kindle version of the book. The first is as follows:
On page 45 the text reads:
The noise, though gigantic, was like giants' laugh-ten like the revelry of a whole college of giants together ...
It should read:
The noise, though gigantic, was like giants' laughter: like the revelry of a whole college of giants together ...
On page 62, the text reads: .. the whole wood trembled and dwindled at the sound.
It should read .. the whole wood trembled and dindled at the sound.
On page 81, the text reads: ..only to Spit and gibber out in one ecstasy of hatred ..
It should read:
.. only to spit and gibber out in one ecstasy of hatred ..
It is a great book, and other than these three errors, the text is just great, conveying all of Lewis' imaginative greatness. I cannot over-emphasise just how amazing this book is; I personally re-read it about once every couple of months and am always thinking about the truths conveyed in it.
Lewis is careful to remind us that he is not attempting to describe heaven and hell, in order that we can have an idea of what to expect after this life, but instead he is reminding the reader that this world is transitory, and that opening our minds to what God has to offer is far better than just sticking with what we know.