Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Great Divorce: Book Review

The Book

The Great Divorce
C. S. Lewis

I purchased this piece a while back as part of C. S. Lewis' Signature Classics collection. It includes many of the other Lewis works reviewed on this blog. Personally, I believe in reading a Lewis classic (not limited to the signature ones) every third book or so. (OK, maybe I'm kidding a little here. But seriously, work some C. S. Lewis into your reading schedule. You'll be glad you did.)

Technical Merit

The Great Divorce is a 160 page allegory. As an allegory, it is a thinly veiled sermon on an outwardly biblical topic. As such, it is hampered by some of the limitations to which all allegories are subjected. Since the author has an agenda, he is not free to explore the story for it's own sake—the moral is king in the story. Technically, this tendency hamstrings the story. This is why I do not feel that the Chronicles of Narnia are allegorical, though they clearly bear Christian influences. But I suppose that's not a discussion for this book review.

Compared to other, more famous, allegories like Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and Spenser's Faere Queene, Lewis' The Great Divorce reads very smoothly and smartly. I have given this book 4 out of five stars because the story at times becomes stagnant as the main character (Lewis himself) moves from scene to scene to make his points.

The Review

The premise of the story is as follows:
  • Lewis joins a group of people on a bus ride.
  • The bus ride leads from his current existence to the gateway to heaven.
  • The citizens are faced with the choice to either give up their baggage and go to heaven or keep their baggage and return to hell.
  • Lewis meets up with George MacDonald who helps him understand the conversations going on around him. These conversations serve as the catalyst for theological introspection.
First off, this story is just that: a story. Lewis does not claim an out of body experience or other form of shenanigans to validate this tale. He is not suggesting there is a real bus that transports man from hell to heaven. He is not suggesting that hell is not a real place. He is not suggesting anything about the literal realness or mythological sense of any of these things. He is more concerned with the fact that there are certain things that must be dealt with before one may pass from hell into heaven. If one is not willing to give up these things, then there is no way that they are going to be able to mare the transition. It's all about submitting to God's will. Consider this famous quote:
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.
Image from We Talk of Holy Things--on Facebook 
This encapsulates the marvel of free-choice. We are free to choose God's way or our own ways. We are also free to live with the consequences. Why does God send people to hell? The answer is, quite simply, He doesn't. People choose hell.

One of the most interesting scenes in the book has to do with the mother who longs to see her son again. She is not allowed into heaven because her love was a self-gratifying love instead of a pure, sacrificial love for her child. In the end, her perverted love had replaced the "older" and "closer" love that God has for His creation. At this point, Lewis explores the following idea from the fictional mouth of George MacDonald:
There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him. And the higher and mightier it is in the natural order, the more demoniac it will be if it rebels. It's not out of bad mice or bad fleas you make demons, but of bad archangels. The false religion of lust is baser than the false religion of mother-love or patriotism or art: but lust is less likely to be made into a religion.
The sinister sins are the ones that can be mistaken for virtue. Lust, murder and theft are rarely put on a pedestal and worshiped, but love has always been and will continue to be worshiped as a god. A child molester is forever marked and shunned, but the love worshiper who only loves out of selfish ambition is never detected and fools himself into thinking he is good.


As with all C. S. Lewis works, I heartily recommend that everyone add this book to their reading list. This work is mostly speculative and fixated on the main point that we all must submit to God's will or else never enter the gates of heaven. This is an important lesson for everyone to learn.
Christopher M. Jimenez. Powered by Blogger.

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