In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis transported the reader into a world of ghosts and phantoms where the line between heaven and hell is blurrier than traditional Christianity might let on. In this world there is no St. Peter, no pearly gates and no righteous judgment from the Almighty.
As an inventive theological treatise, Lewis proposed that some people end up in hell not because they are sent there but because they don’t really want to be in heaven. And who would God be to force heaven on those who really don’t want to be there?
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.’
Lewis depicted several individuals of the latter variety in very human and even sympathetic terms. One particularly heartwrenching story involved the ghost of a mother whose misguided love for her son (who ended up in heaven) actually separated her from him because she put him before God. Lewis was careful not to paint the hell-bound as villains but as tragic figures often with the best intentions who just couldn’t get their priorities straight.
But that’s where things got messy. In his gallant effort to marry the incongruous concepts of a loving God and eternity in hell, Lewis stumbled upon a truly troubling notion: that we’ve all been set up.
‘You mean,’ said the Tragedian, ‘you mean – you did not love me truly in the old days.’
‘Only in a poor sort of way,’ she answered. ‘I have asked you to forgive me. There was a little real love in it. But what we called love down there was mostly the craving to be loved. In the main I loved you for my own sake: because I needed you.’
‘And now!’ said the Tragedian with a hackneyed gesture of despair. ‘Now, you need me no more?’
‘But of course not!’ said the Lady; and her smile made me wonder how both the phantoms could refrain from crying out with joy.
‘What needs could I have,’ she said, ‘now that I have all? I am full now, not empty. I am in Love himself, not lonely. Strong, not weak. you shall be the same. Come and see. We shall have no need for one another now: we can begin to love truly.’
So, just to recap, we are placed in a world that, cruelly, prevents us from seeing reality clearly…even at the cost of our own souls. Like so many Christians, C.S. Lewis insisted on making life on earth out to be a test, written by an omniscient being who knew the outcome ahead of time. If life on earth prevents us from seeing clearly and truly loving God and each other, then why exactly did God create earth in the first place? Couldn’t God have prevented this whole silly dilemma?
Lewis was a brilliant author and Christianity’s best ambassador. But the gaping theological plot holes in The Great Divorce prove that even one of the greatest minds in recent history can be made to look foolish when defending an idea as silly as Christianity.