Book Reviews

By WordExplain

Critiquing books from a conservative viewpoint.

2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 8 But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:2, 8)

A Review


The Great Divorce
by C. S. Lewis

Copyright 1946 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Renewed 1973

HarperCollins Edition 2001


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 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.
(From the Amazon website.)

Product Description from "Lewis's highly influential fantasy about heaven and hell. In Grey Town the inhabitants keep moving farther apart because of their quarrels, while in the Country, sunrise always seems a moment away. Heaven is real and the redeemed quite solid, while hell is minuscule and the damned insubstantial. Paperback with French flaps and deckled page edges."

The inside Title Page reads, "The Great Divorce: A Dream."

Lewis' Preface begins as follows:

Blake wrote the Marriage of Heaven and Hell. If I have written of their Divorce, this is not because I think myself a fit antagonist for so great a genius, nor even because I feel at all sure that I know what he meant. But in some sense or other the attempt to make that marriage is perennial. The attempt is based on the belief that reality never present us with an absolutely unavoidable 'either-or'; that, granted skill and patience and (above all) time enough, some way of embracing both alternatives can always be found; that mere development or adjustment or refinement will somehow turn evil into good without our being called on for a final and total rejection of anything we should like to retain. This belief I take to be a disastrous error. You cannot take all your luggage with you on journeys; on one journey your right hand and your right eye may be among the things you have to leave behind....

I as a reviewer will first attempt to summarize Lewis' plot in his thought-provoking fiction. Then I will attempt to state the merits of his essay. Finally, I will evaluate his theology from a Biblical point of view.

A Synopsis of the Plot.

Lewis' fantasy begins with the story-teller joining a busy bus stop queue on a dismal street. He had been wandering in the rain on similar dismal streets for many hours, and it was always twilight. The whole town seemed empty, and he had joined the queue to escape the loneliness. Everyone in the queue seemed disagreeable, and many left before the bus had even arrived. Finally it arrived, blazing with golden light. The driver seemed full of light. The passengers jeered at him, for he looked as if he were having too much fun and perceived himself to be better than those who were about to board.

The bus eventually pulled forward and seemed to levitate into the air. The wet roofs of the town glistened in the rain as far as the eye could see. One of the passengers explained to our story-teller (I will call him ST for short) that the bus stop was thousands of miles from the Civic Centre where all newcomers from earth first arrived. But apparently everyone found everyone else so disagreeable in "Grey Town" that they kept moving farther on to get away from one another. They needed only imagine a new dwelling, and there it was. Since it was imaginary, it didn't protect from the rain, and apparently the rain never stopped. Eventually everyone lived millions of miles from one another. Eventually the twilight would turn to night, but some absolutely disputed that.

Eventually the bus, floating in space, began to turn light with brilliant hues that almost blinded one. There was a cliff ahead, and the bus mounted upward to scale the cliff. Eventually it descended and landed in a level, grassy country through which ran a river. The passengers disembarked, and suddenly ST gasped. All of them were transparent wraiths, ghosts if you will. When they walked over the grass, it didn't bend. ST looked downward, and was terrified to observe grass through his feet. He also was a ghost!

And then there was the sight of people far off in the distance. Mile after mile they came, coming to greet the passengers on the bus. These were the Solid People. They were magnificent in their appearance, youthful and vigorous. It quickly became apparent that they had been sent to greet the bus passengers and persuade them to travel on toward the hills and the sunlight to enter Heaven. As the synopsis in Wikipedia explains,

These shining figures, men and women whom they have known on Earth, come to meet them and to urge them to repent and walk into Heaven proper. They promise as the ghosts travel onward and upward that they will become more solid and thus feel less and less discomfort. These figures, called "spirits" to distinguish them from the ghosts, offer to help them journey toward the mountains and the sunrise.

Almost all of the ghosts choose to return to the grey town instead, giving various reasons and excuses. Much of the interest of the book lies in the recognition it awakens of the plausibility and familiarity – and the thinness and self-deception – of the excuses that the ghosts refuse to abandon, even though to do so would bring them to "reality" and "joy forevermore". An artist refuses, arguing that he must preserve the reputation of his school of painting; a bitter cynic predicts that Heaven is a trick; a bully ("Big Man") is offended that people he believes beneath him are there; a nagging wife is angry that she will not be allowed to dominate her husband in Heaven. However one man corrupted on Earth by lust, which rides on his ghost in the form of an ugly lizard, permits an angel to kill the lizard and becomes a little more solid, and journeys forward, out of the narrative.

Finally, the Story Teller awakens from his dream. He has been instructed to tell others here upon earth of his dream, but to tell them it was only a dream.

The Value of the Fiction.

Lewis has done us a great service in helping us recognize some truths. These include the following. (1) In Hell there will be nothing joyful. All will be gloomy, morbid, and unpleasant. (2) In Hell there will be no friendship. There will be manipulation, back-biting, violence, cynicism. (3) There are a great many people who, if offered Heaven, could not stand the people or the conditions or the God who is there. They would be exceedingly uncomfortable in heaven. (4) All who find themselves in Hell have flawed characters. They are not really, at heart, good people, no matter how highly they think of themselves.

On the other hand, (1) Everyone in Heaven also had, in his previous life a flawed character. (2) Everyone in Heaven admits he had a flawed character, and really did not deserve heaven. (3) Everyone in heaven has been changed into a good, joyful, even ebullient character. He has been transformed by the grace of God. (4) Heaven, like Hell, is a choice.

An Evaluation of Lewis' Theology.

Now I grant you, a writer takes certain poetic license in writing his story or composing his opera or cantata. Yet I am here to evaluate the theology of the author as it has been written. I am not here to criticize, but to elucidate and clarify.

(1) It is true that each of us have significant character flaws. Not one of us is a good person. We are all tainted by sin. That is why we are mortal and are in the process of dying. If we had no sin, we would never do anything wrong, and we would not age, and we would not get sick, and we would not die. But it is true that all mankind stands in need of redemption. (2) Hell is a lot, lot worse than Grey Town. The Bible describes it as "the lake of fire and brimstone" whose inhabitants "will be tormented day and night forever and ever" (Rev. 20:10, 15; 21:8). It is the place that has been prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41), and it will be filled with people who are "cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars" (Rev. 21:8). (3) There is only one way to escape hell and enter heaven, the Father's House (John 14:6). One must admit he is a sinner (Rom. 3:23); understand that sin leads to certain death in all its degrees (Rom. 6:23a); acknowledge that Jesus Christ is God's only provision to escape the clutches of sin, and that salvation is a gift from God, one that cannot be earned (Rom. 6:23b; Eph. 2:8-10); and place his trust solely in Jesus Christ, God's sacrifice for sin (John 1:11-13; 3:15-16, 36; 11:25-27). There is salvation in no other name other than that of Jesus the Christ (Messiah) (Acts 4:10-12). (4) Heaven, technically, New Jerusalem, is far more magnificent than the Heaven hinted at in "The Great Divorce." See Rev. 21:1-22:5. (5) In God's world, there are no second chances. If you die without having placed your faith in Jesus Christ, your destiny is hell, and there is no possibility of redemption (John 3:36; Rev. 21:27). Put another way, there is no such thing as purgatory to be found in the Scriptures. Once a person has died, no one can pray him into heaven. Mercy spurned is judgment earned. Put another way, there will never be a bus ride from hell to heaven to see if your friends in heaven can somehow persuade you to enter.

(Scripture quotation taken from the NASB.)

Background and Button Image Credit

Search here.

Updated May 28, 2020