I recently re-read The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis. I first read that book four years ago, and Lewis is such a deep and clear writer my original review is still valid. I will incorporate much of it in this post. The Great Divorce is presented as a dream, where after death the soul is transported to what seems to be a generic street in London or some similar city. All commodities are effectively unlimited. Thus, decision by decision, step by step, souls choose one of two fates over what for some is an immense span of time: either total isolation (Hell) or total unity (Heaven). The conflicts one must turn away from are conflicts with God, conflicts with enemies, and conflicts caused by choosing lower forms of love above higher forms of love.
First, the connection to Weight of Glory. Weight focuses on dimensional projection, and how we likely observe reality as a lower-dimensional shadow or projection of what it actually is. Thus the dream-vision of The Great Divorce is less a supposition or an imagination, and more a lower-dimensional description of Lewis’ actual beliefs on eternal judgment.
And that judgment depends on Lewis’ interpretation of eternal life. There is no hunger or pain or death anywhere in The Great Divorce:
Anything can be wished for, as long as it does not overwrite the wish of someone else. So one can simply move to the suburbs, to an empty space, and wish for a great house. One can go even farther away, to where no one is visible, and wish for a lonely existence there. Eventually, one will end up infinitely isolated from all others, a shell of a personality.
Or one can take a bus up, to the edges of Heaven, and get off and, with angelic or saintly help, walk the rest of the way up the mountain. For as in the Qu’ran and Tom Merton, Heaven is up a high mountain, one almost painfully real compared to the city and suburbs below.
Second, The Four Loves. Loves discuss three times of natural love (friendship, erotic attraction, and familial affection) in terms of what they contain (a desire for the naked personality, naked body, and simple presence) of Christian love, and how Christian love (with its focus on the good of the other) completes them. In The Great Divorce, the last temptations against entering Heaven are typically these lesser loves, incomplete but still pointing to something real in Christian love. I had not realized how systematically Lewis addressed the lesser loves in The Great Divorce before re-reading it.
During my first reading of The Great Divorce, I saw the challenge of choosing to live in Heaven, even if one has to see one’s enemies there. As I said in my first impressions — This next land, where security, commodities, and time are all limitless, is already inhabited. In the midst of our happiness will be some of our enemies.
Thou preparest a table before me
But it will also contain people we think of as children, or that we lust over, and our friends may think it’s not worth going there. Thus may storge, eros, and philia work against agape. That’s worth considering, and praying over, and creating new habits for, too. This extends even to theology, as the love of thinking thoughts about God can be an idol put up against God. In one scene, a theologian is condemned (decides to stay in Hell), as entering into Heaven means abandoning the dynamic process of theological speculation for receiving the reality of the Divine.
I read The Great Divorce in the Audible edition.