Taproot Theater is presently offering a marvelous production of CS Lewis’ classic book, “The Great Divorce” on their mainstage. After watching a play or movie derived from a book, I usually come away with a heavy preference for the book; things are left out; the visuals are other than what I’d imagined. I go back to reading. In this case the opposite proved to be true. Taproot’s production is so brilliantly crafted and executed, that I left with a more profound appreciation for the book rather than less. If you’re in the Seattle area (and for you students from Montana and Canada that are coming) I’d suggest you see it soon, because it’s slated to run only through the end of this month.
Having praised the production, I’ll quickly add that you’ll probably appreciate it best if you’ve read the book, because it’s dealing with some themes that are best digested with a little forethought. For this reason, I’ve shopped the internet and found this review, which I think gives a good synopsis. Love for the light, beauty, humility, joy, and strength of the redeemed becomes the main theme of the play. I left with a deeper love for Jesus and where history is heading.
But this is a play about heaven and hell, as the review link above states. It might surprise you to know that, among people who believe that Jesus is the single door through which we must enter if we’re going to know God, there are a wide variety of views regarding the afterlife. This post, also shopped on the internet, offers a catalog of these views. Some will be loathe to consider anything except view one because it is the most popular view, carrying the weight of history and orthodoxy in its favor. All of us must rightly be suspicious of any view that deviates from orthodoxy, being slow to overturn centuries of history simply because we find some other view more appealing. And yet…
We must also have a willing openness to re-ordering, not because a view is ‘appealing’ or unappealing, but because the scriptures themselves might offer a challenge to conventional wisdom. When it comes to matters of heaven and hell, we need to weigh the prevailing view in light of these questions:
1. What does Matthew 11:21 mean, where Jesus indicates that Tyre would have repented had they received the light of Christ?
2. What does Philippians 2:11 mean, when Paul indicates that ‘every knee will bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father?” I know the conventional view is that the unsaved will confess after death, under duress. Still, is there some reason Romans 10:9 (the promise that if we confess Jesus as Lord, we’ll be saved) won’t apply to them?
3. Is there anyone in hell, in the end, against their will? Lewis’ thesis is ‘no’. Does this fit with Jesus’ teaching in Luke 16:19-31. I think it does, because the tormented man doesn’t ask to get out of his hell, only to be comforted in his hell.
In the end, I believe we need to deal with two realities: 1) There is a place of judgement, and there are people in it. God’s love is infinite and relentless. 2) Provision has been made for everyone to receive the cure for the deathly disease of sin, a cure which includes a confession (Romans 10:9), a confession which all will make (Philippians 2:10,11).
In Tim Keller’s marvelous article on the importance of hell he writes, “Many, for fear of doctrinal compromise, want to put all the emphasis on God’s active judgment, and none on the self-chosen character of hell. Ironically, as we have seen, this unBiblical imbalance often makes it less of a deterrent to non-believers rather than more of one. And some can preach hell in such a way that people reform their lives only out of a self-interested fear of avoiding consequences, not out of love and loyalty to the one who embraced and experienced hell in our place. The distinction between those two motives is all-important. The first creates a moralist, the second a born-again believer.” This, it seems to me, is the central message of Lewis’ work as well.
Lewis’ said that “Divorce” wasn’t theology, or even speculation. But the themes reflect the beliefs of his literary mentor, George MacDonald, who ultimately believes that God’s character as ‘consuming fire’ will ultimately destroy every last vestige of rebellion in every last human.
There are other themes two in “Divorce” especially regarding the role of the human will in choosing the offer of God’s cure, but I won’t go down that road in this post. Instead I’ll recommend that you see the play, write down some questions, and we’ll set a date for a hearty discussion of the play and the doctrines it address… coming soon to a Bethany near you!