I’ve completed my first book in the 2018 Book Reading Challenge. The challenge is not — I repeat — not for sissies, y’all. The idea is to read 100 books in a year. That’s basically two books per week, save for the weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas. What I’m trying to say is that I’ve likely set myself up for failure. Will I get to 100? I doubt it. Will I try? Absolutely. And in the process, I’ll have spent much more time with my nose in an actual book than with my face illuminated by Facebook and Google — my personal addictions.
At the end of 2018, I will feel more holy than ever, no doubt.
As long as I don’t read trash.
I don’t think a single C.S. Lewis work could be considered trash. So when I was organizing some books in the basement just after Christmas, and came across two, count ‘em, two copies of The Great Divorce, I said to myself, “Self, you need to get to reading Lewis. Shame on you for never having read an entire book of his.” Granted, I have the Narnia series on my reading list, but that is for later in 2018. Around Christmas.
So come 12:02 a.m., 2018, I cracked open The Great Divorce. By the end of the first chapter, I nearly put it down. My reading time is limited, see, yet I have 100 to read by this time next year. If you don’t pull me in within the first few paragraphs, I’m likely to not give you the time of day. But it was Lewis. So I told myself I must wade through. It was bound to be a five star-er. It would edify me. Make me think. Entertain me. Little did I know it would also frustrate me. Confused me. And generally make me want to scream profanities into my pillow.
I’m sorry. I know I am a Christian, and the rule is that Christians love and adore C.S. Lewis. I have a feeling I will be an outstanding Christian when it comes to reading the Narnia books. But though I pushed myself beyond chapter one, and even beyond chapter two, The Great Divorce continued to befuddle me.
Chapter one thoughts: Okay, we are on a bus from Hell to Heaven and nobody really likes one another and everyone is sort of out for their own purposes. Sounds like earth. Oops, I mean Hell. But we’re leaving Hell and going to Heaven, so things will get better. Keep reading, girl.
Chapter two (or thereabouts) thoughts: off the bus. But … not really in Heaven? Why is the grass so prickly? I don’t get it. People, dead people who are now ghosts, are deciding whether they want to go to Heaven, now that they’ve experienced Hell. Hmm. I think I know some verses that contradict the possibility of that ever happening.
Angel on Brenda’s shoulder: It’s fiction, Brenda. Sheesh. Lose your grip on reality, and go forth. Read. Don’t pick it apart. Just enjoy it.
Devil on Brenda’s shoulder: But it’s C.S. Lewis. Isn’t he a great theological thinker?
Angel on Brenda’s shoulder: Shhh, child. Read.
Brenda: Okay, okay. I’m reading.
Chapter three to almost the end: Weird, out of this world events take place. The ghost of a murderer comes on the scene, and eventually chooses Hell. A mother who is bitter at God for taking her son from her too early on earth also chooses Hell, for she will not believe in a God of anything but love, and love to her is to have her son. She’s idolized him on earth and in Hell. But if she can see it God’s way, she’s still welcome in Heaven (or so I gathered). She can’t. Because (in my mind), she’s stupid, which is the only thing bitterness accomplishes for anyone. It makes them mad in every sense of the word.
Well, I liked that story. I could identify with bitterness and the difficulty of letting it go. Of letting God be God, even if His definition of love doesn’t match up with mine. It’s my definition that is messed up, not His, and if I can align my thoughts with His, agreement can be reached. Not necessarily understanding, but agreement and peace.
There was also a wife who nagged and belittled her husband to literal death on earth, and when she made a trip to Heaven, what did she want? Her husband! For surely, the pecked-to-death man was dashing about the place being entirely too free and unrestrained, which clearly always made him into a ridiculous person with frivolous desires. Even in the afterlife, a guy like him needed a wife like her. This woman kinda made me gag. I’ve seen it before, in action. It’s ugly. It’s haughty. And it’s wrong. I found myself wishing the same thing about her that I’ve wished about other “dripping” wives: that I could be rid of her, even if it meant living on the rooftop in subzero temps in nothing but flip flops. Of course, if I was truly loving, like the ghost of the wife who had been married to an unsaved man was, I wouldn’t have thought any such thing.
Near the end thoughts: Though confused about much of C.S. Lewis’ imagery, I think I got a good chunk of the basic message, which was as follows:
First, consider whether you, having gone to Hell, would ever choose Heaven, given the chance (which I believe you’ll never have once you’ve reached Hell, but hey — it’s fiction!) What does it take for one to choose right? To choose the narrow road to Heaven, when most are on the wide road to Hell? I became more convinced that without the power of God, without His choosing me before the foundations of the earth, my own salvation never would have taken place. And I think in The Great Divorce, that truth remained. Salvation is a gift. It’s God having mercy on whomever He wills, but on the flip side, it’s also Him hardening whomever He wills. (Rom. 9)
Second, think about the afterlife more. After all, you’re not meant for this place we call earth. This place burdened with time and evil, sin and death. You were meant for another world. What do you imagine it to be? Why will it be better? Or, worse? Will we arrive as ghosts, and get our bodies later? Will the roads really be gold? The gates pearly? What will we do to pass the time that will no longer be? Will we be focused on anything, other than Christ?
I have long since stopped trying to figure out what my “mansion” will be like, who is going to be there, what I will do to pass the days, and whether there will be days and nights, or just days. To me, the Christian life is about knowing and following Christ. Not about acquiring riches, health, or even the American dream. But it’s easy to strictly wonder about the food and lodging and healthcare in Heaven, since that’s what is so concerning here. It makes more sense that we will not be so concerned with the necessary elements of the physical life, and instead be deeply, deeply enthralled and satisfied with our every spiritual and emotional need finally being met.
I think it’s unhealthy, if you’re going to dream about the afterlife, to hone in on the materialistic. Sure, there will be materials. We will be able to walk on beautiful roads and smudge pearly gate posts with our fingerprints, probably, maybe (will we have fingerprints?). And healthcare will be non-existent, which, after enduring painful IV pokes and hours of driving and migraine headaches this week, I feel oh so grateful about. But we need to go deeper than the mere touchable in what we dream about. There will be fine things. But the finest of all we see and experience will be Jesus. It will be dining and talking with Him, and seeing the nail-scarred hands that mean quite literally everything. Besides, every material blessing, I’m betting, will be given right back to Him. For our stingy-ness will be gone. Our self will be conquered. And our gratefulness will have increased more than a thousand fold. In response to that, won’t we finally relinquish everything to Him?
Though I’m still a mite confused about the meaning and purpose of The Great Divorce, it turns out Clive Staples Lewis got my mind churning after all. Maybe he left enough mystery in the story just for that — so the reader would have room for personal opinions, thoughts, and considerations. Rather sneaky of him, really. But I will still hold to my opinion that if once you’re dead and gone, someone must write an explanation on the meaning of your book (I hear there’s one out there), perhaps you need to be more clear.
Because of that opinion, when I get to Heaven, I bet Clive and I have words.
Hope I can get past his British accent, and he my redneck speak.