Lessons Put to Waste

In The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis, there is a narrator who travels from hell to heaven. He meets Ghosts who live in hell and want to visit heaven. When the bus of Ghosts arrives in heaven, each Ghost is met by a solid person, a Spirit, who lives in heaven. These Spirits try to convince the Ghosts to stay and solidify, but most of the Ghosts are so consumed by themselves, they cannot become solid. The encounters and explanations from the teacher are deeply rooted in Scripture – irresistible to those who the Maker has called to himself, but confusing to those who are dead.

After the narrator and his companion watch the encounter with the angel, Ghost, and lizard, the teacher talks to the narrator about the significance in the meeting. The teacher explains that "flesh and blood cannot come into the mountains . . . because they are too weak" (Lewis 104). He goes on saying they are not real enough to have substance in heaven. This part of the narrative relates to Isaiah 64:6, where Isaiah compares the good deeds of people to God's standards. God regards these good deeds as "filthy rags" or "menstrual rags." The teacher talks about good people in hell similarly. He teaches the narrator that no one is good enough to get into heaven. Separation from God because of sin where humans become less and less how God intended is inhumanness. The inhumanness of people does not allow entry to heaven. But the teacher says there is a way: much like how the lizard dies and becomes a stallion, things in heaven must change their entire being. Galatians 6:15 compares the old ways of the Hebrews to "what counts . . . the new creation." What mattered before, the way the old creations acted, is gone because the new creations have different spirits inside of them. This change allows God's righteousness and power to create a whole being with new desires and attitudes, so "the old has gone and the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The Ghost learns not everything that is good feels good. Upset with the lizard, who represents lust, he tells it to "shut up" (Lewis 98), and soon an angel appears and asks if he could get rid of the burden. The Ghost feels pain when the angel comes close to kill the lizard. When the Ghost sees the angel's intent to annihilate his lust, he tries to wiggle his way out of getting rid of the lizard. The Ghost fusses that he did not want to bother the angel (Lewis 99). But the ghost lets go of his attachment to the lizard, sin, by giving the angel permission to kill the lizard. The ghost's choice to let go of his sin is his alone; Lewis tries to show the reader that he has to make his own decision on his life, especially concerning sin. The angel hurts the Ghost before killing the lizard, and the Ghost does not understand the angel means the best for him. Similarly God refines His children (Psalm 66:10). God tests them and gives them trials and pain to bring His children closer to Him and make them more like Himself each day. The angel does a similar thing by getting rid of the Ghost's lust so that he could become a better person. The Ghost and the children of God change with help to become more than they could be by themselves.

Another time, the narrator and the teacher stumble onto a wife and husband's meeting. The husband in the end does not take to heart anything his wife says, but his wife who has been in heaven tries to teach him about real love and joy. She begins by explaining that love on earth is not real love but a need to be loved. She explains that now she is "full . . . not empty" (Lewis 113), and she can begin to love. She tries to clarify that feelings meant for good are warped by sin on earth, so what she felt for her husband during her earthly life was a warped and selfish form of love. Filled with love from the Maker of love, this new creation can love the way it was intended before sin. Towards the end of her exchange with her husband, she tries to show him joy is not felt out of necessity or guilt in heaven. Joy is not a forced feeling; joy livens the willing spirit. 1 Samuel 15:22 discusses willingness in obedience where Samuel told Saul that obedience to God "is better than sacrifice." God wants the Israelites to obey Him because they loved Him. Later the wife continues by saying that joy "cannot be shaken" (Lewis 118). In heaven, obedience to God and love for God will be perfected. Love, joy, and obedience will not "be at the mercy of" (Lewis 118) worldly things in heaven. The encounter ends with only the Tragedian being left with Sarah. She tells the Tragedian that she cannot be affected by Hell nor can she enter it. Soon the Tragedian disappears, too. The company that was with Sarah sings that she is at home with "the Happy Trinity," and that "nothing can trouble her joy" (Lewis 119). Sarah is not phased by her husband disappearing. Her trust rests in the Lord. She is at home and unshaken because she is entirely dependent on God. The beginning of Philippians 4: 6 talks about rejoicing in God, but goes on to command the reader to"not be anxious about anything," and that is the focus of Sarah. She is focused on God and the talk with her husband "[does] not harm her" (Lewis 119).

With another perspective, the narrator and teacher see the Spirit, Sarah. She exudes life, beauty, courtesy, and joy. The narrator notices the Spirits and animals enveloping her. The teacher explains that whoever came close to her during her earthly life was affected by her love for Christ. They "became themselves" (Lewis 108), more loving because of her contagious attitude. Her abundant life "in Christ from the Father flows over into them" (Lewis 108). Even on earth, Sarah made much of Christ, making people more Christ-like. She gave them life she got from the Giver of Life who gives it to the full (John 10:10).

The lessons throughout the Great Divorce are rooted in Scripture; the lessons ring true, even to an unwilling ear. The Ghosts, in hell because they did not accept the truth, could not fully comprehend what they were being taught. Lewis portrays the unwilling heart that should tear at unbelievers, but also portrays the evangelizing heart that should overflow from believers.


this is a summer essay i wrote and just recently got a perfect score.

Carolyne