Spiritual Reading: the Great Divorce

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What do you think of when you’re imagining our inevitable end in heaven or hell? The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis, probably challenges some contemporary ideas of the subject. The book touches upon the ideas of what it might be like in the afterlife. Whilst wrapped up in the imagination of C.S. Lewis you experience the journey of traveling from hell to heaven, and you learn what it takes to become permanent in heaven.

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The book starts out describing the surroundings of the nameless character whos experiences you will follow for the remainder of the novel. He’s wandering these strange desolate streets with sparse signs of life; until he gets to the bus stop where there is a gleaming golden bus with people crowded around it causing a commotion. Then the story proceeds with the bus ride.

People board the bus, and then it takes off into flight. The character describes looking out the window into a endless dreary town with only a few lights from houses scattered in the expanse. The sky is dusk. He meets several people in the bus that explain some things about the odd place, and how most people stay there because they’re not hoping for the dawn. As the bus carries further into the sky they reach a void. There is nothing, but then all of a sudden things start to get brighter and brighter until off in the distance he sees a cliff.

As they reach the cliff things are so bright, they’re almost blinding. The character describes looking out the window again and describes the grass and the clear swift-moving river and how the bus is approaching the treetops. The bus lands and the passengers let out. After getting out of the bus he describes the confusion he has because everyone appears ghostly. No one is able to alter this seemingly intangible environment. He tests his limitations by trying to pick a small daisy, but it is cemented to the earth. He succeeds in picking up a leaf but says it was the heaviest thing he’d ever encountered. He soon realized that he too was a ghostly manifestation. Then he sees these glowing people approaching the group of ghosts.

The footsteps of the people echoed as they drew closer, they were wearing robes or nothing at all. When they were met, some of the people had known the ghosts, and they were paired off. The people were guides to the ghosts and were meant to help them understand the meaning of loving God and becoming solid within heaven. The character doesn’t find his teacher right away, and he wanders off as the ground weighs heavily on his feet as walks. He eventually meets a Scottish man who is his spiritual guide.

The story continues with several encounters of the character observing the other ghosts interact with their people. He watches one man successfully become materialized into the world, overcoming his one blunder, the lust which appeared as a small red lizard on his shoulder whispering into his ear. Until he granted a person permission to kill the lizard, he was bound as a ghost. He also witnesses another man fade away as he confronts an old wife whom he couldn’t agree with. The wife was this beautiful person with animals and other people around her, everything in life that she touched and loved and left an indelible mark on. There was a common theme of these encounters. All the ghosts had to overcome some sort of thing that was holding them hostage in their life, either forgiveness or realization would free them. The character never really had to make this decision.

Then suddenly everything changes, he is looking upon this silver table where the people are like chessmen, puppets. The puppets actions represented the wills of their giant masters. And the table is time. The people standing by are the immortal souls. Frightened he asks the teacher if the truth was revealed to him, then the Scottish man tells him that this is just a dream. And to not tell anyone unless he explicitly says it was only a dream. Then he wakes up, and that’s where the book ends.

This was quite an intriguing book to read. There was a constant bombardment of imagery, and at times it was difficult to follow the plot. You start off thinking that the main character is dead, and the plot will follow some of his experiences in the afterlife, but all the imagery gave the novel such a hazy feeling. In my opinion, because the character remained nameless, it allows the reader to be able to immerse themselves into the dreamy context of the novel. This book forces you to contemplate where your unforeseeable future after death may be.

Personally, I don’t contemplate the afterlife as much as someone would if they were dedicated to a religion. I choose to believe that when we die, there is nothing waiting for us. Our consciousness just ceases to exist. Our bodily matter will decompose, and our energy will cycle back into the ecosystem. I’m definitely not exempt from fearing the impending doom of death, I just try to accept it. If our consciousness was to transfer to another plane of existence, I feel like we definitely wouldn’t have any recollection of our previous life or lives. Who’s to say that our current state of consciousness hasn’t been elevated from a previous form already? And from stating that question, I would have to say that reading The Great Divorce has not helped me spiritually at all.

Although spiritually the book didn’t offer me much insight, I would highly recommend the novel to anyone who I think could understand some of the abstract concepts that C.S. Lewis brings up. I enjoyed the book for what it was, and for what it represented. In the eyes of the beholder, this book could be a fantastic gateway to exploring the prompts for spiritual contemplation.

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Spiritual Reading: The Great Divorce. (2019, Jun 14). Retrieved February 7, 2023 , from

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