We will begin our Lenten Study on March 7 with C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. The book is one of Lewis’ fictional works that describes those individuals from Hell who are being given the opportunity to enter Heaven should they simply relinquish their one true love in favor of God. Each character’s story allows us to contemplate those things which we also place before our love of God.
You do not need any background to enter into Lewis’s work, however, in reading through The Great Divorce two primary features of Lewis’ understanding of Hell come out. First, Hell is a place of progressive non-existence. Hell is a gray town, full of “ghosts”, who are slowly disintegrating into the non-existence that preceded creation. They are becoming non-persons. Lewis’s understanding that the separation from God causes us to return to our pre-created state of nothingness draws heavily on St. Athansius’s work, On the Incarnation, for which Lewis wrote an extensive introduction.
The other characteristic is that Lewis teaches that the gates of Hell are locked from the inside. In order to escape Hell, the “ghosts” need merely to take the first step towards self-abandonment and allow God to do the rest. The invitation to enter Heaven is always extended, but we must accept it. One way of looking at Lewis’ understanding of Hell is through the Parable of the Prodigal Son founding in Luke 15:11-32. In the parable, the Prodigal is losing his very personhood as he wallows in poverty and suffering of his own making caused by his abandonment of his Father. His escape from his condition is accomplished by his willingness to return to his Father. A more in-depth discussion of Lewis’s understanding of Hell which draws on several of his other works is found HERE (Discovery Institute 1/1/1998). We will see you again on the other side of Ash Wednesday.
Instead of remaining in the state in which God had created them, they were in process of becoming corrupted entirely, and death had them completely under its dominion. For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again.St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 1.4