The Great Divorce, Ch. 12-14, pt.1

This week we are concluding our reading of The Great Divorce.  Please read chapters 12-14.

Here we meet Sarah Smith, one of the Spirits who has fully become Human, and her pitiful husband.  We also read George MacDonald’s explanations of the weightier theological matters of salvation, universalism, predestination, and free will. MacDonald says that we see these doctrines through the lens of time which is like a person seeing reality through the wrong end of a telescope.  It is only when we enter into the fullness of reality outside of time, can we understand such things. In formulating this idea that reality only makes sense outside of our understanding of the “passage” of time, Lewis draws upon St. Augustine’s Confessions and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.  Both these men conceived of time as a part of the created order and saw time (past, present, and future) as a forever present existing reality.  I have attached the second half of Book 11 (ch. 13-31) of The Confessions and would encourage you to read the same.  There Augustine, writing at the turn of the fifth century, states that not only did God create time (11.14.17) but that all time presently exists: “There are three times: a present of things past, a present of things present, and a present of things future. For these three do somehow exist in the soul, and otherwise, I see them not: present of things past, memory; present of things present, sight; present of things future, expectation.”  Likewise, Einstein, writing 1500 years later, theorized that the sharp difference between past, present, and future is simply an illusion.  I would encourage you to watch this PBS presentation on the Illusion of Time and/or the Science Channel’s Does Time Really Exist? Lewis’s teaching is that if we can begin to wrap our heads around the idea that the movement of time is simply an illusion, then the stark difference between creation/annihilation, universalism/election, and predestination/freedom disappears.

As you read through these chapters think about the following:

  • What does Sarah Smith mean when she says: “Our light can swallow up your darkness: but your darkness cannot now infect our light.” See, John 1:3
  • What was the relationship between the Dwarf-Ghost and the Tragedian?
  • In what ways can people be divided within themselves? What are the dangers of acting a part with others?
  • “Is it really tolerable that she should be untouched by his misery….” How does MacDonald explain Sarah’s reaction?
  • What distinction is made, in this section, between the action and the passion of pity?  Do you agree?
  • How is pity for others different than pity for oneself? What dangers are inherent in the latter?
  • According to MacDonald’s reasoning, why was Jesus able to descend into hell? 
  • What do you think of the picture of the chessmen? What is it intended to signify?
  • MacDonald says: “I know it has a grand sound to say ye’ll accept no salvation which leaves even one creature in the dark outside. But watch that sophistry or you’ll make a Dog in a Manger the tyrant of the universe.” What does MacDonald mean? Do you accept MacDonald’s explanation of why people are allowed to choose hell?
  • Do you agree with MacDonald that “Ye cannot know eternal reality by a definition.”

SCHEDULE: Tuesday-week is our Christian Seder Dinner. If you can join us, please sign up on Tuesday or email me back.

If you are interested in further exploring the ideas of George MacDonald, here are two good websites to start with: and

Dinner is at 6:00. Menu is a baked potato bar. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here.

“Sleepers, wake!” A voice astounds us,
the shout of rampart-guards surrounds us:
“Awake, Jerusalem, arise!”
Midnight’s peace their cry has broken,
their urgent summons clearly spoken:
“The time has come, O maidens wise!
Rise up, and give us light;
the Bridegroom is in sight.
Your lamps prepare and hasten there, 
that you the wedding feast may share.”

Philipp Nicolai, 1982 Hymnal 61

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