The Great Divorce: Heaven and Hell

The Great Divorce

by C. S. Lewis

Reviewed by Terry Akers

bookThe subject of hell has intrigued the Christian church throughout its nearly 2,000-year history. This doctrine has long been a source of scholarly debate, resulting in widely varying conclusions, depending on the guiding church tradition or interpretative method used.

The evangelical church’s consensus on hell is that it exists, and that it represents alienation from God. Details as to the exact nature and duration of hell, however, are open to speculation, limited only to one’s imagination and religious preconceptions. We publish a concise overview of the doctrine of hell titled, The Battle Over Hell. It is available free of charge here.

C.S. Lewis’ stylized treatment of heaven and hell in his book, The Great Divorce, is a masterful work of fiction. Lewis writes in the preface: "I beg the readers to remember that this is a fantasy…the transmortal conditions are solely an imaginative supposal: they are not even a guess or a speculation at what may actually await us. The last thing I wish is to arouse factual curiosity about the details of the afterworld." As this book demonstrates, however, fantasy can be an effective tool for proclaiming the gospel.

Lewis’ theological perception (Mere Christianity) and vivid imagination (The Chronicles of Narnia) come together here in an astonishing vision of heaven and hell. The Great Divorce upholds the scriptural teaching that those who end up in hell put themselves there by ultimately refusing to receive the redemptive grace God makes available to them in Christ. This is in contrast to teachings that, in the minds of many, present God as a vindictive monster rather than as the loving Creator-Redeemer revealed in the Bible.

In Lewis’ "imaginative supposal," even in hell, lost souls remain free to accept God’s grace, and yet do not. The story chronicles the responses of a busload of hell’s inhabitants to an imaginary tour of heaven. It offers a window into the fallen human psyche, with its pettiness, vanity and capacity for self-deception, where some humans keep finding creative ways to say no to God’s yes for them in Christ, through pride and selfishness — maybe forever.

The Great Divorce is entertaining and full of wisdom. Most of all, it makes one think. The vignettes from the text, with their penetration into the human condition, make excellent topics for small group discussion. Lewis weaves imagery with dialogue as he illuminates Christian concepts of heaven and hell with clarity and beauty.

This 1946 classic has stimulated an interest for many in seeking greater theological understanding regarding creation, reconciliation and redemption. Lewis’ book has inspired deeper reflection beyond the narrow confines of literalism and the equally treacherous ditch of pure symbolism.

Copyright © 2005

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