This summer, EPIC students are reading The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis and blogging about it together. The first blog post in our series comes from our chaplain, the Rev. Josh Hosler.
I discovered the writings of C.S. Lewis during my own college years. Well, I already knew about Narnia, of course. But one of my professors, a Methodist pastor who also taught communications classes, recommended that we read Surprised by Joy and see the then-current biographical movie Shadowlands, which starred Anthony Hopkins as Lewis. I also read Mere Christianity, a book which spoke to me deeply at age 21. Here at last was a way forward in my faith, a way of reconciling the realities of science with the deepest longings of my soul.
It must have been during that senior year of college or shortly after that I first read The Great Divorce. Up to that point, my theology about heaven and hell had been influenced greatly by The Last Battle from the Narnia series. But here was a parallel parable, an imaginative way to understand Christian theologies of death, resurrection, afterlife, judgment, and redemption. I read it several times, but now it has been many years since I last picked it up.
When people ask me about death and what happens to us on the other side of it, I usually start by saying, “Well, let’s be honest: none of us really knows.” It is part of the human condition to be uncertain about or even afraid of death. The Hebrew and Christian scriptures offer many images to help us prepare for this eventuality, though I don’t think we’re meant to put too much stock in their literal sense. None of us has rock-solid proof of what happens to the soul in death. We must entrust ourselves to the love of God, and if we want to go further, we must use our imagination.
So join us now in C.S. Lewis’s imagination. The narrator finds himself in a grey town that hovers in perpetual dusk. There is a queue for a bus, and he joins it for lack of anything better to do. Several other people get impatient with the line and leave, but our narrator does eventually get on board. He leaves behind the grey town with all its “cinemas and fish and chip shops and advertisements,” an image that, for me, calls to mind suburban strip malls. Some people will live all their lives in such places and not know that there might be something better. How about you? Do you long for something beyond the mundane and self-gratifying? Where could this bus be headed?