This summer, EPIC students are reading The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis and blogging about it together. The second post in our series comes from Adam Oberstadt.
The second chapter confirms that the narrator is in a supernatural place. The bus not only departs, but flies away; the gray city proves to be billions upon billions of miles across; our civilization’s long-dead heroes, the generals and kings, live on the city’s outer edges.
On the ascending bus with his improbable fellow travelers, the narrator is now separated from the masses below. Any of the people left in the city could catch one of the buses, seemingly bound for some better, brighter realm, but their progress is stunted largely by their own decision not to make the journey. What holds them back?
Vanity, it seems, halts the masses. There is nothing worth fighting over in a land with no scarcity, where everyone has everything they want, but they move farther and farther away from the bus stop each time a quarrel between neighbors pushes them apart. The great Napoleon, we learn, is too busy wallowing in self-pity and blaming others for his downfall even to consider leaving the gray city, choosing to bind himself up with sorrow.
Even those on the bus brim with pride. Other passengers have boarded in hopes of having their self-perceived genius finally recognized in the next realm, or even with plans of returning to the city after obtaining obscure, “real” goods, remaining attached to the dreary city for the love of profit and power. One cultured man is optimistic about the city’s future—and he may be right, for all we know—but he holds that belief as a way of distancing himself from more “primitive” thinkers. Will he, too, go back to the city when the bus turns around? These men bring to mind the Gospel teaching that where one’s heart is, there also is their treasure. Their hearts are in the city of shallow, selfish pleasures, which may prove their end destination after all.
It is in our nature to be prideful, and when such feelings are uncontrolled, they can prevent us from coming closer to the divine. Despite warnings Jesus gave to reconcile with our adversaries, be humble, and seek first His kingdom, humans often fall into habits akin to the souls we meet in this chapter. We fight for our sense of pride, dwell on failure, and inflate our egos. Do we think hard enough about how these habits might hold us back from our full potential, in this life and the next?