I just finished reading my third C. S. Lewis book this year. While I always expect a certain writing style and level of vocabulary when I read Lewis, this book proved that I can never exactly predict how one of his books will hit me. I liked it (I always like Lewis), but I didn’t love it. However, it did make me think. (His ultimate goal, I believe.)
Although Lewis himself called the book a “fantasy” in the preface, its genre surprised me, in a similar way that The Shack struck me when I read it, like an out-of-body allegory sprinkled with real-life characterization and deep theological questions. It made me rethink the correct theology to heaven, hell, and salvation and admit how little I actually can prove–how the whole process of accepting Christ and believing His words is entirely a faith decision.
Sure, we all know that already. But have we considered the faith involved with trusting God with the details of heaven and hell, and the discrimination over who goes where? Therein may lie the greater faith. I know many people who would accept God for themselves, but because they can’t reconcile God’s actions toward other people, they choose to reject Him on virtue of principle.
Principle! As if God needs to adhere to my logic of justice. As if I, in my finite existence, can even understand the complexities of human justice!
Lewis addresses these inconsistencies of spiritual conflict–people are willing to go to heaven–they even deign to expect entrance–yet their limited perceptions prevent them from making the very simple decision to die to self in order to live in eternity. In usual Lewis fashion, his characters (ghosts receiving a second chance at heaven) exit the bus from hell for a glimpse of a better future. Their conversations with former ghosts-turned-angels reveal that what sent these ghosts to hell in the first place will likely keep them from hiking up heaven’s hills.
The opportunist only sees material value in regards to the supernatural; the hardened man sees religious propaganda where faith is required. The intellectual sees beyond literal dominions and explains away the existence of eternity. The artist desires continued status; the nag wants control in the after-life; the bereaved, in her grief, doubts God’s love entirely. The proud resents the presence of others “lower” than himself; the martyr twists pity into a weapon against the truth. Only the man with a fiery lizard atop his shoulder, after procrastinating for some time, admits the presence of evil and rejects it. He alone is saved.
In Mtt. 19, a rich young man asks Jesus if he can become a disciple. Jesus, knowing what the man’s one hindrance to salvation will be, asks him to sell everything he has and give it to the poor. The man leaves, saddened. He apparently doesn’t even consider the sacrifice, one way or the other. Jesus explains the situation to his disciples,
“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished. “Then who can be saved?”
Jesus’ answer should remind us that salvation is not merely a decision of the will. It is supernatural. He responded,
“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
The issue in Matthew 19 is the same issue presented in The Great Divorce. No human, in his own strength, can look beyond his own priorities and appreciate God’s priorities more. Without a supernatural surrendering to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, human beings will not be able to accept God’s grace of salvation for the same reason they cannot give grace to the people who live around them. They each carry their own lizards, who speak lies which they believe.
So what is the end result of this quandry?
The selfish always deserve more.
The oppressed can only feel hurt.
The arrogant are always better than everyone else.
The ignorant didn’t understand what was expected of them.
These are the reasons that Heaven came at such a high price and that sanctification–our godly living from day to day–must be lived at high cost. It’s a divorce of monumental proportion.