The Great Divorce: Advent 4.2
Wednesday 24 December 2014 Articles

The interaction between Sarah and Frank continues but his resistance to Sarah’s invitation to change leads to him beginning to shrink. Ultimately he disappears altogether and all that is left is the Tragedian. In once last plea Sarah says:

“Stop it at once.”

“Stop What?”

“Using pity, other people’s pity in the wrong way. We have all done it a bit on earth, you know. Pity was meant to be a spur that drives joy to help misery. But it can be used the wrong way round. It can be used for a kind of blackmailing. Those who choose misery can hold joy up to ransom, by pity. You see, I know now. Even as a child you did it. Instead of saying you were sorry, you went and sulked in the attic…because you knew that sooner or later one of your sisters would say, “I can’t bear to think of him sitting up there alone crying.” You used pity to blackmail them and they gave in in the end.”

There is an objection to Christianity that goes along the lines of ‘How can there be true joy in Heaven, when there is even one lost soul in Hell?’ Lewis has himself ask MacDonald about this. Surely Sarah’s pity means she should feel sorrow and pity for Frank, even as he disappears and ceases to be, absorbed into his false doll.

MacDonald’s reply is uncompromising.

“That sounds very merciful: but see what lurks behind it…The demand of the loveless and self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.”

Frank has made his choice and in doing that he wishes to have a lasting manipulation that will continue to rob Sarah of joy. He is not prepared to do the little it will take to free him, to let go of the chain linking him to the Tragedian and yet he still wants others to run around after him.

Even if Sarah would feel this was right it is impossible for her. Frank’s darkness cannot blight the light she has for she is in the light, constantly experiencing God’s love. An image that might be helpful is to think of darkness and light a bit more. In a dark room a lit candle can illuminate and chase away fears. In a bright room one tiny corner of darkness has no influence on the light of the room. Darkness doesn’t really exist; it is purely an absence of light. Sarah’s experience of God’s light will not be darkened by Frank’s selfishness. It is impossibility.

Frank is no victim. He is a perpetrator who would have all under his tyranny. The time for his salvation, for his own free choice to love has gone. He has rejected goodness and love. Sarah’s freedom means that he can no longer torment her.

This encounter leads Lewis to ask MacDonald about pity. Again there is another very straightforward response:

“The action of Pity will live for ever: but the passion will not. The passion of pity, the pity we merely suffer, the ache that draws men to concede what should not be conceded and to flatter when they should speak truth, the pity that has cheated many a woman out of her virginity and many a statesman out of his honest- that will die. It was used as a weapon by bad men against good ones: their weapon will be broken.”

“The action of pity, however is another thing altogether. “It leaps quicker than light from the highest place to the lowest to bring healing and joy, whatever the cost to itself. It changes darkness into light and evil into good. But it will not, at the cunning tears of Hell, impose on good the tyranny of evil.”

The Passion, the feeling easily twists into manipulation. It is only in the action of pity, costly and properly motivated that we see its goodness.

This point leads Lewis to ask still, why Sarah didn’t go down into Hell or at least accompany him to the bus. Here, MacDonald reveals the true nature of Hell. Finding a crack in the ground, he tells Lewis that this, or a crack like it, was the great abyss the bus came up. It increased in size as it travelled. The reason Sarah or any other spirit could not go into Hell is that they are too big and it too tiny. Thinking back to Ikey and his apple, we can note that there is going to be trouble on the return trip. What Lewis has taken for ‘won’t’ has really been can’t. “Only the Greatest of all can make himself small enough to enter Hell,” says MacDonald referring to the Harrowing of Hell.

Talk then turns to time, eternity and the concepts of predestination and free will. MacDonald says

“Witness the doctrine of predestination which shows (truly enough) that eternal reality is not waiting for a future in which to be real; but at the price of removing Freedom which is the deeper truth of the two. And wouldn’t a Universalism do the same? Ye cannot know eternal reality by a definition. Time itself, and all acts and events that fill time, are the definition and it must be lived.”

This is another reflection, as the book draws to its close about choice. Heaven already exists. It is a reality but you can’t use this fact, the sense of predestination to take away free will. Also Universalism also has great problems. To say that all will be saved takes away the free choice of the individual. The choice to reject God must be there. Otherwise we are just automatons.

As the dream ends, Lewis sees on last image: Spirits standing round a silver table, on which they could see the actions of men and women. Lewis is terrified and cries out, asking is this all he has seen in his dream. MacDonald replies that

“Ye saw the choices a bit more clearly than ye could see them on Earth: the lens was clearer. But it was still seen through a lens. Do not ask of a vision in a dream more than a vision in a dream can give.”

Lewis’ fantasy enabled him and us to see the true enormity of choices made every day, played out in Heaven where the reality of the choices is starker, what is at stake is seen for what it really is. Pretence and twisted words are shown for what they really are and motives are as transparent as the ghost themselves. The Great Divorce enables us to examine all the choices we ourselves make. It can be a kind of examination of conscience. Somewhere in us maybe our inner Big Ghost, our inner Ikey or our inner Frank. It also highlights where our choices take us. Lots of choices becoming habits, creating our personality leading wither to the miserable town or to the Truth and reality of Heaven.

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