The Dancing Puritan

Friday, June 13, 2014

Are Heaven and Hell Married or Divorced?


Last night my wife and I enjoyed Max McLean's theatrical production of the C.S. Lewis classic, The Great Divorce. We found the production to be fascinating and well done. 

Max McLean writes that The Great Divorce "is a response to William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell where the poet tried to imagine a point at which the difference between good and evil will somehow be resolved. That promoted Lewis to write of their final divorce." 

As part of the set were images of book and clock filled shelves. As the play ended, the clocks chimed in unison. I found myself staring at the clocks and I was struck by their message. The hour is coming and it is sooner that I can even imagine.

If you have read The Great Divorce then you are aware that things, even on the outskirts of heaven, are different than they are on earth. For example the grass is hard to walk on. It sticks the bare feet of those who are not solid. 

A recurring theme in the writings of C.S. Lewis is the difference between shadows and realities. When a mere Earthling looks at and walks on grass, he is really seeing and walking on shadow-grass (if you will). It is a picture and the grass is real but it is lacking ultimate reality. In The Great Divorce, even the periphery of heaven displays a reality that shocks one's system. The Earthling is accustomed to playing with shadows, temporal things. He has no capacity to walk on ultimate grass and smell ultimate fragrances in an ultimate way. Yes, the Christian, by faith, sees, tastes, touches, and embraces a reality beyond the shadow-reality and rejoices in God. However, he is not yet at full capacity to really walk, drink, smell, taste, and touch. Heaven is a place of ultimate reality.

Yes, there is more going on in The Great Divorce with the characters--some of which are solid (heavenly) and others, which are ghostly (hellish). However, the message of real grass, real, water, real apples, and real love is striking. Yes, what we have now, under the sun, is real-but it is not real in the ultimate sense. We are now able to touch our shadow things and we should touch and enjoy them. However, we cannot take shadows to heaven and we must not make them idols of the heart. As has been often said, even the good things of this life make for terrible gods.

Heaven is a place of expanded capacity for joy. Hell, as Lewis graphically displays, is a small place for small people where joy is absent and one's capacity for suffering is expanded.

O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather. Psalm 39:4-6 ESV

The Great Divorce was adapted for the stage by Max McLean and Brian Watkins. McLean is the Artistic Director for the Fellowship for Performing Arts. He is well known for narrating the Bible. He has also narrated Pilgrim's Progress, Here I Stand, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and other classic works. He has acted in many roles and he has won numerous awards. Though he does not act in The Great Divorce he does come to the stage for a discussion with the audience. I enjoyed his audience interaction very much.

The Great Divorce runs through Sunday at the Alliance Stage of the Woodruff Arts Center. To learn more visit: http://greatdivorceonstage.com/atlanta. For a national tour schedule visit GreatDivorceOnStage.com