Choosing Hell over Heaven
I recently reread C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. When a friend mentioned it, I didn’t remember reading it.
Until I started. And had as much trouble getting into it as I had before.
I got past my rough start, and enjoyed it, in the way I enjoy The Pilgrim’s Progress and Lewis’ better-known Screwtape Letters. Each has much to say on the lesser things that keep us from full communion with God.
In The Pilgrim’s Progress, my favorite of the three, we travel with Christian as he overcomes obstacles on his journey to the Celestial City. Vain entertainment, emotional pain, physical difficulties. The Screwtape Letters reveals numerous distractions from true worship and service. Through senior demon Screwtape’s letters to his protégé, Lewis reveals how easy we are to divert from the main thing: Christ. The Great Divorce illustrates the myriad things we choose over God, which amounts to choosing hell over heaven.
Choosing hell over heaven. All those lesser, self-indulgent things…
Allegories can be powerful.
Living in Reality
In places, The Great Divorce states things straight out:
“Milton was right,” said my Teacher. “The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words ‘Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.’ There is always something they insist on keeping, even at the price of misery. There is always something they prefer to joy – that is, to reality. Ye see it easily enough in a spoiled child that would sooner miss its play and its supper than say it was sorry and be friends. Ye call it the Sulks. But in adults it has a hundred fine names.”
How many attitudes, thoughts, and actions do I choose over joy? Choose over joy! That should be convicting enough, but then comes the second punch: over reality. Living in joy is living in reality.
Joy is reality. Joy. is. reality. Now, that’s a truth to sit in and soak.
When we choose smaller things over joy, we’re living a lie.
Spiritual health and mental health are inextricably woven. Although trying to convince a secular mental health practitioner to look at it from Lewis’ perspective could make him or her suspect you’re losing touch with reality, truth is truth.
When I choose lesser things, I trip myself up spiritually, mentally, and emotionally, most likely socially, and potentially physically. All areas of health are connected.
…the time comes when, though the pleasure becomes less and less and the craving fiercer and fiercer, and though he knows that joy can never come that way, yet he prefers to joy the mere fondling of unappeasable lust and would not have it taken from him. He’d fight to the death to keep it. He’d like well to be able to scratch, but even when he can scratch no more he’d rather itch than not.”
He was silent for a few moments, and then began again.
“Ye’ll understand, there are innumerable forms of this choice.”
We are people determined to pursue pleasure and convenience. We’re blinded by shiny lies and empty promises. We want to feel good now. Or at least tightly grasp the painful chains we’re used to.
A hard truth about joy is it doesn’t always feel as good as happy.
Joy doesn’t require happy. It’s independent of circumstances. It’s not something we must chase after, but simply abide in. It may be a fight to get home. We may struggle to escape the lies we live in. But the doors are always open; the light is always on.
Reality: God is; God was; God always will be. I am His child. The beauty of eternal life with Him will make every pleasure and pain of this world seem as nothing.
Living in reality is living in joy. I often run and try to hide from reality. The reality we can see and feel now, in this world, is hard. The pain. The ugliness. The cruelty. So often, I just don’t want to hear any more bad news, or make myself vulnerable by reaching out to the broken.
How much more do I run from the overarching reality of God’s wisdom, goodness, love, and sovereignty?
I want what makes me feel good in the moment, despite knowing the best must be waited for. I get angry with God for the tragedies He allows, for the ugliness He allowed into the world because He gave us the right to choose our own way. He does not force us to do what is best, right, and healthy; when we choose anything that isn’t Him, we choose and feed the brokenness of fallen humanity. I resent God for having ultimate control, but not exercising it to make life in this world easier and kinder. I don’t want to let go of my illusion of control and the (dis)comfort of choosing my own way.
I choose to make the world a darker place when I hide from the Truth of reality.
Joy to the World
We have no excuse to hide from the pain of the world, when we know the Healer. We have no right to wrap ourselves in an identity of brokenness when we have the Spirit that raised Christ from death. We are foolish to choose sin though our chains are broken. Why do we live small lives when we’ve been set free from death?
We live in a world desperately in need of God’s Light and Healing.
When we walk around defeated, we reinforce the world’s lies. Christianity is just another weak belief system. A personal, loving, holy God isn’t real. Faith is unnecessary, meaningless.
Living in the tension between the heart-wrenching reality of this world and the joyous reality of God’s glory is powerful. Firmly rooted in heaven, we can reach into hell to grasp dying hearts.