Yesterday, TC Robinson at New Leaven posted on where we go when we die. He lists all the choices including soul sleep, the great white throne judgment, and heaven. He points out that we don’t need fancy charts or a rigorous course in eschatology, just read the apostle Paul. We go to be with the LORD, II Cor. 5:6-8, Phil. 1:20-24. Do we know exactly what that means? No. Does it make it untrue? No.
Then to close his post he writes we can read CS Lewis’s book, The Great Divorce, for more insight. I dismissed the thought, having read it and taking it as an allegory with parallels, but no direct insight on what heaven would be like. But then as if to drive the point home today, I was listening to Caedmon’s Call on my ipod. I had taken them off, but I like their music so much I had to put them back on. I had it on random shuffle on my Caedmon’s Call playlist when the song “High Countries” came on. I realized for the first time that the song is a visualization of the book The Great Divorce. I don’t know why I never noticed that before since I like the song.
In examining the song, “a bus station, in the steam from the rain” refers to a bus station in hell (where it always rains) which is scheduled to have a bus come and take any who wish to go to heaven to visit. The crowd spends its moments awaiting the arrival of the bus by interrupting, cheating, and even beating the snot out of each other. By the time the bus arrives, there are hardly any people waiting to board. Even so they push and shove as if there’s not enough room even though the bus winds up being only half full.
The “high countries” refers to where this bus ascends to from the pit of… well… hell. In hell, nobody is happy with anybody else. They can’t stand each other so they spend their lives trying to get as far away from other people as possible. That explains the lyrics “the houses spread for a million miles in this gray town.” The bus flies, well, it’s more like a space ship if you ask me since it sort of flies up the face of this cliff for some time until it comes to a high country, which is how heaven is portrayed.
As the main character steps off the bus, he realizes that this place is so real that he can’t even interact with it. It is actually after the light of heaven enters the bus that he realizes how these people from hell, including himself, really are. “Now that they were in the light, they were transparent – fully transparent when they stood between me and it, smudgy and imperfectly opaque when they stood in the shadow of some tree. They were in fact ghosts: man-shaped stains on the brightness of that air. Then some re-adjustment of the mind or some focussing of my eyes took place, and I saw the whole phenomenon the other way round. The men were as they had always been; as all the men I had known had been perhaps. It was the light, the grass, the trees that were different; made of some different substance, so much solider than things in our country that men were ghosts by comparison…. I tried to pick the leaf up: my heart almost cracked with the effort, and I believe I did just raise it. But I had to let it go at once; it was heavier than a sack of coal. As I stood, recovering my breath with great gasps and looking down at the daisy, I noticed that I could see the grass not only between my feet but through them. I also was a phantom. Walking proved difficult. The grass, hard as diamonds to my unsubstantial feet, made me feel as if I were walking on wrinkled rock, and I suffered pains like those of the mermaid in Hans Andersen.” This imagery from the book also explains the line in the song “out on the green plains, I am but a ghost.”
The chorus of the song is “Would you fall to pieces? Would you fall to pieces? Would you fall to pieces in the high countries?” This is taken from the portion when the light from “the high countries” first begins to enter the bus. The main character in the book opens a window letting in a delicious freshness, of course the others on the bus get a bit violent about him opening the window and promptly shut it. “I glanced round the bus. Though the windows were closed, and soon muffed, the bus was full of light. It was cruel light. I shrank from the faces and forms by which I was surrounded. They were all fixed faces, full not of possibilities but impossibilities, some gaunt, some bloated, some glaring with idiotic ferocity, some drowned beyond recovery in dreams; but all, in one way or another, distorted and faded. One had a feeling that they might fall to pieces at any moment if the light grew much stronger.”
I should have realized the parallel between the song and the book sooner. After all, one line of the song states, “We are just pilgrims of the great divorce.” The title of the book The Great Divorce refers to the divorce of heaven and hell. Lewis opposed those who believed that all roads would end up in the same place eventually. Instead, he believed that the two roads forked and forked and forked again and again and again, never to come back to the original choice that was left off. In Lewis’s mind, evil cannot develop into good. Heaven and hell are either/or. There can be no bit of heaven in hell, and there can’t remain the smallest souvenir from hell to enter the gates of heaven.
This is all great for illustrating certain truths, but it bypasses the teachings of the Bible which state that the earth itself will be redeemed. In Romans 8 we read that this present creation groans in anticipation of the revealing of the sons of God to take rightful possession of it. The beatitudes tell us “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” II Peter 3 foretells of a new heaven and a new earth that we will dwell in. How would that fit in to the great divorce? I agree with TC, it is a simple truth that we are with the LORD after we die. But studying eschatology is not fruitless either. There are future events that tell us of a home on earth for us in the kingdom come. Still it’s a great book, making you think about how real God’s kingdom is and will be, whether in heaven, or on a transformed earth. The best part of the book comes from the interaction between the inhabitants of heaven and hell. Get it out and read it again.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman