Exploring where life and story meet!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Through a glass, darkly

I was reading C.S. Lewis's 'The Great Divorce' the other day and found his portrayal of Hell quite unique.  Most people imagine cloven-hooved and bearded tormenters (a sad caricature he addressed admirably in 'The Screwtape Letters') frolicking amidst the flames while secretly hoping to meet some notorious and interesting sinner of yore or to at least 'hang out' with the set they preferred during their earthly tenure, a strangely fascinating contrast to the dull and tedious vision of Heaven so common to modern sensibilities: overweight middle aged folk dressed in shapeless gowns, sitting upon clouds, harp in hand.  Lewis imagined Hell as a seedy town of immense and ever expanding dimension trapped beneath a perpetual drizzle amid an autumnal twilight whose residents can't stand to live within two streets of one another, where you can imagine up anything and everything you can desire yet the most exquisite roof won't keep out the rain and all the great sinners live so far away and are so absorbed in their own vital concerns that they haven't a thought for anything or anyone else.  His vision of Hell isn't that dissimilar to many people's idea of Heaven (if you can shake off the 'Far Side' inspired caricatures previously mentioned): an idealized earth like experience.  His Hell is a seedy town, to many, Heaven is merely the ultimate gated community where you never have to mow your own lawn.

But why do we have such a hard time envisioning Heaven?  So much so that many say they almost find the theory of Hell more tenable, or at least more fun.  It is the one subject that is never explicitly described in the Bible.  We know a few things that won't be there (marriage for example), but we have no idea what it will be like.  Everyone who has ever had a glimpse of it can only paint in metaphors or is forbidden from speaking of it (John, Paul, Ezekiel) while Hell seems a much more approachable subject and seems the more comfortable or even preferable just from sheer familiarity.  What gives?  Perhaps it is because Hell is that more approachable, understandable, and familiar to mortal minds, being a conception of reality a mere step below our current predicament: we are far closer to Hell than to Heaven in our current state.  I can understand and am far more comfortable with the people and culture in the next town over than I am with those on the opposite side of the globe.  Fallen creation is far nearer Hell than Heaven, it is merely more habitable and joyous because Heaven has not utterly forsaken it.  We can catch little glimpses of Heaven here, like sunbeams through a dirty window, that make life in this dusty cellar livable but we are far more familiar with its dank and dark corners than we are with the surface of the sun from whence comes the light.

Heaven isn't the province of Men, rather it is the domain of God, whither He invites all who would come, but it is His Kingdom, not ours, and we must accept it on His terms: vast, grand, wonderful, terrifying to mortal minds.  Meanwhile, we dwell uneasily in our earthly fiefdom and happily He graces our unhappy land with the least of His smiles from time to time, aside from that rather memorable visit of state some two millennia ago.  Hell however, is our very own domain, whither we can escape His irksome Presence, be that our wish, but it would be to draw the blinds on that dirty window and plunge our cellar into absolute and utter night.  We would never think of breaking down the door and escaping into that unknown and dreadful Dawn, we'd rather dwell in our 'safe' and familiar prison.  But He has broken the door!  Will we willfully sit in the dark, pretending the outer world is but a lie or will we peek around the corner and look upon things too great for mortal words?


No comments:

Post a Comment