One of my all time favorite books explores alot of the issues raised in my recent sermon about the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus and related questions about heaven and hell.
That book is The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis. This is an imaginative fiction in which a busload of passengers from the grey town (“hell”) visit the threshold of heaven. Each passenger is met by a heavenly resident whom they knew on earth and a series of conversations ensue in which the heavenly beings try to persuade the greytowners to choose heaven over a return trip. Most of these residents of hell are unable to surrender the particular idols of their hearts and would rather continue to live in the grey town where they have things their way.
What is striking to me is how heaven is portrayed as so Real the blades of grass hurt the feet of the greytowners and the drops of rain feel like stones falling on their heads. The grey town is portrayed as ultimately Unreal, such that each resident lives an increasingly isolated existence, in illusory homes of their own mental design where the rain drops come straight through their rooftops. Wanting to be left alone with their heart’s desires, the houses of hell grow increasingly further apart from one another.
Lewis is careful to state he is writing speculative fiction, but his theological points are clear. Heaven is ultimate Reality, where community is found and God is central. Hell is ultimate Unreality, where isolation is attained and each greytowner is god of their own Unreal kingdom.
This is a short and incredible read. I highly recommend it.