11 Quotes from CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce

The Anglican author Clive Staples Lewis wrote The Great Divorce in response to William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. In his story – which he asks his readers to remember is a “fantasy” – the damned can visit heaven. In this brilliant narrative, Lewis lays an excellent foundation for the discussion of God as the Good, Being-itself, and Evil, not as an equal opposite, but as a privation of good, of being.

1. On Evil:
“Evil can be undone, but it cannot ‘develop’ into good. Time does not heal it.”1

2. On Heaven and Hell:
“If we insist on keeping Hell (or even Earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.”2

3. On Ghosts:
“They were in fact ghosts: man-shaped stains on the brightness of that air.”3

4. On the Free Play of Inquiry:
“What you now call the free play of inquiry has neither more nor less to do with the ends for which intelligence was given you than masturbation has to do with marriage.”4

5. On Shame:
“Shame is like that. If you will accept it – if you will drink the cup to the bottom – you will find it very nourishing: but try to do anything else with it and it scalds.”5

6. On Suffering:
“That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of temporal suffering, ‘no future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”6

7. On Evangelism:
“There have been some who were so occupied in spreading Christianity they never gave a thought to Christ.”7

8. On Will:
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”8

9. On Loving:
“You cannot love a fellow-creature fully till you love God.”9

10. On Falsities:
“Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is.”10

11. On Pity:
“Pity was meant to be a spur that drives joy to help misery. But it can be used the wrong way round. It can be used for a kind of blackmailing. Those who choose misery can hold joy up to ransom, by pity.”11

  • 1. VIII ↩︎
  • 2. IX ↩︎
  • 3. 20 ↩︎
  • 4. 41 ↩︎
  • 5. 61 ↩︎
  • 6. 69 ↩︎
  • 7. 74 ↩︎
  • 8. 75 ↩︎
  • 9. 100 ↩︎
  • 10. 105 ↩︎
  • 11. 131 ↩︎