I was wondering who would get this chapter… There is a lot here, especially for those of us who have neglected our classical liberal arts education. But, I’ll give it a go…
Mentor and Guide
As we begin this chapter, at last Jack is approached by HIS guiding spirit; his Solid Person; and it is none other than author, poet, and Christian minister, George MacDonald. C.S. Lewis maintained that he regarded MacDonald as his “master”. I think much of the praise Jack starts gushing upon first meeting MacDonald is very much what Lewis would have liked to have said himself. Just a note… the life of C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald only briefly intersected. They never met.
MacDonald stops Jack’s gushing praise, assuring him that he knows all about Jack’s admiration and biographical past, even noting that Jack’s “memory misleads you in one or two particulars.” MacDonald then persuades Jack to continue on with his questions about this place he finds himself in.
Now notice right off the bat… every Spirit thus far starts right off with getting his Ghost to forget the things that prevent him from going to Heaven. Not here, not our author. MacDonald seems more interested in answering Jacks questions and getting him to observe and learn. This confirms what, I’ve been suspecting all along. There is something special about Jack. He’s not like the others and he’s not here for the same purpose.
Jack continues “It is about these Ghosts. Do any of them stay? Can they stay? Is any real choice offered to them? How do they come to be here?”
A Holiday from Hell (Literally)
Here MacDonald asks Jack if he has ever heard about the Refrigerium. I (Lynn) sure haven’t… so I researched it a bit. The Refrigerium is the idea that the “damned are given occasional repose from the torments of Hell by being granted days off” to visit other places. The word comes from the verb refrigero for “to cool off, make cool” and “to relieve, refresh” which seems rather appropriate.
When you think about it, a Refrigerium is the basic plot of this book. (Of course Lewis knew that… I didn’t.) This idea of Refrigerium was put forth by authors and theologians Prudentius and Jeremy Taylor, among others whom Jack may have read.
And now we learn something else! The Ghosts in Hell take these excursions all the time; but most choose destinations other than Heaven. Most choose to return to Earth, to play tricks on mediums (Lewis calls them “daft” I notice). The Ghosts may also haunt houses, spy on relatives, or see how their worldly works are holding up. Only a few take the omnibus to this destination.
Can They Stay
“But if they come here they can really stay?”
And off we go. The next few paragraphs go into a mess of an answer,
The terse answer to the question from the perspective of this story is yes. “Aye. Ye’ll have heard that the emperor Trajan did.”
(Side Note: Emperor Trajan was a supremely popular Roman Emperor who lived from 59 to 117 AD. His wisdom, morality, and commitment to justice are renowned and his reputation has survived for nineteen centuries. He has been depicted by many great authors, poets, & painters for his virtue. There was a legend in medieval times that Pope Gregory I resurrected Trajan and baptized him into Christianity; and perhaps this is the reference that MacDonald is using here with Jack. source: WikiPedia)
Salvation for the Dead
Jack and MacDonald move to the obvious question, “Isn’t one’s final destination determined before death?” We Protestant definitely think so, and I can’t imagine anyone actually believing in purgatory. As I stated earlier, I agree that if you want to find salvation, you had better do it in this life. This is a work of fiction.
MacDonald simply states “Ye cannot in your present state understand eternity… Ye cannot fully understand the relations of choice and time till you are beyond both.” and I (LJ) have already said as much. Another way to put it might be “Farther along we’ll know more about it, Farther along, we’ll understand why. Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine. We’ll understand it all by and by…” (One of my favorites hymns.)
In the End
In the end, the light will rise on Heaven and Darkness will descend on Hell. Heaven will be like the opposite of a mirage where what was a mirage turns real. Hell will indeed be a state of mind where “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.”
MacDonald calls this choice by those in Hell by several names: Achilles Wrath – The story of Achilles is defined by his personal rage and wounded vanity. Coriolanus’ Grandeur – Coriolanus (a historical figure and play by Shakespeare) was a great general and a banished senator of Rome; as punishment for rejecting his greatness, he allies with Rome’s enemies to vanquish the city. All MacDonald is doing here is listing the character flaws that cause people to choose hell. A more learned, well read scholar would have picked up on these immediately… I got the Achilles one to my credit; and Googled the rest. (I’m becoming less and less impressed with Google. Ugh…)
MacDonald gives another example of a scientist (I don’t think it was a real person discussed) who studied a particular field. It consumed his life and he eventually died. He made it to the “Valley of the Shadow of Life” (where they are now) and there was nothing to prevent him to going on to Heaven. BUT his occupation was gone. Here there was no more interest in the question. There was nothing to be proven. He could have “…had a good laugh at himself. He could have begun all over again like a little child and entered into joy. But he would not do that. He cared nothing about joy. In the end he went away.”
Notice this is yet another reference to one becoming a child. I don’t think this is by accident. Lewis is repeating the teachings of Jesus that we must become as children again to enter into the kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 18:3)
Again, with the scientist, we find someone obsessed with worldly things after the world has passed away. Jack finds the story “Fantastic”; but his teacher admonishes him with a piercing glance and says “It is nearer to such as you than ye think.”
The Great Gulf
Changing the subject, Jack asks a question breached when he was talking to the “Hard-Bitten” ghost. Why don’t the “Solid People” go down to Hell and rescue the Ghosts for their own good? Why only meet them here?”
MacDonald’s answer gives us our first glimpse of sacrifice. The Spirits purpose in life is to move further and further into heaven, yet these Spirits retrace steps in order to perhaps save a Ghost. To succeed is joy, but that joy is not guaranteed. As for going to Hell to save them, MacDonald says “… if it were possible… The sane would do no good if they made themselves mad to help madmen.
This first statement reminds me of the parable of the rich man in Hell/Hades who looks up to see beggar Lazarus at Abraham’s bosom. He begs Abraham to allow Lazarus to dip his finger in water so that he go to the rich man and cool his tongue. But Abraham explains that “Besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that those who want to pass from here to you are not able, and that none may cross over from there to us”. Ooops… I guess that would prevent the Omnibus from making it’s appointed rounds also… Oh well, it’s just a story. (Luke 16: 19-31)
This Is It…
OK! This is it! THE next question and answer is what I think is the summation of the entire message of The Great Divorce. So pay attention.
Jack asks, “But what of the poor Ghosts who never get into the omnibus at all?” and I would add “or those Ghosts who choose not to continue on to Heaven?”
And MacDonald’s answer is; “Everyone who wishes it does. Never fear. 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.”
BAM! That’s it! MacDonald is basically reiterating (Matthew 7:7) which concludes by giving us the Golden Rule. But what we have here is the definition of “free will”. For a few of us, it will be a blessing and glory to God, and for many a curse, but a curse of our own choosing.
The Grumbling Ghost
Before the discussion goes any further, Jack and MacDonald are interrupted by another Ghost talking to her Spirit guide. This “Grumbling Ghost” is telling her spirit about her life in Hell and that she should have had a few years left on Earth that she didn’t get… and… grumble, grumble, grumble.
As the Ghost and Spirit move off Jack mentions what we said earlier, these Ghosts are all that bad! Why are they in Hell in the first place? This is “only a silly, garrulous old woman who has got into a habit of grumbling, and one feels that a little kindness, and rest, and change would put her all right.”
Again, MacDonald assures us that if there is a spark of women left, she can be saved; but humans in life and death get into habits (like grumbling) and we can realize it, repent, and step away from it. But sometimes it goes too far and it consumes us and we become a machine doing the same thing over and over again.
The Floozy Ghost
Another female Ghost is seen trying to flirt and Solid Spirits in a sexual manner; which Jack found appalling; like a zombie attempting to entice the living. In the end she is disappointed and returns to the bus.
This reminds Jack to ask MacDonald about the Shy-Ghost, the horn, and the Unicorns. AND I (LJ)was right in my earlier comments about that scene! I didn’t remember this part in the book; so either I’m a genius or have a really good sub-conscience memory. MacDonald confirms the blast and Unicorns were meant to help by using fear to get her mind off herself for just a moment; a moment that could be used to save her.
Other Types of Ghosts
Jack goes on to explain that they met many more Ghosts. And the most common was the type that wanted to tell, teach, or lecture the Celestials on Hell. None had any curiosity about the new world they found themselves in and ALL turned back to the bus when their attempts to “teach” failed. These were the mildest form of Ghosts who wanted to “extend Hell, to bring it bodily, if they could, into Heaven”
Wow… what a thought. There is indeed a war between Heaven and Hell; and there are Ghosts willing to wage it.
- Other Ghost Types (not as mild as the Teachers):
- Tub-Thumping Ghosts: (Definition: a tub-thumper is a noisy, violent, or ranting public speaker) These ghosts are the radical revolutionaries demanding that the Spirits rise up and free themselves from “happiness”, tear down the mountains and “seize Heaven for their own. Hell was on their side! (Lynn’s Note: Like an ant shouting power to the people.)
- Planning Ghosts: Encouraged the Spirits to dam the river, kill the animals, and pave the horrible grass with nice smooth asphalt.
- Materialist Ghosts: Informed Spirits there is no life after death, and everything is a halucination. (Lynn’s Note: wouldn’t that be immaterialist.)
- Bogie Ghosts: Ghosts who realize they have deterioted into mere shadows and have now taken up the traditional ghostly role of scaring whoever they can. MacDonald quotes the Roman historial Tacitus, “They terrify lest they should fear.”
Jack tells us he observes these and other “grotesque phantoms in which hardly a trace of the human form remained; monsters who had faced the journey…only to spit and gibber out in one ecstasy of hatred their envy and (what is harder to understand) their contempt, of joy. The voyage seemed to them a small price to pay if once, only once, within sight of that eternal dawn, they could tell the prigs, the toffs, the sanctimonious humbugs, the snobs, the “haves,” what they thought of them.”
In several places in the Bible are references to people who consider good, evil and take pride in their sin. There are just people in the world with so much hatred for God and/or those who have the audacity to believe in a higher power. Most are bitter because their desires do not mesh with God’s commands. I would suspect these people will carry this hatred with them for eternity. These pitiful creatures are seen all around us, especially in the worldly secular media of this modern age.
Redeeming the Unredeemable
Jack asks MacDonald the same obvious question. “How do they come to here at all”? How do they find their way to the Valley of the Shadow of Life. But in this case he wonders why they are here, because they are so vile and unredeemable.
MacDonald informs Jack that such have been converted while less contemptible beings have not. The logic being (and I agree with it), if you hate something; you are at least aware of its existence; as opposed to not being aware of it; or even thinking you already posses something (goodness, salvation) when you don’t.
The Artist Ghost
MacDonald quickly tells Jack to “Whisht, now!” which means hush and listen as they witness another encounter between a Ghost and Spirits.
This new Artist-Ghost was actually quite famous on Earth for his talent. He is very impressed with the landscape here and wishes he could paint it. Like the scientist, he is infatuated with keeping his profession going.
- The artist is informed of several new facts about the afterlife and Heaven:
- Before he tries to paint something he should first learn to see it through Heavenly eyes.
- His love was for light, and paint was simply the medium by which he shared that love.
- His paintings were great because he was able to capture glimpses of Heaven in them. Now upon viewing the real thing you are going backwards.
- There is a possibility that he WILL paint again; but only if he completely gives it up.
- Ink and catgut and paint are tools necessary on Earth, but they are also dangerous stimulants. If we are not careful, we become more interested in the use of the stimulant than simply using to tool.
This Ghost is a word of warning by Lewis to artiste types like Rick. 😉 I haven’t seen any representations of yours truly yet. You know, the down to Earth, stoic, common sense philosophers. Well… unless you count the Solid People or MacDonald… 🙂 Moving on…
First Destination, The Fountain
We are also given a bit more information about the destination of Ghosts who continue on to Heaven. They will travel to a fountain and once they drink of it, they will forget all their ownership of their works. They will enjoy them as if they were someone else’s; without pride or ownership.
The Spirit compares this fountain to the river Lethe which in Greek mythology was one of the rivers that flowed in Hades. Those who drank from this river forgot everything about their human lives. In this case, drinking from the fountain wasn’t so extreme.
Still not comprehending what Heaven will be like, the Ghost mentions that he looks forward to meeting other famous artists; to whom the Spirit explains that everyone in Heaven is equally famous, but no one is distinguished.
The Ghosts is OK with that and ready to move forward toward the mountain, because he is/was a famous artist and thus is still remembered (in his own mind). “One must be content with one’s reputation among posterity, then.” he says…
This shows that the Ghost is happy to go onto heaven; because his life’s works are enjoyed by posterity. He life has counted for something. BUT, the Ghost learns that all was for naught. “…you and I are already completely forgotten on the Earth…You couldn’t get five pounds for any picture of mine or even of yours…”
Learning this, the “Great Artist Ghost” cannot stand the fact that all was far naught… something has to be done! Articles, manifestos, publications… one’s duty to the future of Art… And with that the Ghosts vanishes; never hearing another word from the Spirit.
OK, the Ghost is one his way… arm in arm with his Spirit Guide. Why tell him something that is going to drive him over the edge and cause him to panic and flee. Sticking with the universe created by Lewis, I guess the Ghost has to know in order to let go and move forward But wouldn’t Heavenly timing be omnipotently orchestrated so as to prevent these meltdowns? I guess the real answer is… the story and the morals found within would suffer otherwise…
Works and Grace
Back to the moral of the Artist Ghpst. This contentment with our accomplishments, our works, is not the attitude of Heaven. The same thing can be said for our disappointment in what we have accomplished. We are not saved by works; but by grace. Thank God! But works should still abound BECAUSE of grace. The best I’ve ever hear it explained was with an analogy to fire and smoke. Grace is fire; while works is smoke. Where there is fire, there is smoke. Fire without smoke is an illusion. Smoke without fire doesn’t amount to much.
The wisest man who ever lived put it this way. Ecclesiastes 1:14-15 (NAS): I (Solomon) have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind. What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted.
We as ghosts have to learn that; preferably while we draw breath. Nothing we do is necessary! Nothing we do is new! Our best works are a filthy garment. With that in mind… God wants us to perform works, BUT only through an understanding of faith and grace. Faith and grace get us to Heaven and the joy of grace produce works.
I know there was a lot of material in this Chapter and I know I didn’t do it justice. Please bring to light the points I may have missed.
On to Chapter 10, Rick will review the plight of a rather talkative Ghost.