Getting Personal: The Great Divorce #4


jocund: (adj.) cheerful and lighthearted


I am quite skilled at personal conversation. Not the kind of conversation you’re imagining, though. I’m talking about the conversations that replay perpetually in my head, but never actually happen in real life. These are the conversations of conflict, the conversations of offense, the conversations of reconciliation. If I’ve known you long, chances are I’ve had one (or many?) of these imaginary conversations with you… and you never even knew it! When I summon the courage to let one of these conversations play out with another human being, reality usually works out to look nothing like the ornery world residing happily in my head.

There is an unpredictability to humanity that makes conversation interesting. Engaging people, beyond the mundane talk of the weather or traffic patterns, stands among the greatest adventures we, as people, can enjoin. Laughter, terror, wonder, frustration, agitation, resolution… all from shared words and misinterpreted body language.


“There are going to be affecting scenes” (The Writer)


The Writer seems very aware that the approach of the solid people, the bright people, means that things are about to get personal. These people move with intention, as though each has an assignment. He seems oblivious to the possibility, though, that one of the people might be coming for him. Reading the book slowly, I appreciate his naivete, which keeps us happily inside his interpretation of the events.

2539_giant_cedar_treeIn this chapter we see the Big Man’s conversation with a ghost of his past. This is the kind of encounter I play out in my head all the time. If only I could speak with this person or that person who did this or caused that. These are the conversations I tend to irrationally fear. I think that helped me press into chapter 4!

How interesting, as he faces “the ghost of his past,” that the Big Man is actually the ghost, while “the ghost” seems to have become very real! Lewis overturns our expectations as the passengers on the bus are now plainly referred to as ghosts and shadows, recognizing that this place is, in fact, the fullness of reality – and that the people and animals are to be envied for their ability to live in so solid a setting!


“Ask for the Bleeding Charity. Everything here is for the asking and nothing can be bought.” (Len)


Somehow, in this place, murder has been cleaned up. Death has been overturned. Self-centeredness has been redirected, though self-awareness seems to be complete. People have received the opposite of what they deserve, yet they have the opportunity – chasing these ghosts – to seek reconciliation for the evils of their past while pleading for a friendly future. Every last bit seems to be upside-down and backwards. The Big Ghost was certainly uncomfortable with the situation. Len (the solid/bright person) seemed quite comfortable.

I can understand the Big Ghost’s discomfort. As humans, we carry pain. To see a source of pain vindicated would certainly be strange. To be invited to spend forever and ever with a source of pain in friendliness would be even stranger. Imagine a source of pain pointing out your faults, even if in love. Imagine a source of pain providing the solution to a better eternity. No wonder he walked away, grumbling and whimpering at the same time. He faced an impossible choice.

Simply defined, grace is receiving something you do not deserve. In Christian-ese, grace is a gift. Unearned. Undeserved. This chapter reminded me of the truth that those who have received grace often seem perfectly comfortable with the concept, while those who have not seem to struggle. I believe the difficulty comes from seeing grace as an unjust outcome. After all, “letting go” of the wrongs and hurts of the past makes no sense because it is void of justice. Our hearts long for justice! Forgiveness involves absorbing the pain of loss. Humanity does not openly seek the absorption of pain. The Big Ghost wants justice. It was murder!

Ah, but what if justice has been satisfied in some other way, making grace a perfectly sensible gift? Then, I believe, we would speak of grace more like Len and less like the Big Ghost.

This is where the gospel of grace and justice speaks.


“I’d rather be damned than go along with you.” (the Big Ghost)


This hint of the good news falls on deaf ears. As he retreated to the bus, the Big Ghost boldly displays a human heart’s gut response to the gift of grace: I’m not bad enough to need it, and you’re not good enough to receive it.




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2 thoughts on “Getting Personal: The Great Divorce #4

  1. Although this isn’t the forum for confession, I confess to a complete inability to read this slowly and deliberately. Actually I’m on my second time through. Once I got the hang of the language, I was appalled to hear my own words at different times in my life. Being old I was those ghosts. All of them.(Sometimes still am the ghosts) I had to rush to the end to understand how I might have turned out. (Not so well).
    I was glad to be reassured of the commonness of my sinfulness, but not comfortable with so common and intimate look at my soul. It is stranger, still to be the one who caused the pain, to be the injustice someone rails against.
    Since I’ve read to the end I know I’m not going to find a hand-book with answers, but I am going to keep reading along.

    • Thanks Patty!
      I’m struggling to read slowly, but I’m forcing myself so as to keep the posts in step with what the book has revealed. Thanks for the honest comment. I think Lewis hits every wretched aspect of humanity at some point in the book. If we’re all honest, we’ll see lots of things we don’t like or like to admit about ourselves. What a great opportunity to reflect, and to cry out for the mercy that is new each morning. Thanks also for sticking with the posts.

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