Several months ago, I reread my old copy of C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce for a chapter in my forthcoming book on the Christian imagination (Now submitted!).
Lewis’ tale is a creative recasting of heaven, hell, and purgatory—all couched in a dream sequence—that allows him to demur (though not entirely convincingly) that he has no intention of “speculating” on the details of the afterlife. (Nonsense; but I’ll save that for another time.)
One of the more convicting encounters in The Great Divorce involves a famous artist who visits heaven and responds with awe: “I should like to paint this!”
Unfortunately, it is precisely this desire (to depict heaven rather than experience it) that will cause him to depart willingly for hell.
Then the money quote:
Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, deep down Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him (85).
I don’t know about poets, musicians, and artists—but this is darn sure true of preachers.
As proof, I found this note, scrawled in my handwriting from freshman year of college.
The command given to the ambitious artist is simple: “Looking comes first.”
There is nothing wrong with painting, describing, depicting Beauty.
Fine. Good. Do it.
But put down your brush, for a moment—Look first.
Let’s not be tour guides for a land we no longer inhabit.
The Kingdom has no need of expats trading legal residence for commentary and holiday excursions.
“…if you are interested in the country only for the sake of painting it, you’ll never learn to see the country.”
“At present your business is to see. He is endless. Come and feed.”
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- Long Story Short: The Bible in Six Simple Movements (Seedbed, 2018)
- The Mosaic of Atonement: An Integrated Approach to Christ’s Work (Zondervan Academic, 2019)
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