I have never been a huge C.S. Lewis fan. As a kid, I wasn't into imaginative books so never got into the Narnia series. As a teen and young in Christ, one of my first small group studies was the Screwtape Letters, and I didn't get it. So I figured I just didn't (or wouldn't) like Lewis. But when he's right, he's right.
And actually, one of my favorite theological books of all time is Lewis's The Great Divorce. It's what I'd call a reflective theological novel. It's a story in which a man takes a field trip to Heaven...from Hell. When he steps off the bus, the grass is so real that it cuts his feet. The light is blinding. The apples are so heavy that his phantomed hands cannot pick them up, and you get the sense that if they could, the food would be too solid for his hollow stomach to digest. It's this agonizing experience he's having in Heaven because for long enough, he has been in Hell. In addition the heavy reality of what is Truth, one of the overarching questions of the book is, can a man decide to stay? Will he?
It's the choice that faces all of us when the truth of God penetrates our phantomed lives. Can we decide to stay? Will we?
It's not so much a question of can; of course we can. In the book, there is no rule saying the man has to get back on the bus. He is free to stay if he so chooses to do so, and God gives us the same choice. We are free to stay if we so choose. But some people need to be reminded that they have that agency, that it is up to them to choose whether or not they stay. No one will make them stay. ...No one will make them go.
Then the question is this: will you stay?
The choice is harder than it seems. On the surface, you'd say, of course. Of course I'd stay. But have you been there?
Have you been in this place where the heavy reality of truth is too weighty to pick up? Have you been in this place where your soul craves nourishment, but the apple is impossible? Have you been in this place where the soft blades of grass literally slice through your flesh? Grass, for crying out loud! Plain old run-of-the-mill green stuff cutting through your very soles.
How long can you stand on wounded feet?
That is the question.
That's why it is so difficult to make a lasting spiritual change in your life. That's why it's hard to stand on truth. Because at first, it's piercing. Even wounding. It cuts through the very core of your soul. You reach this place where truth is so real that you can't fathom it, that you don't even know how to stand. When you stand, it hurts. When you hunger, there is nothing to feed you. The things that seem like obvious nourishment are locked away and what you have before you is truth, but you can't stomach it. You look around and it seems like your world, like everything you've ever dreamed of, but nothing you know is working here. Nothing you've done works here. The way you've been living...doesn't work here. And that's the dilemma:
Do you live where you know how to live? Or do you live in a place that isn't working, so it can work in you?
Because had the man chosen to stay, had he not gotten back on the bus, the implication is that his body would have adjusted. The grass would not always cut his feet. The day was coming when he could eat the apple. There would be a time he could take the sunglasses off and not be bothered by the light. He'd adjust and figure out how to live here, if only he could stick it out. Out of all that wasn't working in his life, this place was ready to work in him. All he had to do was stand on wounded feet.
That's all we have to do.
It's hard, and it hurts and there are days the pain is just too much. It seems impossible to stand. It's a burden. It's a brokenness. There's this part of you that is searching for something that works, something that still happens the way it used to happen, something that still does in the new place what it did in the old place. But you can't bring the lie here. This is Truth. And if you need another measure of truth, consider this: why would you board the bus in the first place? Only because where you were wasn't working, either.
Then the question is this: how long can you stand on wounded feet, allowing truth to work in you, before you run back on crippled legs to a place that never worked at all? Are you willing to stand?
The Great Divorce was written by C.S. Lewis. Whether you are a Lewis fan or not, this book is worth the read. You can find it on Amazon and probably other fine retailers.