I made a rule for myself earlier this year that I would not do homework on Sundays. So far, I've been able to stick to it (except for when I do my American lit readings on Sundays, because that's reading and it's enjoyable, right?). Tonight, though, I'm going to bend my rule a little further, because it's not homework if it's a blog post!
This semester I'm enrolled in a lit seminar focused on C.S. Lewis. We've been going over The Great Divorce, which I read my freshman year when an actor named Anthony Lawton performed an excellent adaptation of it. Describing Lewis's words can't come near to the way he puts things himself, so if you haven't read The Great Divorce (or The Screwtape Letters), I urge you to drop all the things you're holding and pick up a book at once. And then maybe this will sound more like a musing on a book than an adapted essay.
Something made abundantly clear when reading about the ghosts in The Great Divorce is that selfishness goes along with the bending of good and truth. In making something more important than God, you set yourself up along with it. Almost any sin tries to make us God. All sins fail in that they take us farther away rather than bringing us closer to Him.
There are sins I am prone to. I look down on others for being less competent than myself. I'm jealous of those more capable than me. I let myself be carried away by more extreme emotions because I want to think I deserve to feel the way I do, which lets me wallow when it's too hard to do something about my circumstances.
The thing is, even when I'm aware of these things, I can trick myself into thinking I'm doing the opposite. Instead of being irritated at someone for doing poorly, I can pity them instead. That feels like compassion, right? Jealousy is just a desire to learn to do better. And when I know I'm letting myself get carried away, I can just try to get over it, and aren't I so strong and noble to be overcoming myself so?
Sin is insidious. It sneaks into the things we try to convince ourselves are right. It hides in the dark without knowing how big the light is.
The Great Divorce highlights how ludicrous sin and evil really are. In the face of God, in the knowledge of how deep and beautiful and enduring Truth and Goodness are, our shifting thoughts, self-justification, writhings and whimperings make for a pathetic show.
In Lewis's encounter with the Tragedian and the Lady, the Lady tries to make her husband understand. "Did you think joy was created to live always under that threat? Always defenseless against those who would rather be miserable than have their will self-crossed?"
No matter how we try to justify ourselves, Hell cannot veto Heaven. The things we would claim for ourselves cannot be right or great or truthful if they are not in God, even if born out of a desire to struggle for truth.
The real answer to all our desires can only come with eternity. With his usual deftness, Lewis puts it in words assigned to the character of George MacDonald:
"All answers deceive. If ye put the question from within Time and are asking about possibilities, the answer is certain.... But if ye are trying to leap on into eternity, if ye are trying to see the final state of all things as it will be (for so ye must speak) when there are no more possibilities left but only the Real, then ye ask what cannot be answered to mortal ears. Time is the very lens through which ye see -- small and clear, as men see through the wrong end of a telescope -- something that would otherwise be too big for ye to see at all."
In time -- or maybe, as Lewis puts it, once we're outside time -- we will see how small we currently are. We will grow bigger than the insidiousness that tries to claim us. Heaven will be an answer better than all our theories and strivings, better even than all Mr. Lewis's words can make us hope for.