Where Bitterness Leads

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler

In his classic book The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis takes the reader on an imaginary tour of heaven and hell. In one particularly arresting scene, he shows us how difficult it can be to imagine a relationship with our enemy, even if he has repented of the wrongs he has done. A man who has recently died and is now a ghost stands at the outskirts of heaven. There he encounters one of his former employees, a man named Len, who has been sent to escort him to heaven.

"'Well, I'm damned,' said the ghost. 'I wouldn't have believed it. It's a fair knock-out. It isn't right, Len, you know. What about poor Jack, eh?'...

'He is here,' said the other. 'You will meet him soon, if you stay.'

'But you murdered him.'

'Of course I did. It is all right now.'

'All right, is it? All right for you, you mean. But what about the poor chap himself, laying cold and dead'

'But he isn't. I have told you, you will meet him soon. He sent you his love.... Murdering old Jack wasn't the worst thing I did,' Len admitted to the ghost. 'That was the work of a moment and I was half mad when I did it. But I murdered you in my heart, deliberately, for years. I used to lie awake at nights thinking what I'd do to you if I ever got the chance. That is why I have been sent to you now: to ask your forgiveness and to be your servant as long as you need one, and longer if it pleases you. I was the worst. But all the men who worked under you felt the same. You made it hard for us, you know. And you made it hard for your wife too and for your children.'

'I'd rather be damned,' said the ghost, 'than go along with you. I came here to get my rights, see? Not to go sniveling along on charity tied to your apron-strings. If they're too fine to have me without you, I'll go home.' It was almost happy now that it could, in a sense, threaten. 'That's what I'll do,' it repeated, 'I'll go home.'''' In the end, still grumbling, but whimpering also a little as it picked its way over the sharp grasses, it made off."

Scandalized to learn that his former employee, a murderer, had been welcomed into heaven, the ghost refused heaven and chose hell instead, unable to envision a relationship with his enemy. This is a chilling picture of what can happen to a person who neither forgives nor asks for forgiveness. Our choices have consequences here and hereafter. As Lewis says, they will define whether earth will be for us a pathway to heaven or a prelude to hell.


Originally published August 25, 2020.