Sunday, January 27, 2008

Pondering This . . .

Last night we went to Anthony Lawton’s performance of The Great Divorce at Wheaton College. Lawton, a Philadelphia actor and playwright, adapted Lewis’s story for the stage and performs this one-man play himself. He plays many characters-generally two at a time dialoging with each other. His expressions and actions were convincing, effective, humorous, animated. It was an excellent performance.

I originally thought that I was going to a drama of C.S. Lewis’s life story. I was disappointed when I found out differently and I did not want to go because of the topic of heaven and hell. However, I was so glad that I went. It was more than just a story about heaven and hell. It was very thought provoking.

I think that C.S. Lewis and others as well have warned that this is only a depiction of thoughts. Lewis and other scholars are not saying that this is what heaven and hell are really like. This novel is fiction—a dream. I am going to paraphrase play lines because I cannot remember them exactly. Okay, so much for any disclaimers, here are some of the things that I found particularly interesting regarding heaven and hell.

In hell, whatever the ghosts wanted, they imagined, and it happened but it had no substance and was transparent and of no value to them. Their houses were large mansions of so many rooms but did not keep them dry from the rain that constantly fell.

This is one part that struck me and why I am tagging this post for widows. Heaven was real and solid and indescribably beautiful. But the ghosts were not able to enjoy it because it was so hard to them. It hurt them because it was so real. Heaven usually seems ethereal and spirit like to us. Sometimes we forget that heaven is real. It is good to be reminded of that especially those of us that have a loved one in heaven.

And dear widow friends, I also liked thinking about this. The people or “solids” in heaven, some were robed and some were naked but not less adorned. They were ageless but with glimpses of frolicking youth or wisdom. I have imagined what we will look like in heaven. I know we will have new bodies and that we will be recognized. I wonder how old we will be. . . but heaven is timeless.

Hell and Heaven are retroactive so to speak. “This moment contains all moments.” We will see heaven as a glorious extension of earth and it will all fit into place. I love that idea.

The ghosts that took the bus to heaven had the option of staying in heaven. In fact, messengers were sent to them to encourage them to stay. However, almost all were not willing to give up every control and become empty of their self and surrender and gain entry into heaven. One man wanted to go to heaven but not on charity—only if he could earn it and get what he fairly deserved. One woman did not want to give up control of someone. The heavenly helpers instructed the ghosts from hell that they could accept heaven and all of its joys and become solid people but they would not be able to keep even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell. I found myself really wanting the ghosts, pulling for them, to just give up their efforts and useless stuff and enjoy wonderful real eternity. I was reminded that we cannot hold on to anything—not our rights, our plans, our health, our wealth, even people. This is the particular part that was thought provoking for me. What does that look like practically for me? How do I empty myself of self? I have been thinking about that often since seeing the drama.

The following Jesus teachings came to mind:

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mark 8:34-36)

When Jesus heard that, he said, "Then there's only one thing left to do: Sell everything you own and give it away to the poor. You will have riches in heaven. Then come, follow me." This was the last thing the official expected to hear. He was very rich and became terribly sad. He was holding on tight to a lot of things and not about to let them go. Seeing his reaction, Jesus said, "Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who have it all to enter God's kingdom?” (Luke 18: 22 -25)

Matthew 13: 45-46, is a short story about the kingdom of God. This story is told as The Precious Pearl in one of my very favorite children’s books, Stories Jesus Told by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen. The story tells about the merchant that gives up everything, his money, his house, his three fridges and freezers full of food—everything except his felt hat with the floppy feather because it is his favorite—to get the wonderful white pearl. Finally he has to give up even his favorite hat. Here is how the story concludes:

Hooray! The pearl is his at last. Jesus says, ‘God is like the merchant’s pearl. It costs everything to know Him. But He is worth more than anything in the world.’

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