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A Ghostly Encounter from THE GREAT DIVORCE for Halloween

October 31, 2013

As today is Halloween, I thought I’d post this excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. In this book, Lewis relates a dream about a series of encounters between a busload of “ghosts” who’ve come to heaven and the different people who’ve been sent to accompany them in a journey that will enable them to make their home in heaven, if the ghosts will accept it. This excerpt describes one of these “ghostly” encounters.

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‘“Don’t you know me?” one of the Bright People shouted to the Ghost: and I found it impossible not to turn and attend. The face of the solid spirit––he was one of those that wore a robe––made me want to dance, it was so jocund, so established in youthfulness.

“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? You look pretty pleased with yourself, but what I say is, What about poor Jack?”

“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.”

“What I’d like to understand,” said the Ghost, “is what you’re here for, as pleased as Punch, you, a bloody murderer, while I’ve been walking the streets down there and living in a place like a pigsty all these years.”

“That is a little hard to understand at first. But it is over now. You will be pleased about it presently. Till then there is no need to bother about it.”

“No need to bother about it? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”

“No. Not as you mean. I do not look at myself. I have given up myself. I had to, you know, after the murder. That was what did it for me. And that was how everything began.”

“Personally,” said the Big Ghost with an emphasis which contradicted the ordinary meaning of the word, “Personally, I’d have thought you and I ought to be the other way round. That’s my personal opinion.”

“Very likely we soon shall be,” said the other. “If you’ll stop thinking about it.”

“Look at me, now,” said the Ghost, slapping its chest (but the slap made no noise). “I gone straight all my life. I don’t say I was a religious man and I don’t say I had no faults, far from it. But I done my best all my life, see? I done my best by everyone, that’s the sort of chap I was. I never asked for anything that wasn’t mine by rights. If I wanted a drink I paid for it and if I took my wages I done my job, see? That’s the sort I was and I don’t care who knows it.”

“It would be much better not to go on about that now.”

“Who’s going on? I’m not arguing. I’m just telling you the sort of chap I was, see? I’m asking for nothing but my rights. You may think you can put me down because you’re dressed up like that (which you weren’t when you worked under me) and I’m only a poor man. But I got to have my rights same as you, see?”

“Oh no. It’s not so bad as that. I haven’t got my rights, or I should not be here. You will not get yours either. You’ll get something far better. Never fear.”

“That’s just what I say. I haven’t got my rights. I always done my best and I never done nothing wrong. And what I don’t see is why I should be put below a bloody murder like you.”

“Who knows whether you will be? Only be happy and come with me.”

“What do you keep arguing for? I’m only telling you the sort of chap I am. I only want my rights. I’m not asking for anybody’s bleeding charity.”

“Then do. At once. Ask for the Bleeding Charity. Everything is here for the asking and nothing can be bought.”

“That may do very well for you, I daresay. If they choose to let in a bloody murderer all because he makes a poor mouth at the last moment, that’s their look out. But I don’t see myself going in the same boat as you, see? Why should I? I don’t want charity. I’m a decent man and if I had my rights I’d have been here long ago and you can tell them I said so.”

The other shook his head. “You can never do it like that,” he said. “Your feet will never grow hard enough to walk on our grass that way. You’d be tired out before we got to the mountains. And it isn’t exactly true, you know.” Mirth danced in his eyes as he said it.

“What isn’t true?” asked the Ghost sulkily.

“You weren’t a decent man and you didn’t do your best. We none of us were and none of us did. Lord bless you, it doesn’t matter. There is no need to go into it all now.”

“You!” gasped the Ghost. “You have the face to tell me I wasn’t a decent chap?”

“Of course. Must I go into all that? I will tell you one thing to begin with. Murdering old Jack wasn’t the worst thing I did. 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.”

“You mind your own business, young man,” said the Ghost. “None of your lip, see? Because I’m not taking any impudence from you about my private affairs.”

“There are no private affairs,” said the other.

“And I’ll tell you another thing,” said the Ghost. “You can clear off, see? You’re not wanted. I may be only a poor man but I’m not making pals with a murderer, let alone taking lessons from him. Made it hard for you and your like, did I? If I had you back there I’d show you what work is.”

“Come and show me now,” said the other with laughter in his voice, “It will be joy going to the mountains, but there will be plenty of work.”

“You don’t suppose I’d go with you?”

“Don’t refuse. You will never get there alone. And I am the one who was sent to you.”

“So that’s the trick, is it?” shouted the Ghost, outwardly bitter, and yet I thought there was a kind of triumph in its voice. It had been entreated: it could make a refusal: and this seemed to it a kind of advantage. “I thought there’d be some damned nonsense. It’s all a clique, all a bloody clique. Tell them I’m not coming, see? I’d rather be damned than go along with you. I came here to get my rights, see? Not to go snivelling 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. I didn’t come to be treated like a dog. I’ll go home. That’s what I’ll do. Damn and blast the whole pack of you …” In the end, still grumbling, but whimpering also a little as it picked its way over the sharp grasses, it made off.”’

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There’s infinite love enough for all – but we must be willing to receive it.

Jesus said as a fundamental rule of spiritual life: “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).  No one is good enough to deserve or earn God’s love; no one is bad enough to forfeit or lose it. Indeed our relationship is not based on merit at all, but on God’s love.

And God loves you because God loves you – a wonderful circularity that every parent understands!

Those who try to come to God on any other basis than God’s love are like a person trying to jump across a cliff that is miles wide. As that person is falling down, if they want they can look at the person next to them and say, “I got closer than you” – but there really wouldn’t be much point in it!

NO ONE can cross the gulf between us and God, the barrier that exists because of the darkness within us, on their own. But the wonderful Good News is that no one has to! Romans 3:23-24 says, “Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

We must be picked up and carried over by the One massive enough to bridge the gulf; or to change the analogy, by the One who soars on wings. Or to change the analogy yet again, we must literally “cross” over the chasm – we must traverse the gulf – by the bridge of the Cross of Jesus.

A little child picked up by their parent so they can dunk the ball would be foolish to think that this showed their exceptional jumping ability. Rather, it would make sense for them to say to themselves, “What a strong, wonderful parent I have! When I trust them and allow him to pick me up, look at what happens, what I can do with them!”

The Good News is that God picks you, God’s little child, up.

You, no matter how good you may feel you are – that you’ve got it together and have great gifts; or how bad you may feel you are – that you’re falling apart and are broken; you are right with God, God pours out blessings upon you without measure in an eternal relationship with you, because you are God’s beloved child. God loves you because God loves you! God loves you, me, and the whole busload of humanity!

Thanks be to God!

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The picture in the middle of this posting is a painting entitled “Clive and George,” by artist Michael Morris. It depicts the encounter in the book between C. S. (Clive Staples) Lewis and George MacDonald, whom he considered a mentor. The non-Great Divorce part of this posting is adapted from the conclusion to the sermon at our October 27 Services.

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