I just read The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis for my SIL book club today. What a book! Seriously, it ranks up there with Pilgrim's Progress. Theology in story form. Despite the fact that I could only find it for $14 and more, I might have to buy it. Secondhand.
The main idea is that the narrator goes to a gray city where everyone fights and is totally self-absorbed. Then he goes on a bus to "The Valley of the Shadow of Life," where he discovers he is but a shadow, and his feet cannot even bend the grass. He basically wanders around, observing how much most people do not even want to go on to heaven. Most of them that we see actually went back to the gray city.
Here are some things that especially struck me. First, the idea that even if someone decides not to come to heaven, the people in heaven are not sad. At first it seems sort of rude that heavenly beings will not grieve for us (and I think they will grieve for us...er, we will grieve for them) if we choose not to go on, but if we had to be sad because someone did not choose heaven, our happiness would be held hostage to those who will only enter heaven on their own terms, rather than God's terms. In somewhat shorter form: even if our happiness is sometimes held hostage here, it will not be held hostage in heaven. I think this idea needs a lot of pondering before I settle down to exactly what it means.
Another amazing idea in the book involves a man with a lizard on his shoulder. The lizard represents a bad habit--I think it was lust, or "sensuality." An angel asks the man if he, the angel, can kill the lizard. The angel must have the man's permission, which the man at first is unwilling to give. When the man finally does give permission, the angel kills the lizard (which hurts the man), but then the man becomes solid and the dead lizard turns into a magnificent (live) horse, on which the man then joyfully rides to heaven. It's sort of a King Lamoni "give up all your sins to know God" kind of deal. What the narrator's guide says is, "if the risen body even of appetite is as grand a horse as ye saw, what would the risen body of maternal love or friendship be?" In other words, we don't just have to give up our sins, but everything to God, and once we do he will return it more glorious than we can possibly imagine.
Finally for now, as this 120-page book could be discussed all day, is the idea that if we do not forgive, we cannot get into heaven. Who is to say that the person who cheated us or was a murderer or corrupted our children will not repent? And if God forgives them, can we really withhold our forgiveness? And who does it matter to? Not the repentant sinner! Just to us! As one of the angels said, "You are not a decent man and didn't do your best. We none of us were and we none of us did....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."
May we all not get our rights, but something far better.