I love C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, a novel about people in Hell taking a bus ride to Heaven. They’re allowed to stay in Heaven if they choose to, but they find it unappealing for one reason or another. The book is less about the actual Heaven and Hell than it is about the various reasons why people reject God in this life.
I was listening to an excellent audio version of The Great Divorce the other day, when I was struck by a dialogue between one resident of Hell (formerly a famous artist on earth—the “Ghost” in the dialogue below), and a “Spirit” of heaven (also formerly an artist). The Spirit was attempting to show the Ghost the beauty of heaven that waited for him, but the Ghost was more interested in something else:
‘I should like to paint this.’
‘I shouldn’t bother about that just at present if I were you.’
‘Look here; isn’t one going to be allowed to go on painting?’
‘Looking comes first…. At present your business is to see. Come and see. He is endless. Come and feed.’
There was a little pause. ‘That will be delightful,’ said the Ghost presently in a rather dull voice.
‘Come, then,’ said the Spirit, offering it his arm.
‘How soon do you think I could begin painting?’ it asked.
The Spirit broke into laughter. ‘Don’t you see you’ll never paint at all if that’s what you’re thinking about?’ he said.
‘What do you mean?’ asked the Ghost.
‘Why, if you are interested in the country only for the sake of painting it, you’ll never learn to see the country.’
‘But that’s just how a real artist is interested in the country.’
‘No. You’re forgetting,’ said the Spirit. ‘That was not how you began. Light itself was your first love: you loved paint only as a means of telling about light.’
‘Oh, that’s ages ago,’ said the Ghost. ‘One grows out of that. Of course, you haven’t seen my later works. One becomes more and more interested in paint for its own sake.’
‘One does, indeed. I also have had to recover from that. It was all a snare. Ink and catgut and paint were necessary down there, but they are also dangerous stimulants. Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him. For it doesn’t stop at being interested in paint, you know. They sink lower—become interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations.’ (pp. 83-85)
As people who endeavor to learn how to tell others about the God we love, we all have to guard against being “drawn away from love of the thing we tell, to love of the telling.” There is, indeed, a difference between being interested in God and being interested in what we say about Him.
Today, visit your First Love. Come and see. Come and feed.