According to the novel, the only way for a human being’s soul to be accepted into Heaven is for the human to love God above all other things. But why, then, must humans love God in order to be saved—and why is it often so difficult to love God?
The Great Divorce, following Christian theology, posits that true morality is only possible if it comes from God. While Lewis never explicitly states why it’s necessary to believe in and love God in order to be truly good, his argument takes two different forms. First, he suggests that to believe in God is to believe that infinite goodness is possible. A human being who believes in God, and therefore infinite goodness, will be capable of treating all other human beings with goodness—there is, in a sense, no upper limit to their capacity for goodness, kindness, and morality. Second, and more importantly, believing in God is the ultimate form of “humble love.” A Christian who loves an all-powerful being knows how to love others selflessly. By contrast, an atheist or agnostic sometimes mistakes love for desire—in particular, the desire for ownership. For instance, the Narrator encounters a woman named Pam, who’s spent the final decades of her life mourning for her dead son, Michael, to the point where she’s neglected everyone else in her life, including her friends and husband. Pam insists that she loves her son, but it quickly becomes clear that her “love” is just a form of selfishness and clinginess—precisely the opposite of the calm, selfless love that a good Christian feels. Thus, the novel shows that even love—if it’s not grounded in love for God—can be twisted into sin and become an obstacle to salvation. By the same token, the novel suggests that the only way for atheists and doubters of God’s existence to enter Heaven is to love God completely—which, in practice, means “sacrificing” their feelings for earthly things, (including money, non-Christian ideology, sex, and even other human beings) and resituating these feelings within the context of a universal love for God.
Unsurprisingly, most of the souls the Narrator meets over the course of the book find it very difficult to give up short-term, sinful pleasures for the sake of God. They’ve become so accustomed to enjoying earthly pleasures such as lust and wealth, or even more abstract “pleasures” like curiosity and art, that they’ve forgotten about loving God—in Lewis’s view, the only true source of pleasure there is. A particularly clear example of this principle is Ikey, a damned soul who endures enormous physical pain in order to steal apples to sell in the Grey Town—an apt metaphor for the way that sinners foolishly sacrifice their spiritual happiness for the sake of supposed material rewards. The Narrator encounters many other sinners who’ve turned their back on loving God. Some of these sinners are fully conscious of what they’re doing, while others have deluded themselves into believing that other pleasures are better. In either case, the novel shows that sinners have denied themselves true, eternal happiness in Heaven by declining to sacrifice their selfish love for other things.
Love, Sacrifice, and Sin ThemeTracker
Love, Sacrifice, and Sin Quotes in The Great Divorce
I'd start a little business. I'd have something to sell. You'd soon get people coming to live near—centralization. Two fully-inhabited streets would accommodate the people that are now spread over a million square miles of empty streets. I'd make a nice little profit and be a public benefactor as well.
“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.”
I could hardly help admiring this unhappy creature when I saw him rise staggering to his feet actually holding the smallest of the apples in his hands. He was lame from his hurts, and the weight bent him double. Yet even so, inch by inch, still availing himself of every scrap of cover, he set out on his via dolorosa to the bus, carrying his torture.
“Fool,” he said, “put it down. You cannot take it back. There is not room for it in Hell. Stay here and learn to eat such apples. The very leaves and the blades of grass in the wood will delight to teach you.”
Whether the Ghost heard or not, I don't know. At any rate, after pausing for a few minutes, it braced itself anew for its agonies and continued with even greater caution till I lost sight of it.
There was nothing more to prove. His occupation was clean gone. Of course if he would only have admitted that he'd mistaken the means for the end and had a good laugh at himself he could have begun all over again like a little child and entered into joy. But he would not do that. He cared nothing about joy. In the end he went away.
“I want my boy, and I mean to have him. He is mine, do you understand? Mine, mine, mine, for ever and ever.”
“He will be, Pam. Everything will be yours. God Himself will be yours. But not that way. Nothing can be yours by nature.”
“What? Not my own son, born out of my own body?”
“And where is your own body now? Didn’t you know that Nature draws to an end? Look! The sun is coming, over the mountains there: it will be up any moment now.”
“Michael is mine.”
“Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is. And if it finally refuses conversion its corruption will be worse than the corruption of what ye call the lower passions. It is a stronger angel, and therefore, when it falls, a fiercer devil.”
“I don't know that I dare repeat this on Earth, Sir,” said I. “They’d say I was inhuman: they'd say I believed in total depravity: they'd say I was attacking the best and the holiest things. They'd call me . . .”
“It might do you no harm if they did,” said he with (I really thought) a twinkle in his eye.
Ye must ask, 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?
“Don't you see what nonsense it's talking.” Merriment danced in her eyes. She was sharing a joke with the Dwarf, right over the head of the Tragedian. Something not at all unlike a smile struggled to appear on the Dwarf's face. For he was looking at her now. Her laughter was past his first defenses. He was struggling hard to keep it out, bur already with imperfect success. Against his will, he was even growing a little bigger.
“The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.”