My previous post presented an excerpt from The Great Divorce, wherein Lewis, in the form of his character the ‘episcopal ghost’, demonstrated the essence of liberal Christianity – namely, a consistent deconstructionist and relativist agenda, which places intellectual satisfaction above a genuine humility before the truth and turns agnosticism into a virtue, to the point where our god-given faculty for apprehending truth is turned in on itself and rendered inoperative (c.f. Romans 1:21-22).
However, The Great Divorce is also notable for presenting some highly stimulating imagery regarding the future life – in particular, its material aspect. The major emphasis seems to be that the heavenly realms are more solid, more real, and provide our senses with more to contend with than we will have experienced in our earthly lives. Though we often consider this world to be the ‘real’ one, and heaven to be insensible and ephemeral, a land of mist and thin white light, Lewis proposes a heaven that has greater solidity and sensibility than the mundane world. This is a theme that also comes up in his Chronicles of Narnia, again in imaginative form.
The strange thing is, that Lewis has often been accused (particularly by N. T. Wright) of ignoring the physicality of our resurrected life, or at least of not giving enough space to the very material promises the Bible makes about life in the hereafter. I have to say, I find this strange (though at least explicable if one only considers Lewis’ apologetic writings). The theme of a sacramentality in the mundane pointing to a deeper and richer materiality in heaven comes up time and again in his fiction (Perelandra is another good example of this), but reflecting on this also brought to mind a passage near the end of Prayer: Letters to Malcom, where (in a work that could be categorised as either apologetic or speculative theology) Lewis deals directly with the issue of just how our senses will be engaged in the resurrected life.
It contains much to consider regarding just how we engage with the material in this life, as well as the kind of continuity that we may be able to expect between our current state and our ‘glorified’ bodies. It certainly cannot be accused of ignoring or marginalising the mundane, and Lewis even addresses this criticism towards the end of the passage; in doing so he also, it seems to me, crystallises the essence of his proposal:
‘About the resurrection of the body. I agree with you that the old picture of the soul reassuming the corpse – perhaps blown to bits or long since usefully dissipated through nature – is absurd. Nor is it what St. Paul’ words imply. And I admit that if you ask what I substitute for this, I have only speculations to offer.
The principle behind these speculations is this. We are not, in this doctrine, concerned with matter as such at all: with waves and atoms and all that. What the soul cries out for is the resurrection of the senses. Even in this life matter would be nothing to us if it were not the source of sensations.
Now we already have some feeble and intermittent power of raising dead sensations from their graves. I mean, of course, memory.
You see the way my thought is moving. But don’t run away with the idea that when I speak of the resurrection of the body I mean merely that the blessed dead will have excellent memories of their sensuous experiences on earth. I mean it the other way round: that memory as we now know it is a dim foretaste, a mirage even, of a power which the soul, or rather Christ in the soul (he “went to prepare a place for us”) will exercise hereafter. It need no longer be intermittent. Above all, it need no longer be private to the soul in which it occurs. I can now communicate to you the vanished fields of my boyhood – they are building estates today – only imperfectly by words. Perhaps the day is coming when I can take you for a walk through them.
At present we tend to think of the soul as somehow “inside” the body. But the glorified body of the resurrection as I conceive it – the sensuous life raised from its death – will be inside the soul. As God is not in space but space is in God…
“But this,” you protest, “is no resurrection of the body. You have given the dead a sort of dream world and dream bodies. They are not real.” Surely neither less nor more real than those you have always known: you know better than I that the “real world” of our present experience (coloured, resonant, soft or hard, cool or warm, all corseted by perspective) has no place in the world described by physics or even physiology. Matter enters our experience only by becoming sensation (when we perceive it) or conception (when we understand it). That is, by becoming soul. That element in the soul which it becomes will, in my view, be raised and glorified; the hills and valleys of Heaven will be those you now experience not as a copy is to an original, nor as a substitute to the genuine article, but as the flower to the root, or the diamond to the coal. It will be eternally true that they originate with matter; let us therefore bless matter. But in entering our soul as alone it can enter – that is, by being perceived and known – matter has turned into soul (like the Undines who acquired a soul by marriage with a mortal)…
Guesses, of course, only guesses. If they are not true, something better will be. For we know that we shall be made like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.’
from Prayer: Letters to Malcolm (1979), pp.121-124, Fount Paperbacks.