C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce’ and the LDS Spirit World

(To see Cal Grondahl’s cartoon that goes with this post, click here.) A couple of times a year, usually on a Sunday after church, I re-read C.S. Lewis’ marvelous post-mortal novella/fable, “The Great Divorce.” It relates a journey of diminutive spirits (referred to as ghosts) to the outskirts of Heaven, where they are greeted by much larger, more powerful, exalted spirits, eager to help them take a painful journey beyond the mountains to Heaven. the journey, and its accompanying pain, is a metaphor for repentance and shedding of sins,

Most of the “ghosts,” despite the mild persuasion of loved ones, friends and acquaintances who greet them, refuse the trip to heaven. They prefer Hell because it allows them to retain their earthly passions and sins, obsessions, excessive pride, angers, resentments, self-pity, manipulation, and narcissism. That is the foundation of what Lewis is teaching in his novella; that one must surrender the earth for Heaven. As Lewis writes, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.

“The Great Divorce” can be called Dante-like. It’s a journey with many experiences, with a narrator and a teacher. Understand, I make no claim that C.S. Lewis ever saw any similarities between “The Great Divorce” and the Mormon concept of the post-mortal spirit world. In fact, Lewis — on more than one occasion — reminds readers that his story is a fantasy, and says, “The last thing I wish is to arouse factual curiosity about the details of the after-world.

Personally, I think Lewis had his tongue in his cheek with that remark, because of course “The Great Divorce” “arouse(s) factual curiosity about the details of the after-world.” And the concepts of spirits retaining their earthly weaknesses and more exalted spirits zealously attempting to teach them “the right” is a central belief of Mormonism. But let me backtrack: From my earliest years in the LDS Church, I was taught that after we die, we either go to paradise or “spirit prison.” (For many childhood years, I envisioned “spirit prison” as a clean, jail, with bars, where orderly “wicked” spirits waited for good spirits to teach them the Gospel.” …)

Instead, Mormon theology puts the spirit world as being on the earth. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Alma taught that — like Lewis’ “ghosts” — what’s learned and appreciated on earth is carried to the spirit world. In the LDS post-mortal spirit world, there is no confirmation of any “correct Gospel.” Spirits congregate where they are most comfortable. The “righteous” spirits — like Lewis’ spirits, attend to spirits who need to learn the truth. I imagine much of the “missionary work” is without success.  (As a lifelong Mormon, it’s impossible not to imagine these spirit “missionaries” as wearing dark suits and ties, or sisters in chaste dresses, and carrying flip charts and Scriptures as they knock on doors in “Spirit Prison.“)

In “The Great Divorce,” Lewis talks about many ghosts who are so obsessed with their earthly lives that they return to homes, places of work, etc., and “haunt” them. (Now, what I’m saying next is “Doug doctrine” and not LDS belief but one reason I no longer watch NFL football on Sunday is I have this feeling that a host of spirits — still obsessed with the Dallas Cowboys, etc. — are also watching the game. If I keep the tube off and put on a CD of church music, they’ll take off! I also wonder about those kitschy ghost shows on TV. Are the malicious spirits having fun with us humans?)

(Yeah, I’m being tongue in cheek now, too, but what’s next is serious.) Lewis’ relating that the souls of purgatory/hell were handicapped by their earthly attachments parallels the LDS belief that missionary spirits are attempting to teach other spirits to shed those same attachments. A chief distinction, of course, is that Lewis considers his “Hell and Heaven” as the end result, while LDS theology sees the “Spirit World” as a far earlier part of our eternal existence. It is interesting, though, that “The Great Divorce” envisions active efforts to convert unbelievers after death, a concept that Mormonism can relate to. “The Great Divorce” also places a person’s humility and true charity as more favorable than excessive religion and excessive charity, reminding the reader that these can become earthly obsessions which consume our other responsibilities.

As our Standard Works cartoonist Cal Grondahl says, religion exists in one part to comfort us about our approaching death. C.S. Lewis, as a Christian, believed in life after death. To the righteous, his novella comforts, as the Mormon Spirit World comforts devout Mormons. I have no idea if Lewis even regarded Mormons as Christians, but his novella, in which spirits find themselves more comfortable in dim, dreary, contentious surroundings and resist missionary efforts that offer a more exalted state, connects with LDS doctrine.

Also, it’s very interesting that in Lewis’ “Hell,” there are ghosts who have strayed so far away from the bus station that offers ghosts the opportunity trips to “Heaven.” As a result, they can’t go to Heaven’s outskirts anymore. This is similar to LDS doctrine, in which spirits in “spirit prison” are separated by those who still are teachable and those who are not.

I recommend “The Great Divorce” to anyone, of course, but also to LDS readers who will find the unintentional similarities very interesting. Apparently, there is a film adaptation of Lewis’ book in development. (Read)

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43 Responses to C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce’ and the LDS Spirit World

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  2. “(For many childhood years, I envisioned “spirit prison” as a clean, jail, with bars, where orderly “wicked” spirits waited for good spirits to teach them the Gospel.” …)”
    But the Scriptures (the Bible) says that it is appointed unto man but once to die, after that the judgement. There is no second chance.

    • DougH says:

      You’re right that there’s no second chance, but what about a first chance? Jesus did pay a visit to the souls in prison between his death and resurrection, after all.

      • You’re right. But what the Scriptures don’t tell us is whether or not He was preaching to them for them to be saved. It’s not good to read into Scripture what isn’t there.

        • sven says:

          What purpose is there to preaching if not to convert? What purpose is there to converting your life to Christ if not for salvation.

          • He was preaching to those who were in Abraham’s bosom, the righteous dead who had been waithing for the Messiah. The righteous dead who were not able to ascend into heaven until Jesus first ascended.

          • trytoseeitmyway says:

            downtown dave says it’s not good to read into the Bible something that isn’t explicitly there … right before he makes up an explanation for 1 Peter 3:19 (the “righteous dead” claim) out of whole cloth. Oh well.

    • RocksCryOut says:

      Is that in the part of the Bible that is “correctly translated,” or in the part of the Bible that mormons believe is corrupted?

      • DougH says:

        1st Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive,[d] he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

        1st Peter 4:6 For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

      • trytoseeitmyway says:

        There’s no part of the Bible that Mormons believe is corrupted. Every reader of the Bible (Mormons and non-Mormons) thinks that there are translation issues as it is translated from Hebrew or Greek into English. Challenge most Protestants on some passage of scripture and watch them pull out their Greek lexicons, to critique the KJV or whichever other translation is being used. But of course you knew that; you just wanted to be unpleasant.

  3. sven says:

    “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: 19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;” – 1 Peter 3:18-19
    “For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” 1 peter 4:6
    – Yes, we do know Christ preached to those who were “in prison”.

    • He was preaching to those who were in Abraham’s bosom (Paradise), the righteous dead who had been waiting for the Messiah. The righteous dead who were not able to ascend into heaven until Jesus first ascended.

    • trytoseeitmyway says:

      Dave is just “preaching another gospel” that can’t be found in the Bible. He must be in a cult or something.

      • You say that I’m preaching a different gospel than the one found in the Bible, and that I must belong to a cult, though my purpose is to encourage people to read the Bible with which they can grade everything they read, hear, and think.
        When a person is approached by someone who claims to hold the truth, it is important that they look not at just the outer layer of what is being said, but that they investigate and get to the core of the other person’s belief and then check that with the Bible, the Standard God has given to us.
        So, I’m going to list some of the things that generally aren’t revealed about Mormonism when Mormons are preaching:
        1. They believe God the Father was once a man like us who sinned and had to be saved by His own God.
        2. They believe God the Father has at least one wife, called God the Mother.
        3. They believe we are all spiritually procreated children of God the Father and God the Mother (along with Jesus and Lucifer).
        4. They believe we can all become Gods one day, have our own planet and populate it with our own spiritually procreated children, and then send a savior to save them.
        5. They believe God the Father had sex with Mary and produced Jesus.
        6. They believe salvation from judgement comes through obedience to the Law, though Paul the Apostle, who preached the Gospel of Jesus, teaches that salvation from judgement comes completely by grace through faith. They teach this by saying that the gospel had been lost from the earth and God chose Joseph Smith to restore it.

        The gospel has never been lost from the earth.

        So, a person is able to make their own choice. Will they listen to someone who preaches something that contradicts the Bible, or will they use the Bible as the Standard by which they grade what others say?

        • trytoseeitmyway says:

          There are false claims here, which you know are false because they have been pointed out to you previously. That makes you a liar.

          I know you take offense at being called a liar, but the remedy, really, is not to lie.

          Here, you’re just trying to change the subject. You’ve invented something about what the Bible teaches that isn’t in the Bible. Yet, you also said that it is not good to read things into the Bible that aren’t there. Which is it?

          • I won’t go into proving these points again to you by your own Mormon writings. All of the points made above can be looked into online and validated.

          • trytoseeitmyway says:

            “Your own Mormon writings.” What someone said sometime and what “Mormons believe” are often two different things. Of course you know that already; you just like being dishonest. I think you’re in a cult. Cultists don’t care about truth and accuracy, and they don’t mind smearing other faiths.

        • The Upright Turtle says:

          You know downtown dave, I’ve got to tell you; I understand completely what you’re trying to do. When I lived in Germany, I knew this man who was a very orthodox Seventh-Day Adventist. He would attend church at the LDS stake center every Sunday just so he could try and correct what was being taught there. He was a rather brilliant and devout man who was also a leader in his congregation. He attended for years til one day I looked down at the program and noticed that he was getting baptized that week. In the end, it seems that no matter how hard you read up on scripture and devote your life to meticulous interpretation of its passages, you will eventually do what feels right. I mean this with the utmost respect and sincerity.

          • It’s not enough to do what feels right. We have to be right. The Scriptures tell us there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. It doesn’t matter if a person unknowingly approaches God in an unprescribed manner, he will still perish. There are many who claim to know and preach the truth, but it is up to each one of us to make sure they are right.

          • trytoseeitmyway says:

            Turtle, that’s a very thoughtful comment. I pray that your confidence or hope is born out. But I see that dave writes a lot. He likes to make the point that he is a 4th generation Mormon. In other words, he comes from an LDS family of longstanding … and yet, here he is, day in and day out slandering the Church and its doctrines and its people.

            During the time in my life when I was a ‘born again” evangelical (I’m still reborn in Christ, of course, even if we don’t use the “born again” label) it would never, ever have even remotely occurred to me to conduct myself as dave does. In other words, I wouldn’t pick out the adherents to any particular set of doctrines, different from mine, to harass let alone to lie about. Sure, I would want to preach the gospel, but that’s different from picking on any particular branch or sect or religion as a target.

            And of course most other evangelicals are like that. I have a great respect for my former faith. But there’s a subset – and I really think it has some cult-like characteristics – of folks who just want to attack, just want to smear, just want to think up any argument they can – true or not, fair or not, justified or not – to use to hurt our faith. As a former evangelical, I am embarrassed by those folks and I confess that they anger me too.

            But I don’t think that it stems from pure faithfulness to their own beliefs. Nothing in conventional evangelical theology sends people out to do that sort of thing. Just ask Richard Mouw, the evangelical theologian, who speaks respectfully to and of Mormons, and who shares some of my distaste for the style and tactics of the so-called countercult ministers.

            No, I think that there is often something very personal and ego-driven in the professional antagonists. dave keeps talking about his 4th generation Mormon heritage as though it were a credential – which it really isn’t – but I wonder if there was some family split or other issue that results in the animosity and malice. If so, then it becomes a stumbling block (1 Cor. 8:9-10) to the kind of discovery of faith for which you (and I for that matter) might otherwise hope.

  4. laverl09 says:

    True Christianity is that we are all children of God and that he loves us so much that he provided a Savior to atone for our sins so that we could choose to return to live with Him again. False Christianity is anything that excludes those of God’s children who have not had a chance to know Jesus so that they can choose to return to live with God.
    To me, in this concept, both Doug Gibson and C.S. Lewis are true Christians.

    • “so that we could choose to return to live with Him again.” And of course in Mormon doctrine what this means is that God gave us a one way ticket and to return to Him we have to earn our ticket back by obeying the Law.

      • DougH says:

        You do believe in a Final Judgment? What is a Judgment without a code of behavior behind it? How do you have a judgment without a law?

        • Jesus fulfilled that code of behavior (the Law). Jesus is the fulfillment of the law for those who trust in Him. Jesus went to the cross and paid the penalty for our sins, taking them out of the way. For those who come to Him, believing, He credits His own righteousness to their account. Read through the first few chapters of Romans and see Paul the Apostle deal with the issue of works vs. faith repeatedly. It is only by faith in what Jesus did at the cross that a person will be saved from judgement. No one will be justified, or declared righteous, before God by observing the Law.

    • RocksCryOut says:

      Some of us, as Jesus pointed out, are children of our father the Devil (John 8:44).

      Interestingly this may be a part of scripture which, according to the mormons, is incorrectly translated. Probably depends on who’s point needs support at any given momen.

      • DougH says:

        You don’t want to confuse the different ways that the scriptures refer to us as children of God – both through descent (God as the Father of Spirits and so the Father of us all), or through choice as we sort ourselves into which we will follow, God or Satan.

  5. laverl09 says:

    How can there be “righteous dead” among those who did not know Jesus before he died and not have “righteous dead” among those who did not know Jesus after he died?

  6. DougH says:

    Right, Paul, the same apostle that stated that he disciplined himself like an athlete in training so that he, who had preached salvation to so many, would not himself come up short and so fail to win the prize.

    Paul is also the one that said that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ – so, in the end, acceptance of Christ and his Atonement will be universal. And then comes the Final Judgment spoke of in Revelation, where all the dead are judged “according to what they had done.” Including, of course, their acceptance of Christ’s Atonement and the true repentance that is covered by that Atonement they have accepted.

    • Yes. And if you read chapter 3 verses 10-15 of the same book (1 Corinthians) you will see that Paul in talking about the prize was speaking of the rewards given to or taken away from God’s children. Paul wasn’t talking about salvation from judgement. And yes, Philippians chapter 2 talks about every knee bowing before Jesus. But the writer is talking about those who have submitted to Christ as well as those who have rejected Christ. This bowing down doesn’t represent everyone being saved. The Scriptures speak of the enemies of Christ being put under His feet.

      And concerning the final judgement. What is left for those who have rejected the blood of Christ that takes our sin out of the way? Wouldn’t their sin still be counted against them?


    • Paul beating himself is in 1 Corinthians chapter 9, when taken in light of chapter 3 verses 10-15, is not talking about working for his salvation. He is talking about the loss of reward for not finishing the race God had put before him.

      In Philippians chapter 2 we are told every knee will bow before Jesus. Those who have been saved from judgement as well as His enemies. This is not universal salvation.

      And for those at the final judgement who are being judged for what they have done…what is left for those who have rejected the blood of Christ that takes sin out of the way?


      • DougH says:

        You don’t need to go all the way back to chapter 3 for just what prize Paul was referring to, you just need to go up a couple verses in the same chapter, to verse 23: “I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” He then goes into how he disciplines himself so that he may gain the same prize – the blessings of the Good News – that he has made available to so many others through his preaching. And in verse 21, Paul says “… though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law.” He may be free of the Law of Moses, but not of the Law of God and Christ.

        Nor does chapter 3 have anything to do with this. There he is speaking of accepting teachings from various teachers – “one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos …’ ” That even if, having accepted the firm foundation, then following the wrong preacher and building a false edifice does not change the fact that the foundation is good, so that in the end you will still be saved.

        That we are Christians does not change the fact that we need to repent of our ongoing sins, and will be held accountable at the Final Judgment for those sins that we have not repented of. So, too, will be the same for all who accept Christ, which will in the end, according to Paul, be everyone – so that, as Jesus taught in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, we will be judged according to how we have treated our brothers and sisters.

        • The law of Christ Paul speaks of in Galatians 6:2 is, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
          Again, Paul is not saying a person needs to do this to be saved from judgement. A person needs to pursue this as a result of being saved from judgement.
          The Bible clearly teaches that salvation from judgement is solely through the grace of God through faith. No one will be declared righteous in the sight of God by observing the law.
          So, you can continue on your path of seeking to approach God through the law (contrary to Scripture) and by this introduce what is not biblical (such as the Melchizidek Priesthood, temple recommends and covenants, etc.) only to be found lacking on judgement day because you have attempted to approach God in an unprescribed manner.
          You have to make up your own mind as to whether you will believe the Bible, or you will continue to believe what is contrary to Scripture.


          • trytoseeitmyway says:

            This is funny: “only to be found lacking on judgement day because you have attempted to approach God in an unprescribed manner.”

            It’s funny because this is part of the proof that salvation is by grace alone, and not the result of works. Then he says that you need to approach God in a very specific manner (works) to be saved. I guess what he’s saying is that dave’s works justify dave but we can’t be saved by grace at all, because we have some wrong works or something.

            That’s what bothers me about evangelical doctrine. It tries to be very simple but then it resolves into incoherence when it insists that there is a very exact formula and a very exact set of beliefs (including ones not even found in the Bible) as the price of admission. And everyone else is going to Hell, don’t ya know. Not much grace there, is there?

          • DougH says:

            Two problems with your latest suggestion for Paul’s law. First, even if that is the whole of the law and not simply a summary of the purpose of all of God’s laws combined, it is still a law – which means that Paul and by extension we will be judged on how well we hold to that law, and where there is a law there will be a punishment if we do not repent of our failures to keep it. Even if God gives every Christian the right to come up with his own way to obey that law, there will still be a judgment on how well we held to our own laws.

            But second, it *is* simply a summary, a restatement of Jesus’s command to his disciples that they should love one another, which is itself a variation of one of the two great commandments of the Law of Moses, that we should love our neighbor as ourselves with special emphasis given to “neighbor as Christian.” But the fact that the Law of Moses contained those two great commandments that Jesus said encompassed all of the Law and the prophets did not mean that the Law and the prophets could be ignored – they laid out *how* we are to love God and love our neighbor, and as Jesus stated in his parable of the sheep and the goats, we will be judged on how well we love our neighbors.

            Nor did Paul think that we are all free to make up our own rules, not generally. Don’t forget that he told one church that it was to excommunicate a man living in incest – that man and his partner were *not* free to determine for themselves whether incest was sinful, or that because they were Christians God’s Law no longer applied to them.

            Paul’s point is not that the law no longer applies to us, but that we cannot achieve salvation solely by our own efforts, without the grace of God through Christ’s Atonement. But God still expects us to do as best we can, and when we inevitably fall short Jesus is there to carry us the rest of the way. *That* is how you reconcile Paul and James – or for that matter, Paul and Paul.

  7. Mike H. says:

    Interesting, Saul of Tarsus sure got a second chance in that vision. To say nothing of Peter after his 3 time denial.

    • DougH says:

      For Paul, that was likely his first chance. But to be fair, downtown dave is right when he says that there will be no second chances after we die. The post-existence preaching is for those that never had a real first chance in this life.

      • trytoseeitmyway says:

        I’m not sure we’ve been made privy to the standards that Heavenly Father will apply to the issue of whether there was a “real first chance.” I like to think that there is a prospect for conversion on the other side, even for those who have been instructed in the Gospel here.

        • DougH says:

          I’m sure you’re right, we aren’t privy to how God will judge any particular individual. God sees the heart, we don’t. But if you have been instructed in the Good News in this life and have received the witness of the Spirit as to its truthfulness, then you have had your first chance. If you reject what you know to be true you don’t get a second chance in the next life – that is for people that never received that witness while alive. Whether that has happened is for God to determine, not us, but it is the standard.

      • trytoseeitmyway says:

        Dave keeps making this point:

        “The Bible clearly teaches that salvation from judgement is solely through the grace of God through faith. No one will be declared righteous in the sight of God by observing the law.”

        Since Mormons don’t disagree, one would think that he not repeat that over and over. But of course he wants to PRETEND that Mormons DO disagree. It’s dishonest.

        Of course dave errs when he also pretends that the Bible then dismisses obedience to the commandments of God as irrelevant for any eternal purpose. You have to ignore very big chunks of the Bible to believe that. Of course, dave has no problem ignoring anything that doesn’t fit his preconceptions.

  8. Ignatious says:

    Lesson of Doug’s piece: it’s interesting how two fiction writers can stumble upon the same trope.

  9. Mormonism changes doctrine for its convenience. Polygamy, blacks allowed into the priesthood, the Book of Abraham not actually being translated from an Egyptian papyrus of a funerary text. Joseph Smith’s and Bringham Young’s prophecies that there were Quakers living on the moon were proved false. There was a recent article written in Meridian Magazine, a Mormon publication, stating that Joseph Smith didn’t actually refer to the golden plates to write the Book of Mormon (see excerpt and link below). My question is, how long will Mormons allow Mormonism to change the story before they realize they are being lied to?
    “What we can be sure of is that Joseph Smith provided us with a translation of a language he did not know, frequently without referring to the physical text he had.”

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