An empty town

grey, empty town.

It populace was scarce, not due to war, nor famine, but because its people were too quarrelsome.

Could you relate that as a picture of hell? Interestingly, that is exactly how C. S. Lewis depicts hell in his book, The Great Divorce.

Here’s how the empty town is formed… Quotes from pages 9-11 of the book:-

“It seems the deuce of a town,” I volunteered, “and that’s what I can’t understand. The parts of it that I saw were so empty. Was there once a much larger population?”

“Not at all,” said my neighbour. “The trouble is that they’re so quarrelsome. As soon as anyone arrives he settles in some street. Before he’s been there twenty-four hours he quarrels with his neighbour. Before the week is over he’s quarreled so badly that he decides to move. Very likely he finds the next street empty because all the people there have quarrelled with their neighbours – and moved. If so he settles in. If by any chance the street is full, he goes further. If by any chance the street is full, he goes further. But even if he stays, it makes no odds. He’s sure to have another quarrel pretty soon and then he’ll move on again. Finally he’ll move right out to the edge of the town and build a new house. You see, it’s easy here. You’ve only got to think a house and there it is. That’s how the town keeps on growing… Astronomical distances. There’s a bit of rising ground near where I live and a chap has a telescope. You can see the lights of the inhabited houses, where those old ones live, millions of miles away. Millions of miles from us and from one another. Every now and then they move further still…”

Even though there are discussions whether the “grey” town depicts “hell” or “purgatory” depending how long a human stays there, the reader gets the idea. I was expecting a scary description of hell. Lewis however, takes me by surprise. He relates hell with a phenomenon: Isolation and individualism.

Isolation and individualism are by-products of the lifestyle of modern man. Without much connection to one’s extended family and community, individuals or single families thrive on their own resources. Some exclude God altogether from their lives, others think they do not need anybody else.

Isolation depletes spiritual gifts and talents. Individualism promotes self-gratification and selfishness.

Did the Bible address the phenomenon? Yes. Here’re just some for thoughts of the day:-

“So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” – Romans 12:5

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:25

“An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends; he defies all sound judgment.” – Proverbs 18:1

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;  idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” – Galatians 5:18-21

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” – Philippians 2:3

“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” – James 3:14-15

“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” – James 3:16-17

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” – James 5:16

Question: How would you handle Lewis’ proposition regarding hell?


About Florence Kuek

Was lecturer and researcher at a state university. Currently serving as Head of Student Services at a college. Has a pastoral heart for people. PhD candidate, Chinese Studies at University of Malaya.
This entry was posted in Christian Living, Scripture, Stewardship. Bookmark the permalink.

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