Little red lizards, like all other vices, must die. For neither flesh and blood nor anything natural may enter Heaven without dying first. The all-important thing: “Die before you die. There’s no chance after.” Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis. Made in the image of God, we are born in a predicament. Born broken and bent on self, without fail we go about making matters worse for ourselves and our neighbors.
…unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat…(Jn 12:24*)
In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis gives us a fantastic, admittedly speculative account of a field-trip from Hell to the plains of Heaven. Hell is a massive, gray city and ever-expanding, because the self-absorbed, ghostly residents always seek to get away from each other. But the bus to Heaven leaves at regularly-scheduled intervals. Whoever wishes may go. When Ghosts arrive in the solid, green fields surrounding the Mount of God, they meet Solid People and Angels. Solid People, who have chosen Heaven as their home, along with the angels, are there to help the unsubstantial visitors who insanely cling to one vice or another. Each Ghost may stay and proceed towards the eternal mountain. Or, each may get back on the bus and return to the infernal place.
Lust is highlighted in an encounter between one of the Ghosts, a dark, oily and unsubstantial creature, and one of God’s flaming ministers. Lounging on the shoulder of the Ghost, and whispering incessantly in his ear, is a little red lizard. Of course, the Ghost is embarrassed about his red, tyrannical master gibbering away in his ear. The Ghost, however, argues that he’s got the lizard under control. The unsubstantial creature is content to stay and proceed toward the eternal city, so long as the reptile can come along. The flaming spirit, however, repeatedly seeks the Ghost’s permission to kill the beast. As the Ghost rationalizes and contends, the ministering Flame of fire has one unrelenting question: “May I kill it?” Permission is imperative. The will of the Ghost will not be violated. The dialogue is pitiful and sad because it’s so true.
Finally, at the end of his rope, the Ghost begs for God’s help. At last, the unsubstantial creature consents to the lizard’s death. The Lizard of Lust, seemingly dead on the ground, suggests a happy ending for the Ghost. Now the unsubstantial creature may proceed toward the holy mountains. But what happens next is one example of how C.S. Lewis, over several decades, impressed upon me to expect more from God, not less. Our expectations should be higher, not lower. In the story, two amazing things happen:
“Then I saw, between me and the nearest bush, unmistakably solid but growing every moment solider, the upper arm and the shoulder of a man…the actual completing of a man—an immense man, naked, not much smaller than the Angel.” And then the lizard starts moving, struggling on the ground and increasing in size. The reptile’s disgusting hind parts grow larger and rounded. The nasty tail becomes golden hair, flickering “between huge and glossy buttocks”. The small, filthy thing is becoming something massive and beautiful. A great, white and silvery stallion with golden mane nuzzles the newly-appeared Solid Man. C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, Kindle version at 1136-38. The Solid Man is reunited with his earth-shaking, tremendous beast. Together they ride off toward the mountain of God, “into the rose-brightness of that everlasting morning”; as Arch-Nature sings:
The Master says to our master, Come up. Share my rest and splendour till all natures that were your enemies become slaves to dance before you and backs for you to ride, and firmness for your feet to rest on.
From beyond all place and time, out of the very Place, authority will be given you: the strengths that once opposed your will shall be obedient fire in your blood and heavenly thunder in your voice.
Overcome us that, so overcome, we may be ourselves: we desire the beginning of your reign as we desire dawn and dew, wetness at the birth of light.
Master, your Master has appointed you for ever: to be our King of Justice and our high Priest. (1132-1159)
Everything may be raised if it submits to death. What is sown a natural body is raised a spiritual body. When lust, that “poor, weak, whimpering, whispering thing” is killed, “that richness and energy of desire” arises; and “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?” (1166-74).
I recommend The Great Divorce. Learn from those who relinquish and from those who cling to their sins, the latter Ghosts getting back on the bus for the return trip to Hell. Lust is not the capital sin that wars against every soul. If not lust, then surely pride, avarice, envy, wrath, gluttony, sloth or acedia crouch at the door seeking to master us. Recalling that neither eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Cor. 2:9); Come and die before you die; after is too late.
ONE LORD. ONE FAITH. ONE BAPTISM.
AS FOR ME, I KNOW THAT MY VINDICATOR LIVES, AND THAT HE WILL AT LAST STAND FORTH UPON THE DUST. THIS WILL HAPPEN WHEN MY SKIN HAS BEEN STRIPPED OFF, AND FROM MY FLESH I WILL SEE GOD: I WILL SEE FOR MYSELF, MY OWN EYES, NOT ANOTHER’S, WILL BEHOLD HIM: MY INMOST BEING IS CONSUMED WITH LONGING. JOB 19:25-27
*New American Bible Revised Edition