In C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, dead souls ascend by bus from a hellish suburbia to the edge of heaven. For the dead souls, everything in this new land overwhelms. The leaves are heavy, the light blinding, even the grass hurts to walk on because it feels “hard as diamonds” to the “unsubstantial feet” of the souls. Lewis’s image is more poetic than doctrinal, yet the story relies upon and is motivated by a key claim: when human experience and the realities of the faith seem to clash, our experience—not reality—is what is insufficient and needs to change.
Along these lines, I was recently struck by the Psalmist’s acclamation, “Mount Zion, true pole of the earth, / the Great King’s city!” (Ps 48:3). Mount Zion, the city of God, is the “true pole of the earth.” It is that which actually centers the earth, marking its axis. The North Pole, magnetic or otherwise, is subordinate to and a sign of the ordering of creation that flows from Mount Zion.
Ignoring this truth, we end up in the delusions of a self-constructed reality. If we do not see that it is God’s reign—Mount Zion—that orders all of creation and that the order of creation is a sign of God’s reign, than we have misread reality. We have taken what should be seen as a sign and made it the final arbiter. It is as if we thought the most real and important meaning of a letter in a word was a physical marking on a page, not the sense it conveys.
Even as we can see the silliness of mistaking our pet ideas for the measure of reality, we all live at least partially in some delusions of mind and heart. To overcome these delusions, the first step seems to be to admit to the fact that we need help to be able to understand things as they truly are and to love as we ought. It hurts to acknowledge the insufficiency of our intellects to grasp the world and the insufficiency of the world to satisfy our desires. But only once we realize that the remedy is beyond ourselves and our senses, only once we admit that creation and its Creator are beyond our grasp, will we be open to being healed by that Creator.
God’s light can blind us, but if we remain in that light, it will strengthen our sight. God’s love can burn us, but if we remain in that love, it will expand our hearts. As Hosea says, “He has struck us, but he will bind our wounds” (Hs 6:1). As we are wounded throughout the struggles of life, we should try to learn to accept the trials and joys as gifts aimed at conforming us to reality, so that, should we ever tread the hills of heaven, we may be substantial enough to walk barefoot on the grass.
Image: Jan Davidszoon de Heem, Vanitas Still life with Books, a Globe, a Skull, a Violin and a Fan